SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

04 Mar 2015

Fear the Bot


Heartbroken. That’s how I felt on the anniversary of the death of one of my favorite authors, media personalities, and general antagonist to the status quo, Hunter S. Thompson, a few weeks ago. I don’t mark the anniversary with anything special, in fact, this year, I nearly forgot about it altogether, had a well-intentioned but misinformed bot acting on behalf of technology PR not brought it to my attention.

Hence, heartbreak. Then I just felt gross—noxious, to be honest—and sad and ashamed. The adoption of a known anti-establishment author’s brilliant turn of phrase to market a white paper—about as establishment as establishment gets in the writing world—is irksome enough on its own. But what’s really egregious is that this title was brought to the forefront on the anniversary of the day Thompson chose to take his own life. The good news—if there can be good news—is that no ignorant human was at fault. It was a bot. The bot was just doing what it was programmed to do: find correlations to trending topics of the day to actual content in the inventory of white papers needing attention, and promote the latter thusly. And therein lies the rub.

Just a few weeks ago, my esteemed colleague Chris Penn wrote about the power of automation. Luddite though I’d like to be, he’s right. But automation has its limits, as do predictive technologies. He pointed out that areas like owned and earned media can’t be completely automated. Based on my experience last Friday, I’d argue that automating paid media has serious limits as well.

Would a human analyst have stopped the problem? Unless they were doing their homework—or born before 1980, when Thompson and his titles were a household name (and before he forever became tied to Jonny Depp via a movie with same tags as the aforementioned white paper)—maybe not. Just ask the folks at DiGiorno when a social media manager seized upon the trending #WhyIStayed hashtag last year, and used the hashtag, which had been circulating among survivors of domestic violence, to promote pizza—much to the brand’s embarrassment once the insight behind the trending hashtag was brought to their attention.

Savvy marketing technologists might say that this problem can soon be solved via another bot that cross-references trending data with other real-time contextual data (ie, the stories accompanying the #WhyIStayed hashtag in the DiGiorno example) and historical data (such as the fact that “fear and loathing” was trending on the same date as the suicide of the man who first penned that phrase). You’d think we could put some liability insurance in place for bots by adding caveats into the algorithm to dictate that if a topic is trending, no action is taken if the topic also correlates to keywords such as “abuse” or “suicide”.

But this is beside the point. Coming up with a solution to prevent future faux pas but that is still dependent on trending data and keywords of the day doesn’t allow for truly creative ideas and smart content to rise to the top. Even if a “safety” bot like the one proposed above already exists, or is soon to come, it still removes the creative component that defines good marketing and PR. In other words, you’d still be marketing your white paper to people who will never read it. But if you create content that aligns with what the target audience for your white paper is already looking for—not just keywords, but actual, useful information—then they’ll come looking for you.

Bottom line: good content can’t be programmed. It must be discovered.

Nicole Bestard
VP, Account Services

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

03 Mar 2015

Are PR and Marketing Entering the Moneyball II Era?

MBFor the general sports fan, statistics and data have been making their way into the mainstream for some time, similar to how online has brought measurement to marketing in a new way over the past 5+ years.  And like sports, marketing is now going through a tremendous shift that feels momentous, the way Moneyball and its ilk were to sports.  (Although I don’t know if we’ll see the Google Analytics movie anytime soon…)

Recently there was a debate going on in the media, between known provocateur/ex NBA star Charles Barkley and GM of the Houston Rockets/Sloan Conference favorite Daryl Morley, about the value of analytics.  Taking out the surface level arguments (paraphrasing: statistics are crucial vs. a bunch of malarkey), as Brian Curtis at Grantland so well illustrates, it’s really about the changing nature of jobs and who gets to call the shots.

The Barkley/Morley argument isn’t really about if statistics are useful:  points per game, rebounds and the like were prevalent throughout Barkley’s career and benefited him.  In fact, being an “undersized” big man and putting up the numbers he did was a huge part of Barkley’s case as an all-time great.  As Curtis notes, the argument is really about the measurements that support the status quo and the emerging data sets, driven by up and coming analysts, that is fundamentally changing the conversation around sports and what performance quality means.

Let’s parallel that to PR and marketing.

