The technologies of public relations are on their way....

PR firms are missing a vital component in their operations.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

The media industry has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and forced to adopt new media technologies and drastically overhaul its operations.

The successful new media model is a combination of three components: professional media, user generated media, and smart machine media (e.g., automated news aggregation).

Buzzfeed is an example of this trinity: it has top journalists producing original content; it makes great use of social media; and it has a tech platform that leverages the algorithms of distributors such as Facebook and Twitter.

Forbes is another example of a large media company with professional journalists, user generated articles, and a good technology platform.

Public relations has been pulled into the modern world  (complaining about the extra work of social) but not much has really changed. It’s still very much a hand-crafted, artisanal business, its use of technology is a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares.

But without a significant tech component PR is at a big disadvantage because it can’t scale, it can’t grow without growing more people. Which is also why valuations of PR firms are low compared to their revenues. 

And it makes PR firms vulnerable to competitors outside of their field that can figure out and automate technologies of promotion.


The three components in the media operations stack are like the three components of gunpowder: charcoal, saltpeter, and sulphur. It’s important to get them in the right mix. If you get the proportions right the result is explosive, if you get it wrong it fizzles and smells bad.

The PR operations stack is mostly fizzle. 

PR needs to figure out how to automate some of its capabilities and keep up with the changing trends affecting their clients. The major trend is in helping companies become media companies simply because there are fewer reporters around to help tell the stories of clients.

I’ve worked with Intel on its Intel Free Press and other media projects, for example. And PR firms need to do the same, help every company to be a media company and how best to use the media technologies available.

Impress Labs, is a good example, it publishes newsletters about solar and clean energy and is aggregating other publications into a Solar channel.

I see lots of PR firms helping clients spruce up their web sites and offer design services.

But the publishing, etc, is not enough. 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.

This has to happen quickly because PR is being challenged from sectors that already understand technologies of promotion. 

The PR industry is heading for a serious showdown with ad agencies gunning for PR budgets. Ad agencies have algorithmic buying and selling of ads, there is already a large automated component to their business.

Where is the equivalent component for PR? 

PR has competition from other sectors such as SEO, marketing agencies, and even more troubling in the long term, Google itself.

Art for art’s sake…

PR is certainly more art than it is science but that doesn’t mean there is no opportunity to automate some of the work.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, recently predicted that within 20 years most jobs will be automated. Why are PR jobs so special that some of the work won’t be automated? 

Metrics tied to ROI are imperfect today but that won’t last forever. The rise of more accurate metrics that can be tied to long-term results will force PR firms to change.

That front page story in the New York Times is great but it doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t move the needle for clients — and that needle is the metric of revenues. 

PR firms will need to do more for less, but they can’t keep doing more without adding more people. Which is another reason why PR will need technologies that leverage its work. 

PR firms need more investment in the technology component of their operations. Not only to automate parts of their business but also to sell to their clients and create a new revenue stream.

What will these technologies look like? What technologies will you be able to buy from PR firms?

I know what some of those technologies will look like and what they will be able to do.

Scalable technologies of promotion are on their way —  just make sure you aren’t in the way. 

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