I had the pleasure and honor of speaking and attending Day 1 of the Vocus Demand Success 2014 conference in Washington DC recently, and throughout all of the great content and conversations, there was one underlying, largely unspoken problem, the greatest fear of PR professionals. The fear is that the rise of the machines – automation, content systems, analytics, even machine-driven writing – is going to replace them.
This fear played itself out in an emphasis on creativity, on ideas, on things that machines aren’t good at, while excellent panel discussions such as the State of Marketing and PR highlighted that on average, many PR professionals are far behind on the latest tools and technologies. If the machines become dominant in our profession, the message of the study was that a majority of today’s professionals may be the first ones left behind.
Is there a reason for concern? Is the unspoken fear justified?
The answer is a qualified maybe. If you’re currently doing only low-value, repetitive tasks that can be automated, then yes, your concerns might be valid. If your daily processes consist of just writing low-value, jargon-laden press releases and then spamming everyone on your mailing list, those are indeed tasks that can be automated. (though I’d argue those tasks just shouldn’t be performed, period)
However, if your daily tasks consist of analyzing information you’ve obtained, extracting insights from your analysis, and ultimately helping your business craft strategies from those insights, then your fear is unjustified. In a talk I delivered about marketing automation, I made the point that machines and data tools are great at gathering data, okay at analyzing it, terrible at deriving insights from it, and are complete non-starters for strategy. Machines are unable to deal well with unpredictability and with the messy quirks of humanity – can you imagine letting a machine handle crisis communications?
PR professionals who excel at creativity, analysis & insight, strategy, and building legitimate relationships aren’t going anywhere. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, if you want to continue to grow the impact of your public relations program, then my best advice is to leave behind low-value, repetitive tasks entirely. Focus instead on using the power of machines to do what they do best, and use their computational efforts as the foundation for growth and impact. Think of it as data-driven PR. Get good at data, get great at being creative from the insights drawn from data, and the success your company demands will be yours.
Oh, and in case you missed it, grab the eBook from the “Making Sense of Automation” talk!
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
Full disclosure: Vocus is a client of SHIFT Communications.