We always counted clips, circulation and even UVMs – let’s call this pre-Moneyball/Sloan Conference/Pro Football Outsiders statistics.  In sports, there were parallels such as batting average and RBIs in baseball, saves in hockey, rebounds in basketball, etc.  Then we entered the Moneyball/Sloan era, with PER (player efficiency rating) and WAR (wins above replacement) taking the stage, similar to how we started to measure social engagement, multi-funnel traffic patterns, etc.  This shift made the sports establishment very nervous, especially with the rise of the statistical-based general manager.  Similarly, old school CMOs started to get nervous when the CRM/marketing automation/social crowd started to bring more data into the mix and invalidate things like mass advertising campaigns as essential.

Now we’re entering what Curtis coined the Moneyball II era, where even established new-age metrics are being pushed to the envelop to determine causality.  Can the Atlanta Hawks win in the playoffs with no “true” center, even if they’ve maximized spacing and efficiency through analytics?  How did the Kansas City Royals make it to the World Series with an inverted steals/speed/swing model that defied analytical rigor in many ways?

There is a similar push coming to marketing and PR in the not too distant future.  We’re on the cusp of acknowledging that things like social audience engagement are no longer enough.  We’ll need to take the next step – what was the correlated impact on sales?  What does our content mix performance mean for client retention and license renewals?  How are marketing programs effecting R&D projects, both in saved cycles and product innovation – and what was the bottom line impact of the road not taken from those decisions?

As we enter this brave new world of next-gen marketing analytics, it will be even more important for marketing and PR pros to not only understand leading statistics, but be able to find the seams in the data, follow data sets to causality and truly become more strategic in the application of the tools and data we have available.

Derek Lyons
Vice President, Technology Business Development East Coast

Photo Credit: IMDB

02 Mar 2015

4 Mobile SEO Problems That PR Pros Must Conquer

Google is about to change the SEO rules again. This time, they’ve made the bold pronouncement that websites which are not friendly to mobile devices will be penalized in search results. This change will have far-reaching implications for everyone with a website, and there are 4 additional twists for PR and marketing communications professionals.

From the Official Google Webmasters Blog:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

How will this impact your brand? If your site doesn’t conform to Google’s recommended best practices for mobile usability, you will not show up as favorably when someone searches for your brand name or for topics you’re relevant for in search. Here’s an example in current search results; Google notes sites that are mobile-friendly in results [1]:


Contrast that above with sites that are not listed as mobile-friendly [2]; these sites will rank less well after Google’s April 21 deadline.

Some of the basic best practices that Google recommends are:

  • Eliminating Flash from your website
  • Ensuring you use viewports
  • Making fonts big enough to read
  • Ensuring clickable/touchable elements are not too close to each other

Google’s free Webmaster Tools software will help to identify those pages on your website that need updating. Want to check out your website easily? Google has released a free Mobile Friendly Testing Tool for finding out how friendly your website is:


If you’re a more sophisticated marketer, be sure to use Webmaster Tools for in-depth analysis.

While these will be tall marching orders for many company websites, there are 4 additional PR-specific complications.

Complication 1: Flash. A fair number of corporate newsrooms attempted in the past to provide a more interactive experience. These newsrooms must now be overhauled to HTML5 in order to remain compliant.

Complication 2: Video. Many companies have preferred to use proprietary video players (based in Flash) rather than upload corporate videos to cloud-based video services like YouTube. Unless your on-site player is HTML5-based, you’ll want to migrate your videos to a compatible platform as quickly as possible. If you’ve got content you would prefer to remain private, consider a platform like Vimeo that provides per-video password protection.

Complication 3: Marketing Automation software. Forms and landing pages on many corporate sites are actually hosted by marketing automation software providers, and those pages may not be compliant with Google’s new guidelines, even if your regular corporate website is. Use Google’s Webmaster Tools service to find those stray pages and update them in addition to the main website.

Complication 4: Podcasts. If you’ve been experimenting with podcasting, know that most podcast players for websites are older, Flash-based players. Upgrade to players from newer providers that are based in HTML5, such as Soundcloud.

Finally, be careful what content you accept for your website! Earned media endorsements like award badges, news clippings, and other copy & paste content are great for providing third party endorsements of you, but be sure the code you’re using doesn’t violate any of Google’s guidelines.

