According to researchers at Oxford University, 47 percent of American workers have a “high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years.”
Retail, manufacturing and others are the industries projected to be impacted by robots and automation. Service industries like customer service, office management and even writers also look to be affected.
For now, it doesn’t look like PR jobs will be impacted by robots and automation. After all, what have we always said? “PR is a relationship business.” PR experts are relied upon for their creativity, their ability to be agile and expect the unexpected, and their gift of gab to get reporters to read your upcoming announcement, take a pre-briefing with that executive who is in town for just this week or cover a piece of news that at first doesn’t seem newsworthy.
Yet, what if robots could take your PR job, too?
It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. PR pros already rely on databases to put together media lists and spend most of their pitching time sending boilerplate emails to reporters. While it’s true that reporters these days prefer email to phone pitches, relying heavily on email pitches practically defeats the purpose of conducting “media relations.”
It’s a good idea to rethink how you want to engage with media. PR is a relationship industry, and your value will significantly increase if you have a mental Rolodex of reporters you can go to for outreach. If going down a media list and simply replacing the names in umbrella pitch emails is the core function of media relations work, it will only be a matter of time before that method is automated and taken over by technology as well.
What will separate you from the average PR pro is being able to master your soft skills. If you don’t have to rely on emails, you’re already standing out.
Here are three things you can start doing immediately—not only to elevate your value, but also to keep increasingly versatile robots and artificial intelligence software from making your job obsolete:
1. Use your phone.
PR pros use their phones for nearly everything, both personally and professionally. They check their emails, schedule meetings and use apps to send story pitches to subscribed reporters. Arguably, the one thing they don’t use their phone for is to…well…talk to someone.
Pick up the phone and call your media contacts. Using the phone more often to pitch to journalists will allow reporters to ask follow-up questions and will also give you immediate feedback from the reporter instead of waiting for that reply to hit your inbox (if at all).
Don’t limit your phone calls to stories you want to pitch. As a former journalist, I appreciated when PR people called me simply to ask what stories I was working on, and if I needed any sources.
As a PR pro, your job is to secure coverage for your company. Reporters know this, so if you speak with them and have a conversation about stories that interest them, and not just sell a company or product to them like a telemarketer, you will have a much better success rate.
2. Make new friends.
When pitching journalists, the objective shouldn’t solely be on securing coverage.
Of course, that’s what the executive team and stakeholders want, but if you want to grow in your PR career, you must also develop relationships by reaching out to reporters for coffee. Have a chat with them about what’s going on with your company.
Do the research and see what kinds of stories that reporter is covering. Let them know that you started at a new company and would love to meet and discuss what stories best resonate with their audience. This is also a good strategy when a reporter starts at a new publication. Let them know that you want to make their transition seamless and are happy to provide them with stories and sources that would help them ease into their new company.
The objective of building these relationships is to establish trust between you and the reporter. This will ultimately make your job easier because eventually, the media will reach out to you for stories they are working on. Remember, PR should be a two-way conversation. The relationship should never end once coverage has been secured.
3. Become a better manager.
Use your past experiences and have empathy for your junior staff. That way, you are not only a better leader, but a better mentor as well.
Being a former journalist helps me understand how to better pitch a reporter. (One of the best compliments I ever got was when a reporter told me I was a PR person “who gets it” when he spends much of the day calling out PR folks on social media on how they pitch him).
In turn, being a former PR coordinator/account executive gives allows me to understand what junior staffers need in order to be successful. Create an environment for them to feel comfortable asking questions (even if its for you to repeat instructions). Take them out for a casual coffee and talk to them about their career goals and reassure them that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
Nurturing your junior staff shows that you are invested in their careers. It leads to a more engaged workforce and ultimately far less turnover, which can sometimes prove to be more costly than losing a client.
If you change your approach to PR just a little bit, you’ll prove to be more valuable than you already are. Not only will your skills ward off any potential robots, but you’ll also develop skills that will go a long way in your career.
Chris Navalta is a PR veteran who has worked in sports and tech PR for more than 15 years.