PR automation: there’s an app for that

If we have to believe Bill Gates, software bots will replace many jobs in 20 years. His pronouncement is ironic for the PR industry because we rely on Gates’ software for much of our heavy lifting. Managing thousands of contacts? Let’s put them in Excel. Emailing them? Let’s BCC them in Outlook and hope that our server doesn’t explode.

That’s how most PR teams work. They still use the same solutions we had 10 years ago. We can automate many of these old-school workflows by embracing our inner geek. I’ll share some examples below.

Technology in PR

PR automation is a hot topic. Noteworthy journalist Tom Foremski blogged about it a few days ago. And as usual, when Foremski comments, the PR industry listens and replies. Here are responses of SHIFT Communications and Lewis PR.

“There needs to be a large technology component inside the future successful PR firm. It needs technologies of promotion that can scale the work of its practitioners in the service of its clients.” – Tom Foremski

Tom argues that PR people can learn from the media industry. Publications like Buzzfeed and Forbes get it. They’re leading the way by combining editorial content, social know-how and smart technology. PR is lagging because it’s still largely a handcrafted business. It’s more art than science.

Welcome to Excel hell

Let’s look at an example where some science might come in handy.

A while ago I visited the London branch of a top PR agency. They do social and find it important to track number of twitter followers. In Excel!

Every week a junior plows through an Excel sheet: Copy pasting the Twitter handle of a contact. Surfing to the Twitter profile. Copy/pasting the follower count updates back in the Excel sheet. Rinse. Repeat. Utter madness. And probably not why she got a PR degree.

There are plenty of ways to automate that. Cloud solutions like FollowerWonk keep track of influencers. Or we could build an Excel macro to fetch the Twitter info.

There’s an app for that

Most of the workflow difficulties that you face aren’t unique. Google it and chances are big that a geek somewhere already built a solution. It all comes down to shifting your mindset. Instead of thinking how you could solve that problem, think of how a tool could do it for you. Some agencies get this reflex by appointing tech testers. Hybrid tech savvy problem solvers. PR author and professor Deirdre Breakenridge describes a tech tester like this:

“The PR Tech Tester is a professional who quickly learns that a critical part of the communications strategic process is how you use technology in your planning for better monitoring and measurement, channel distribution, optimized content and stronger relationships via your brand communications.” (more)

Automation examples

There a plenty of ways to automate repetitive tasks involved in managing media relations. Here are a few:

  • Going to Twitter to research contacts before pitching them? Try Rapportive. It shows their recent updates straight in your email client.
  • Calling journalists to ask if they received your email? Track your emails to see if people opened them, when they did, and where they clicked on. A Gmail add-on like Yesware is perfect for that.
  • Mailing your team members about updates to your contact list? Automate this by hooking up Google Docs to your email via a service like Zapier.
  • Juggling contacts between Excel and Outlook? Get a PR CRM like Prezly.
  • Checking if your media contacts still work for the same employer? A service like Bioischanged alerts you of updates to their Twitter profiles.

There are plenty more examples. The point is: if you see a repetitive task, look for a tool to solve it. If there isn’t one, find a geek to build it.

Read on: 10 examples of how you can automate boring PR tasks.

Let’s prove Bill Gates wrong

Let’s make sure robots don’t take our job. It’s time to find workarounds for repetitive tasks. Let’s automate. Let’s get a tech testing habit. This will allow us to focus on what we do best: creativity and human connections.