If we believe Bill Gates, software bots will eliminate many jobs in 20 years.
His pronouncement is particularly interesting for the PR industry, because we rely on Gates’ software for much of the 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 solutions that were available 10 years ago. We can automate many old-school duties by embracing our inner geek. I’ll share some examples:
Technology in PR
PR automation is a hot topic. Noteworthy journalist Tom Foremski blogged about it
. As usual, when Foremski comments, the PR industry listens and replies. Here are responses from 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,” Foremski says.
He contends that PR people can learn from the media industry. Publications like BuzzFeed
get it. They’re leading the way by combining editorial content, social knowhow, 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 work in social media and find it important to track the number of Twitter followers in Excel.
Every week a junior associate 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 pursued 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 good that a geek somewhere has 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 appoint 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.”
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 in your email client.
• Calling journalists to ask if they received your email? Track your emails to see whether people opened them, when they did, and what 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 through a service like Zapier.
• Juggling contacts between Excel and Outlook? Get a 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.
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Let’s prove Bill Gates wrong
Let’s make sure robots don’t take our jobs. It’s time to find workarounds for repetitive tasks. Let’s automate. Let’s get a tech-testing habit. This will enable PR pros to focus on what we do best: creativity and human connections.
Frederik Vincx is co-founder at Prezly, a PR tool that helps you publish and pitch stories. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this story originally appeared on the company's blog.