Google’s efforts to force websites into mobile usability compliance are unsurprising. While adhering to the guidelines may cause additional short-term expense, the long term benefits of having a site that functions well on mobile devices is worth the investment.

Finally, if you’re not able to make these changes alone, SHIFT’s Creative Services team will be glad to lend a hand.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

27 Feb 2015

Medium – Small and Large

Medium-logo-darkIn an effort to draw in more users of all types, Medium has made some changes to its interface. Most frequently thought of as a long-form blogging platform, Medium has become a true writer’s platform.

But founder Ev Williams wants to dismiss the idea that it must solely support longer content (see “A Less Long, More Connected Medium”). Sometimes, he says, quality content is not polished content. And in the age of collaboration, presenting your ideas to other thinkers can help hone your message. So this week, he announced three changes to the platform to do just that: inline editing for on-the-go writing — where titles aren’t required for posting; a stream that allows for better browsing and previews; and tags to assist with discovery.

For a more detailed breakdown of the product improvements, check out Brian Ellin’s “New ways to write and read on Medium.”

Quality of any length

So there you have it. Short bursts of thought on the go, or longer more in-depth pieces that aren’t encumbered by word counts. Quality comes in many shapes and sizes. And now you can have Medium, Small or Large.

Scott Monty
EVP, Strategy

A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.

Photo Credit: Entrepreneurial Insights

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

26 Feb 2015

How will you measure the name of your company?

logos from around the world

Brands we recognize by their symbols and letters alone are many when the brand is well established or has been around for years. When establishing a new brand, names need to be easy to remember and recall in conversations and in times of recommendation. As a result, many businesses have opted to choose single words that describe why they exist or what they do. The difficulties lie when we attempt to measure the effects of marketing and PR on the brand in question – how is owned and earned media having an impact on the brand.

Let’s talk about an example, Mumble. Mumble is a very simplistic company – it provides a service much like Skype – voice chat for gamers. The data and analytics that Mumble can pull about its website using its analytics software is a data point that can’t be disputed because of the noise of the search inside other tools. However, when we start doing the research that measures the effect of a media hit or a marketing program and we search “Mumble,” we’re going to get a lot of false positives.

Take a look at the chart below. It has a search for the word “mumble” in English for the last 30 days. These are tweets alone in which the word has been used.

Mumble search

Doing research for any company using a common word as its name will run into this problem. Now that isn’t to say that we can’t use qualifiers – other words to help pull relevant results – and it doesn’t mean that the company is doomed to lose data. It just instantly makes it more difficult for any business who wants to rely on data-driven decisions as a key aspect of their business.

Imagine the issues that Apple runs into trying to track true coverage from people talking about eating apples. (It’s likely they’ve gotten very good at filtering at this point in the game, but it does take some extra work.)

There are some great upsides to using a single word or a well known word as a company name. We won’t deny that. Eventually the service will be well known enough to pop up in search, easy to find in voice search and when tracking down the company on the different social channels. Take Google, for instance. It’s now a household name AND it’s easy to search. When you search for Google, almost all of the results will be about the company or people using their services. Made up names work…when they take off.

So, what should you do when you are ready to name your shiny new business? Shoot for something memorable. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, try using commonly used measurement tools to find out how difficult it’ll be to filter out the noise. Use Siri, Google Now or Cortana to check how well the search is understood when you and others search for it. Use Google or other data sources to find words that aren’t commonly used anymore, like valor.

Finally, think about incorporating a function into the company name you choose. It’ll be longer but it will make it more clear to the customer what you do. A few good examples: Kentucky Fried Chicken, International Business Machines, and United Parcel Service. Each of these incorporate something that tells the user what they do and then get narrowed down to letters that everyone recognizes.

Choosing a name for a company in this day and age isn’t easy. Think beyond the way it sounds. If the domain is available now, think about how hard or easy it’ll make measuring success for your company down the road.

Chel Wolverton
Account Manager, Marketing Technology

Top photo credit:

25 Feb 2015

How to build communities of social media influence

As marketers and communicators, we have focused relentlessly on the single influencer. This is the megaphone, the broadcast personality who has the biggest reach, the biggest audience, the loudest voice. It’s why Kim Kardashian can command up to $10,000 a tweet (source: NY Mag). It’s why social media influence scores and top 100 social media lists seem to matter a great deal.

