Entire industries are being disrupted right now, and it’s causing us to rethink the way we work. Look at how Uber is largely replacing traditional taxicab services, or how Airbnb is luring customers away from hotels and guest houses.Technology can be scary. It can mean the end of entire industries almost overnight. When is the last time you held a printed street map in your hands? Or a camcorder?
Disruption in the workplace
Recently there has been a lot of talk around automating certain marketing functions. Salesforce is a good example of a company that understands this. The company has made great strides in exposing today’s marketer to a simpler world where he or she doesn’t have to do everything or keep track of every minute detail.
The effects of automation can be felt even in journalism. As far back as 2012, Wired Magazine published a feature exploring whether an algorithm can write a better story than a human being. The Associated Press now automates all its quarterly earnings stories. Scary thought? As a PR professional, this news should ring alarm bells.
What does it mean for PR professionals when the gatekeepers to our clients’ news, the very people we have spent our lives building relationships with, are replaced by code? Even more alarmingly, if journalism can be automated, what does that mean for our jobs? How much of what a PR person does on a day-to-day basis can be replaced with software?
My computer is better at PR than I am
I believe the PR industry will need to adapt if it’s to survive. And it’s not in the way we had to ‘adapt’ when social media arrived. In tomorrow’s technology-driven world, even the supposed social media gurus of today will be replaced by tireless, efficient and hugely intelligent automation software. Just think about how hard it is to post a Facebook status update. Not hard at all. Feed a computer programme your key messaging, provide it with some verified content sources, and let it pull relevant data into your social channels.
Media relations could similarly be automated. Anyone can send a press release – a well-written piece of code that taps into meta data can probably do it infinitely better than even the best media relations specialist can. That piece of code can scan the internet to track the journalist’s habits, recent articles, favoured topics (based on Twitter and Facebook feeds) and tailor the content so that it’s delivered at the right time, in the right format. Sound familiar? It’s after all what we do every day. The only difference is, the code could do that same job with thousands of journalists at the same time, day and night, regardless of location or language.
What do we do?
We are taught that PR is a science and an art. If PR professionals are to survive the disruptive forces of technology, we will need to become more artist than implementer. A computer programme can quantify your campaign. It can pull relevant data from innumerable sources and provide you with insight unheard of until now. Human beings, with obvious limitations (after all, we have to eat and sleep!) simply cannot compete.
The science of PR will be outsourced to computer programmes in the future. But you can’t automate art. A great painting is, at its core, a collection of paint and canvas particles, atoms. It is colours and brush strokes and technique, flawed parts that create a perfect whole. A computer programme could tell you how many atoms there are, what percentage of the painting is red, blue, grey, black.
But ground the Mona Lisa to the finest dust and sift through it with the finest comb, and show me one particle of inspiration, one dust spec of devotion, love, sadness, hope. You can’t. And yet these things are as real to the person looking at it as the frame holding the painting to the wall.
If PR is to survive the coming storm, we will need to return to artistry.
What does that mean for the way you work?