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Technology and PR: Why is PR So Far Behind Marketing?

The marketing technology landscape has been rapidly expanding over the past five years. In fact, Scott Brinker’s annual Martech Landscape Infographic shows more than a 2000 percent increase in marketing technology vendors since 2011. Yet, the PR section of his report remains relatively unchanged. What’s up with that?

I put this question to Altimeter Group marketing technology analyst (and the first writer to outline the battle field for the marketing cloud wars), Omar Akhtar.

“Tech is always ahead of people and PR happens to be an industry that’s dominated by people and relationships,” says Omar. “Technology has helped streamline and facilitate conversations but automation has been out of the question. However, it’s only a matter of time.”

Marketing Tech Landscape logo collage

Bottom left: PR’s slice of the marketing technology landscape as of 2016

The new era of measurement

According to Omar, measurement is generally the easiest problem for technology to solve in PR. It’s inevitable that the PR industry will be affected in the same way that advertising and marketing measurement has been overhauled.

Companies like TrendKite and AirPR are leading the charge when it comes to PR measurement technology and have been able to reduce time spent reporting by almost 75 percent (According to TrendKite research).

“Technology has led to smarter teams doing higher value work, with much of the drudgery now automated,” says Russ Somer, VP of Marketing at TrendKite.

He goes on to cite a recent presentation from the communications director at a major domestic airline who talked about allowing two days to turn around simple coverage reports and four days to deliver coverage reports with analysis.

“I felt like going up on stage to let her know that her measurement problems were over. Many leaders in PR don’t even realize that these tasks can be automated to the level in which we are doing it.”

Though not yet fully automated—TrendKite and other similar platforms still require customization of search terms to filter out low value media hits—the potential for artificial intelligence to essentially learn which coverage is of value to the company and which articles can be discarded will make instant reporting and analysis par for the course within the next couple of years.

These new measurement platforms are also starting to close the loop and show actions taken from articles. For example, being able to see how many website visits or sign ups are being driven by each piece of earned media.

According to Rebekah Iliff, AirPR’s chief strategy officer, PR’s legacy has been in surface-level metrics like impressions and advertising value equivalency (AVE), but digging deeper into the data can lead to insights for leadership and more effective PR programs.

“For example, a New York Times article might get thousands of eyeballs but fail to spark action with the target audience, while a smaller blog might drive a ton of sign ups and website visits,” explains Iliff. “Advanced analytics gives you the ability to see which outlets are generating better business outcomes so you can be more strategic in pitching media, investing resources to create stories for outlets that move the needle.”

Beyond metrics

Outside of measurement, it can be difficult to imagine how technology will be applied to an industry that relies so heavily on relationships and customized engagement. But one person wrestling with this is Joel Andren, CEO and founder of PitchFriendly.

Described by Andren as CRM for PR people, PitchFriendly helps PR professionals build lists and manage outreach in a similar way to Vocus/Cision, but rather than exporting lists it encourages teams to send pitches from within the app. Pitch templates can be put into the application with placeholders left for customization. Additionally, the system automatically flags media who have recently received pitches, and double-ups.

According to Andren, the company is integrating machine learning to automatically suggest media targets for a pitch based on the content of the pitch and analysis of recent articles by writers.

“Cision and Meltwater are all the same and, as a PR person, they don’t make you any better at your job. In marketing, the first technology is always about proving ROI. We are now building on this base layer of technology to improve how PR is executed,” says Andren.

“Think about every job you give to an intern. Those things should all be automated now, which can free up junior staff to invest more time in training. Technology has the power to automate the tasks that are causing all the employee turnover.”

Whether PR professionals embrace this in-app experience for media relations remains to be seen, and PitchFriendly enables users to engage with media via familiar interfaces like Gmail once the initial pitch has been sent – while continuing to track engagement behind the scenes. Gmail extensions like Mixmax offer similar functionality—the ability to create teams, assign contacts, schedule distributions and track clicks and opens—but don’t offer the deep PR-specific metrics on media engagement that PitchFriendly offers.

Will PR ever be fully automated? Not in the immediate future

PR is more of an art than a science.

Talking to the people driving advances in PR technology, it’s clear that the PR industry has a unique automation problem, which is also the source of great job security.

While data analytics, automation and artificial intelligence will certainly improve the efficiency of certain tasks within PR, the overall effectiveness of PR programs and campaigns will still largely come down to managing and drawing on a confluence of factors outside of the organization’s control. It’s more of an art than an observable and repeatable science.

According to Omar Akhtar, there will always be the need for Madmen and Mathmen (creativity in addition to data analysis)—we can’t rely on either one alone.

“There is always the chance that PR technology could replace people. But I’m convinced, there will always be a job for a clear and concise communicator,” says Akhtar.

“Technology could provide PR spammers easy low-value coverage, but it will be at the expense of the high-value media relationships. A higher level of [machine learning] discernment is needed before PR engagement can be automated,” adds Somer.

Even when it comes to measurement—the part of PR that is well-suited to automation—there are still intangible elements that make evaluating return on investment difficult.

“When PR is done well, there will always be an “X” factor and something that you can’t measure,” says Iliff. “But PR still needs to evolve in the same way that marketing and advertising have evolved with the help of technology.”

Where to Invest?

While PR wrestles with the complexity of relationships and colliding narratives, media budgets and headcount continue to fall. For instance, a negative byproduct of increasing marketing automation has been cut-price display ads and reduced advertising revenues for our friends in the newsroom. Just last month we saw more layoffs at eWEEK, InformationWeek and the Wall Street Journal.

As the pressure mounts for editors and journalists to do more with less, knowing how to break-through the noise of impersonal email to grab their attention will be increasingly valuable for PR people. Similarly, being aware of the digital shortcuts and tools media themselves are using to source content and story ideas is a key requirement for the modern PR person.

The data-driven insights that can be pulled from intelligent measurement and engagement platforms will go a long way to improving the effectiveness of human-to-human media engagement and showing the ROI of PR programs.

The technology we use at Highwire PR:

We’re interested in hearing from you. Where is your company/PR agency investing in PR technology? What new tools are you most excited about?

This blog originally posted on Bulldog Reporter.