What if there were a better way to reach the audience you want? Assuming your product, service, or mission was worthy, what if you could start not only a conversation, but a movement? This is the essential idea behind communities of influence. We’ve talked about this in the past (as far back as 2012), but only now are the tools and methods for executing on communities of influence becoming available.

The theory is simple: identify the community at large around a topic, and then influence many members of the community together, rather than one influencer at a time. This synchronicity is important! By creating multiple touchpoints, you’re starting a fire with a series of matches, rather than pinning your hopes on one bigger match.

Let’s show how this might work. Say I’m opening up a new chain of sushi restaurants. I want to know what kinds of conversations are happening about sushi. By using monitoring tools (in this case Sysomos), I can visualize sushi conversations:


Above, the dots grow in relation to the size of that individual influencer’s audience and reach. In old influencer outreach programs, you’d reach out to the biggest individual dots and send them pitches. How do we think about communities of influence?

Take note of the different colors of dots. These represent different clusters of conversations. The blue cluster above are general media and influencers. The green dots are foodies. The red dots and the orange dots are different communities as well. In old influence marketing, the biggest dots we pitched tended to cluster in one or two communities, but we want our message to reach many different communities.

When we’re talking about communities of influence, we don’t care about whose dot is largest. We care whose dots connect to the most other dots, especially across different communities:


These people have conversations in more than one place. They are ambassadors of influence about sushi. They can help us create multiple touchpoints rapidly, and in more than one community, if our pitch is solid. These are the people I’d reach out to about my new sushi chain, in this example.

Change how you view influencers to be about the communities they participate in. Get away from the biggest mouth and focus on who’s connected the most, even if their individual profiles aren’t the loudest. You may find far more success with your outreach efforts!

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

24 Feb 2015

8 Insider Secrets For Meeting Senior Executives

The older I get, the more I care about the next generation of PR pros’ career development. This may stem from having teenage children; I worry about their preparation for Life, Careers, Happiness. Thus I happily offer college students and new graduates some hard-won wisdom, whenever they ask.


Here’s what a lot of today’s college graduates don’t understand: I am not alone. I am not the only company executive/business owner who’s eager to lend a hand, an ear, or an opinion. It’s pretty rare for a college graduate considering a PR career to reach out to me for some counsel, or just to grab a coffee – and I wish it wasn’t.

Sure, it might be intimidating for a twenty-something kid to ask a stranger for a favor, especially a stranger who could help (or hurt) their budding career. But, as Gary Vaynerchuk once suggested, “There’s just no reason to not do something you love.”

How can you know whether you’ll enjoy a career until you’ve asked some folks who have been there, done that? One of our core values at SHIFT is #connected. Reach out and connect!

Of course, there are some ground rules. Most senior execs (myself included) are quite busy. Not all will respond or appreciate the outreach. The biggest danger is the volume of one-off requests. Meeting with one, two, even ten would-be careerists would be easy to do over the course of several months. Getting 100 or more such requests would kill the execs’ enthusiasm.

So, if you’re looking for an Informational Interview, here are 8 suggestions:

1. Use LinkedIn. Hook yourself into the networks frequented by the executives you want to meet. For example, I am more inclined to meet with the “friend of a friend” than someone I don’t know at all. This is not a requirement, but a good suggestion. Use LinkedIn (or your professor) to get a known 3rd party to vouch for you.

2. Do your homework. Your questions (both in your initial outreach and follow-on meeting) should be specific to the individual. Your questions should imply you know something about their career, industry, and company. Again, use LinkedIn! Most of the time, execs’ tout their accomplishments boldly on their profiles. Remember that everyone wears an invisible sign ‘round their necks that read, “Make me feel important!” – even senior executives.

3. Bundle. Think about it from the executive’s perspective: “You want to meet me? Cool. Do you know 3 or more fellow students who might want to tag along for the same reasons? Better. By meeting a handful of folks, I’ll multiply my do-gooder feelings for the day.” (Having said that, the student organizer of this event does score more points than the other attendees, because the organizer has shown initiative.)

