How automation changes PR workflow

Use automation to increase the amount of time you have to be human – Scott Guthrie has written chapter 18 of #FuturePRoof and in it he talks about some of the best tools available to PR practitioners.

Interested in hearing more from #FuturePRoof? Find us on Twitter @WeArePRoofed.

 Scott Guthrie

You’ll learn:

• About some of the best tools for creating efficiencies in everyday practice
• How to avoid the public relations function being replaced by a robot
• How to use automation to be more human

Today’s overstretched PR practitioner needs to do more than create effective outcomes. She must also
be economical and efficient with resources. Building automation into the PR workflow can harness all three Es.


Better writing through automation

Albert Einstein said "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." When writing for clients and employers it’s easy to become bogged down with jargon.

I’ve often thought there should be a PR tool which combines the Flesch-Kincaid [1] reading ease test with both a grammar hammer and a jargon buster. Until that invention arrives try combining

1. Grammarly
2. Hemingway
3. PRbuzzsaw

Grammarly [2] is a proofreading and plagiarism-detection resource. Use it to check you’re following over 250 grammar rules. And that your content is original.

The Hemingway Editor [3] cuts the dead weight from your writing. It highlights wordy sentences in yellow and more egregious ones in red.

Hemingway helps you write with power and clarity by highlighting adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words.

PRbuzzsaw [4] is a free PR tool. It automatically hacks jargon out of content. Terms like repurposing, best of breed, mission-critical, value-added, and business development lifecycle all get captured.

If this, then that Computers are well suited to working with repetitive tasks. IFTTT [5] is another free tool which works with task triggers. It stands for ‘If this then that’. I use the recipe-based tool in three ways:

1. Backup content whenever I post to [6] my content is automatically backed up in Dropbox [5]. I use a separate recipe to turn the blog post into a print-friendly PDF version [7], too.

2. Show my working I’ve elected to share my current thinking in short, unpolished posts [8] and by uploading whatever I’m reading; my influences, references and inspirations. I do this on Tumblr [9] where I’ve set up a series of IFTTT recipes to automatically post anything I save in Pocket [10], anything I favourite on Twitter and anything I share on Facebook. It’s become a reference library for current thinking.

3. Increase engagement We know that Twitter should be about engagement through meaningful participation not simply broadcasting links. I’ve used IFTTT to build a Twitter list of everyone who has retweeted me. This allows me to concentrate more of my attention on the people who are already engaged with what I’m Tweeting about.

I also use IFTTT to understand a topic better. By creating a list based on a hashtag I can listen in to everyone who’s talking about a particular topic, learn from them and participate when I have something relevant to add.

Give journalists what they want

Media databases have a poor reputation. For PR practitioners they always seem out-of-date. For journalists their pricing structure promotes ‘spray and pray’ distribution resulting in journalists complaining about being bombarded by hundreds of unsolicited and off-topic press releases.

Deep down we all know that effective press releases are those sent only to a handful of journalists. The more tailored the higher success rate.

If you are going to use a media database, select one which drills down to tell you what a journalist has actually written about in the last 90 days. Not just what news beat they cover.
Media monitoring companies with media database offerings have the ability to automate the extraction of journalist contact details and subject matter from all content they monitor.

This provides a double-whammy. The database is kept clean. Plus professional communicators can search for anyone who has written about a subject regardless of the topic they cover. They can then interrogate the sentiment of the coverage. Was the journalist favourable to PR's client position?

Computer algorithms and natural language generators

Since at least the industrial revolution there have been bouts of fear over automation. Automation angst usually homes in on the substitution effect. That the robots are coming and they’re taking your job. There is a lot of noise at the moment about the high volume of machine-written news content and the negative effect this will have on the public relations industry.

Algorithms and natural language generators aren’t new. The Associated Press, a major American news agency, has been using Automated Insights’ Wordsmith [11] platform since mid 2014. Wordsmith’s algorithm creates around 4,500 financial reports per quarter [12], fifteen times more than the 300 quarterly earnings reports the news agency produced manually.

Forbes uses Narrative Science’s Quill [13] for research reports. The Los Angeles Times uses Quakebot [14] to extract relevant data from the US Geological Survey report about sizable tremors and plug the data into a pre-written template.

The size and complexity of the big data created all around us is best suited to artificial intelligence rather than human intelligence to organise, give it purpose and turn it from data into information.

In the instance of financial reporting does this mean that corporate affairs roles will be replaced rather than optimised by algorithms? No.

PR practitioners add value to information elevating it to knowledge through critical thinking and contextual intelligence. Information becomes knowledge through the PR practitioner’s skill at making it productive, actionable and meaningful, turning it into knowledge through a process of interaction and collaboration. It is a dynamic process related to the needs and purposes of the people who create it and those who use it - organisations and their publics.
Using algorithms for press releases

The PR services industry is also trying to find uses for algorithms. Commercial newswires are looking at ways to automatically extract the who, what, where, when, why and how from hundreds of press releases each day and repackage them into journalist-friendly, neatly-packaged summaries. This would add value both to journalists and to the PR professional.

Just because we can doesn't always mean we should

Those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. More a challenge than a meal. Not how much you like but how much it’s possible to eat for the set price. The same warning is true with automation.
Use automation for the heavy lifting. To increase your efficiency, economical use of time (and other scarce resources) and to create effective outcomes.

Use automation to increase the amount of time you have to be human. To add value through contextual intelligence, critical thinking, collaboration and participative, two-way communication.

It's a commercial imperative that as PR practitioners we both automate AND preserve our intellectual edge. PRs who don't automate will be left behind. Those who rely upon automation as a crutch will be financially squeezed in the race-to-the-bottom.


[7] barcelona-principles/
[14] on_la_earthquake.html


Scott Guthrie is a progressive and results-driven communications specialist. He has more than twenty years experience assisting companies within the business intelligence and financial services industries creating positive business environments and navigating reputational challenges. Scott believes placing purpose at the heart of business is the only sure-fire way to thrive in business. He writes regularly about communications, change and creativity at

Twitter: @sabguthrie