Can technology fix the “broken” PR industry?

Thursday, 18 October 2012, 15:49 | Category : General
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The news that a company has been launched to disrupt the “horribly broken” PR industry has met with mixed reactions on both sides of the pond.

The company’s full website is not live just yet, but based on the facts as reported in TechCrunch, Air PR is a US software company that will automate the process of matching companies seeking PR support with the right partner. It will do this through complex algorithms based on data inputted by client and PR person or agency.

It’s a novel concept and one based on the right idea, which is that companies – particularly smaller ones looking for more bang for their buck – do not always derive value from their PR campaigns because they are not working with the right partner. This could be a great way to ensure that key compatability factors are met upfront, giving projects a higher chance of success.

The company’s founders – who hail not from a PR background, but from the US VC scene – have launched the business based on a perception that PR agencies charge extortionate fees which are not always linked to outcomes. This is particularly damaging to start ups and early stage companies which need to raise awareness but have very limited marketing budgets (probably precluding them from using other forms of marketing, eg advertising). This is fair enough – although at PRN, we are always cautious to check that the company’s expectations are achievable before taking them on as a client – often start ups do not have the assets in place to generate much press interest (customers, product that is beyond beta version etc).

One excellent feature of the product is the built-in feedback loop which will allow clients to report back on the success of the campaign. This will help the company refine its roster of PR “talent” and continually improve the matching process and client experience.

However as they will not be taking an active role in programme planning and delivery, ultimately they can’t be held accountable for results. Projects can go south for many reasons and this can happen whether the client is working with a one man band or a full service agency. Our own hybrid offer, where experienced freelancers work under the PR Network banner, has been very popular with clients seeking a lower risk, lower cost solution. We advise clients that success is about total commitment on both sides to a positive outcome, respect for agency and press deadlines and appreciation that if press coverage is the goal then it is about the quality and newsworthiness of the company, what it is selling and its relevance to readers.

It will be very interesting to see how this development pans out. Ours is a relationship-driven industry. Clients choose their PR partner based on a number of factors – whether they’ve heard good things about them; the combination of skills and experience in the team; whether they’ve worked with similar companies – and most importantly, chemistry. A piece of software might be able to take the pain out of agency selection in some respects, but it will never replace the human element. PR is still a people business.

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