4. Recognize the value of time. Ask the senior exec for 15 minutes of coffee time, versus 1 hour of grilling. Keep it loose. If 15 minutes turn into 30 or more minutes, it’s all good, but set expectations up front that you’re respectful of time.

5. Proof before you send your request. No busy exec wants to meet with a student or recent graduate who can’t write or take the time to at least proofread their request. Typos and grammatical errors show that you don’t pay attention to details. And p.s., dress for success.

6. Come to listen, not to show. You can bring your portfolio, but only pull it out if asked. Your insightful, honest questions will say far more about you than your college writing assignments.

7. Follow-up fast and show you paid attention. A thank-you note is a must, just like Mom told you after every birthday party. But there are two types of thank-you notes. There are the simplistic “thanks for your time and great advice!” note, and then there’s the note that your newfound advisor is eager to pass along to HR and other hiring managers.

A great thank-you note includes:
– Genuinely insightful conclusions drawn from the meeting
– Unobtrusively-placed links to your work online that show off your savvy
– Polite questions re: any potential next steps, if it seems there might be a fit in their company, or if the senior exec hinted that they might be willing to pass you on to an industry contact.

Want to make a great impression? Send two follow-ups: one by email for immediacy, one on paper, handwritten, because it’s rare and thus attention-getting.

Think of this as the beginning of a “lightweight” relationship. Watch that senior exec’s career from afar and note the big changes. Follow-up from time to time (I recommend twice per year) with a gracious note, update or question.

8. Know your place. Just because the senior exec met with you doesn’t automatically make them your new rabbi. They have no further obligation, and won’t appreciate being pestered after the meeting. As much as you appreciated their time constraints in your original outreach, you should be doubly patient in long-term follow-up.

Eagerness. Initiative. Motivation. These are the traits you’ll most often hear successful executives ask for in prospective hires. Asking for (and getting) that Informational Interview shows initiative, and showcases your passion. Why wouldn’t you want to start off your career that way?

For current PR pros, this approach is equally relevant for building relationships with the media. But you knew that.

Want to get in touch? Connect with me here on LinkedIn.

Todd Defren


A version of this post originally appeared on PR-Squared.

23 Feb 2015

The secret to becoming a trusted PR professional

New England Warrior Camp 2010

Shel Israel followed up in our discussion last week about the automation (or lack thereof) of persuasion technologies and public relations by asking:

Since you are in the business of building trust for clients, why are so many PR people not trusted by the media?

The answer to this question circles back to Tom Foremski’s earlier question about why there isn’t innovation in scalable persuasion technologies. Part of the reason is intent and motivation; a journalist knows that any PR person is approaching them with an agenda. The best PR professionals figure out how to deliver value to both the client AND the journalist. Untrusted PR professionals who don’t do the hard work of building relationships often focus only the client’s interests.

Part of the reason is also automation. Many of the communications systems of the digital age DO scale, such as email, instant messaging, text messages, and social media. In a click of a mouse, you can send millions of people an email. Yet just because you can send email to everyone in the world doesn’t mean that you should. Far too many PR professionals blindly mass email their pitches without making any attempt at the “Relations” part of Public Relations.

Here are three examples I’ve received in the last month for my personal blog:

Thanks a lot for accepting the request to connect. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce XYZ which is a California based mobile development company headquartered in San Francisco with offices in India.

I trimmed off the remaining 12 paragraphs of information about their company launch. This is a pitch almost entirely devoid of value for my audience.

Here’s a second bad pitch:

Hi, I recently saw your site and thought I would show you an infographic about social media advertising. This particular infographic explains using Pinterest as a viable way to generate business for the lawn and garden industry. At your earliest convenience give it a look, and if this is something that you or your readers might find interesting feel free to put it on your site.

For those who don’t know me, I rarely ever blog about lawns and gardens. If they’d spent any time on my site, they’d know I wasn’t a good candidate for this pitch.

Finally, this gem, complete marketing automation mail merge tags still intact:

Hello $FRISTNAME, As a part of reaching out in the Internet market and establish our Authority we are looking to contribute to sites like yours $URL to share our knowledge and add value for the readers. If there is an open spot can I send in Guest Post Ideas that will help your readers get some advise from our experts.

