Like most areas of business — think marketing, sales, advertising, supply chain — public relations has reinvented itself for the digital age.
The problem is that ironically word hasn’t gotten out. PR unfortunately is its own worst PR agent.
The latest evidence is a recent article provocatively titled, “Why the PR Industry is Failing.”
Its author, Bill Hankes, points the finger at old school PR tactics like issuing a press release over a wire service before reporters have a chance to write about it.
I’ll spare you his other targets.
However, all his criticisms slam an older, mythical version of PR that is far from everyday reality for most PR people. According to the article, PR is fuddy-duddy and leagues behind most other disciplines like sales and marketing when it comes to automation.
Hankes in dissing PR misses a fundamental point about technology and work: Technology is simply a tool. It’s only as good as the mindset it supports.
A recent USC Annenberg study reported that the public relations function is morphing into marketing. Indeed, 87% of the survey respondents didn’t even think the word public relations would adequately describe the profession in the future.
Today so much of PR is less about beating down journalists’ path and more about creating content, working with influencers, and managing social media. At my PR firm and that of other PR agencies I know, a lot of time is spent on writing and placing articles on behalf of clients — as opposed to getting journalists to write about clients.
Most of of this doesn’t involves automation but it does reframe the world of public relations. In fact, what public relations does best can’t be automated. Its secret sauce is its quirkiness and artistry that allows it to create engaging stories.
That ability to see things other don’t is what elevates practitioners in many fields from the doctor who devises a new treatment to a lawyer who develops an ingenious argument to free his client.
As the philosopher Michael Polanyi has said, “We can know more than we can tell.” That is, many human activities can’t be formally described, meaning that they can't be programmed.
One of my favorite PR stories pertains to elephants.
Yes, you read that right. A PR professional had a client with a program training West Africans to protect forest elephants. Rather than leave it at that, the ingenious PR person turned the dry facts into a compelling story: The first ever graduating class from elephant university. The story caught the eye of a Wall Street Journal reporter and landed on the Journal’s front page.
That ability to turn the mundane into magic is not something automation can do.
None of this is to say that PR hasn’t and couldn’t benefit from more automation.
In fact, many tools have surfaced to help PR professionals do everything from tell better stories, to connect with influencers, to understand competitor behavior and to measure results.
I’m confident more tools will arise now that public relations has stretched its boundaries and continues to evolve. The tools won’t be the end game but will help PR people do their jobs better.
Armed with the proper tools, PR folks will be more effective reaching and connecting with journalists and influencers and consequently have a better picture of the results of their work.
One thing won’t change, however: The ability to tap into the imagination to craft engaging stories. Ultimately, that’s what elevates public relations beyond mere automation into a mix of artistry, strategy and tactics.
And that talent of perceiving what others don’t is what ennobles any profession to rise from pure drudgery to craft.
What do you think? Is the PR industry failing? Let us know on Twitter!
Wendy Marx is President of Marx Communications, an award-winning boutique B2B Public Relations agency known for turning companies and executives, including start-ups, into thought leaders. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo via Pixabay