How Disruptive Technologies Disrupt PR

By Ross Green

The year is 1995. Your client, one of the very first business reviews websites, has just announced a product update via Business Wire. Your team pitches out the news, and the client wants to know if your agency secured any coverage. Google and Yahoo! search don’t exist yet, so you grab scissors and tape and begin cutting out individual articles from a pile of newspapers. Two hours in, and you haven’t even started photocopying the clips. You certainly haven’t tackled the fundamental question: how successful were our PR efforts?

The public relations industry has come a long way since Blanc & Otus began working with tech companies in 1985. Tasks that once required an afternoon and more than a little patience can now be done in minutes. Technology platforms that outsource social media monitoring, coverage tracking and report generation have cut down tedious time investments by a sizable margin. Yet upon closer examination, it is clear that modern public relations agencies, even those serving cutting-edge tech clients, have not properly equipped themselves with the information technology of tomorrow: big data, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

Big Data
Collecting real-time information on our client and audience is easier than ever. Low-cost social media tracking tools like Twitter Archiver export refreshingly candid opinions directly from target customers and key influencers. Communications professionals should also take note how Facebook and Google obsessively track user behavior on their platforms.  Understanding how long users spend on a client’s site, what pages they visit and what keywords and campaigns attract reader attention, can add untold value to PR strategy. Coordinating data collection with a client’s internal sales and marketing teams promises not only richer datasets, but also more precise success metrics and goal setting across silos.

Predictive Analytics
Analytics is a fancy term that simply means applying statistics to data; all that gathered information isn’t useful unless you can carve insights from it. Analytics can be invaluable to communication companies, supporting targeted messaging, realistic tracking and campaign goals, and accurate reporting. With the right data set and an applied understanding of statistical analysis, agency insights need only be limited by the creativity of our questions – a long way from scissors and tape.

Artificial Intelligence
From catching fraudsters in banking to automating claims processing in insurance, artificial intelligence is disrupting industries at every turn. Why not PR? While communications writ large lacks the same quality and quantity of data found in other industries, coordinated efforts to collect and anatomize data across clients can support increasingly sophisticated AI algorithms for better predictive modeling.

Whether AI will outsource and eventually automate public relations jobs or improve job performance comes down to agency capacity to leverage existing data and carve out a corner of the growing value chain.

The agency that invests in data coordination, analytical capacity and artificial intelligence today will be best positioned to capitalize on the tech breakthroughs of tomorrow. In today’s marketplace, standing still is not an option.