You build trust by giving and taking. The best PR professionals know that you have to give first, give often, and give real value before you earn the privilege of asking for something. What you see above are three examples of attempting to take value first. These attempts do nothing except end up in the digital circular file.

Want to know the secret to becoming a trusted PR professional? It’s a simple 3-step recipe:

1. Know exactly what the influencer writes about and never send them anything that is off target.

2. Follow the influencer and engage with them months before you pitch:

  • Share and promote their stuff.
  • Comment on their stuff.
  • Talk to them, talk about them (positively).
  • Privately ask them relevant questions about things they’ve written.
  • Privately ask them what they’re working on, and help them if you can, even if it doesn’t benefit any of your clients.

3. If a client asks you to pitch something of no value, have the #Smart and #Ballsy to politely ask them for something better to pitch. If they can’t come up with something, help them make something worth pitching. This is where data-driven PR has a chance to shine. Every client has data or access to data. Instead of pitching a bland corporate announcement, make something interesting with their data!

A PR professional who has lost the trust of their network is someone who had only short-term vision. They couldn’t see the big picture: the media landscape has become so fragmented and mainstream publications have downsized staff. This means that you can burn only a few bridges with your sources before you’re out of business, because no one will return your calls.

Humans don’t scale. Relationships don’t scale. Trying to scale things that don’t scale inevitably destroys trust.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

20 Feb 2015

You’ve Got Growin’ Up to Do

Courage_growing up

While attending Joshua Radin’s latest concert (which was FABULOUS!), the chorus line of one of his classics, “You Got Growin Up to Do,” really stuck with me. It had me thinking back on what kind of “growing up” I’d done over the last year.

Almost one year ago, I made a decision to do some growing up both personally and professionally. That led this southerner to move 1,100 miles north from the bright Music City lights of Nashville, Tenn. to Boston, Mass. So naturally, hearing the song and being (literally) shut in from the blizzards–(Mom, you were right about the weather)– provided plenty of time for reflection and introspection.

First, this beautiful city has broadened my personal, cultural and professional experiences beyond what I had imagined. It’s challenged me to meet new, wonderful people. Thanks to the experience of waiting for winter to pass or standing in line to eat at places like Giacomo’s, I’ve also become a more patient person who now believes that many good things in life come slowly, take time and are worth waiting for.

Uprooting and starting a new career at a new PR agency has also challenged me professionally and helped me grow in ways I never thought possible. By exposing me to different working styles and experiences, I have a much broader way of thinking about my career possibilities.

While moving to a new city or agency may not be in the cards for every PR pro, here are three things I would encourage any professional to think about as you “grow up” this year.

Taking responsibility means asking.

Whether it’s getting a promotion, becoming a better writer or landing a client in the Wall Street Journal, growing professionally means taking personal responsibility to meet those big hairy, audacious goals. Above all, I’ve learned you must be smart about the responsibility you ask to take on. First, figure out if they’re reasonable goals for you or your client to attain. Then, examine if they add value to long-term goals. If the answer is yes, also ask:

  • How do I get there? This question helps you create a plan of attack for success, identify resources, support or mentorship needed along the way and a timeline to keep yourself accountable for meeting goals.
  • How could I have done it better? Getting the job done is great, but part of growing professionally means asking for feedback and understanding how you can improve and lead projects more efficiently in the future. Taking responsibility for your professional growth means not being afraid to ask for feedback

Leadership doesn’t always mean doing. Instead, I’ve learned that leadership is more about listening, encouraging and empowering team players with the confidence and skills they need to stand on their own. If you do everything yourself instead of asking others to share responsibility, you selfishly stunt your peers’ growth in the process by taking away their opportunities to learn, make mistakes and become better employees.

Teamwork really does make the dream work. Coming to SHIFT, knowing it was an agency built entirely on teamwork, was incredibly terrifying to me. Previously, I’d only ever worked as a “one-man show,” and always assumed leadership meant “doing everything” while keeping a smile.

Over the last year, working in a team (shout out to Team Firestarter!) has not only made me a much happier PR pro but it’s also proven why going at it alone is an extremely bad idea, especially for PR work. The “one-man band” structure can stifle PR creativity, stall future-forward thinking/planning for clients and kill opportunities for employee growth and learning.

If you don’t have the opportunity in your current role to practice PR in a team, I suggest starting inner office work groups to foster more collaboration and offer peers the opportunity to work projects outside of their current client roster.

All in all, I believe you should never stop growing, both personally and professionally. So, as you do some professional growing this year–we’re interested in hearing about some of the things you learn along the way. Feel free to drop us a line here. And from a personal standpoint, if you’re interested in learning about some of Boston’s most delicious restaurants that will “grow your patience” as well as your waistline, shoot me a note here.

Natalie Townsend
Senior Account Executive

Download our new eBook, PAID EARNED OWNED SHARED

19 Feb 2015

Why PR hasn’t been automated yet

Tom Foremski asked in Silicon Valley Watcher:

PR’s challenge is that it is an artisanal, hand-crafted service operating within a brave new digital media world that rewards scale. Ad agencies, SEO services, Facebook, Google, Twitter, know how to scale their promotional work through technology.

Where are PR’s scalable technologies of persuasion?

This is an interesting question because Tom’s right. Other forms of marketing communications have been automated and scale very well. Why not PR?

PR is structurally identical to the process of selling, and the best selling is done through building and maintaining relationships. You can attempt to automate certain parts of relationship building (as Tinder and other services have tried), but there’s no substitute for human interaction.

Humans do not scale.

When you compare PR to advertising, SEO, Facebook, etc., you are comparing humans to machines. Programmatic advertising is machine-to-machine communication. SEO is machine-to-machine communication as well. Even though there’s a human being typing in a search query, the actual brokering of information is done through machines talking to machines. The same is true of Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Where do machines talk to machines in PR? That’s where we’ll find opportunities for automation.

If we look at the Earned Media Hub Strategy, where could we automate and scale? The red portions of the strategy below have automation potential:


We can scale a good portion of the research we do. Software from companies like Sysomos, Moz, and Zignal Labs can do plenty of heavy lifting up front, and enterprising firms can even start to use Big Data tools in pursuit of new answers.

The creative process can’t be automated or scaled well – again, a function of dealing with humans. Neither can messaging right now; messaging is a fuzzy activity that organic brains do very well and machines do very poorly.

Some portions of content creation can be automated and scaled, particularly if curation is a part of your marketing communications strategy.

Earned media – defined as the process of reaching out to distribution platforms old and new – is still largely a manual, human process. Can you automate the pitching process? Only to the same degree that you can automate the sales process. Sales has benefitted from predictive analytics and CRM software to handle many of the administrative functions of selling. Sales has not replaced sales professionals with robots, and likely won’t for quite some time to come.

Can you automate owned media? You can automate and scale parts of it. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, 99 Designs, and Fiverr demonstrate that you can scale interfaces to other humans with some degree of efficiency. You can certainly automate and scale social media and social publishing with tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and many others.

Paid media of course can be automated, in some cases heavily, with the advent of digital advertising and programmatic buying. Advertising Data Management Platforms (DMPs) and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) talk to each other, often without human intervention once business rules and pricing have been established during setup.

Finally, marketing analytics, measurement, and down-funnel marketing operations can be automated and scaled very well. Marketing automation in particular scales to the largest companies when implemented well.

Can PR be automated? Is the profession endangered by the ubiquity of automation in other forms of marketing communications? The answer depends on influencers and distribution networks.

In advertising, when you put a dollar into the machine, you get a result. Put more dollars into the machine, get more results in a roughly linear relationship. The more you spend, the more you can get. Public relations, when done well, behaves in a more exponential fashion. Get in front of the right influencer in the right channel and you can see massive returns.

In a recent project, one of our consumer teams scored a beautiful hit in Buzzfeed on behalf of an eCommerce client and delivered tens of thousands of dollars in real revenue, with ROI significantly higher than an ad campaign run on the same content. That’s the power of PR.

If distribution channels ever become so fragmented that influencers and publications fail to reach more than a few people at a time, then the multiplicative value of public relations will fade. Given how human beings prefer to congregate and have cultural water coolers, this seems fairly unlikely in the foreseeable future. Thus, public relations – when done well – can and should continue to deliver competitive results compared to automated marketing channels.

Will there come a day when PR can be automated entirely? Only when no humans are involved in the process of publishing content and speaking to their audiences. I wouldn’t bet on that day coming any time soon.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR