The increasing reliance on automation that some are deploying in the guise of serving public relations clients is definitely a trend on the rise. The question that PR pros should be asking themselves is whether or not embracing a trend that's not mutually beneficial for both the client and the agency is in anyone's long-term best interests.
It seems every time you turn around, a new product is being rolled out that basically purports to automate media relations and other key aspects of the communication process. While automation in and of itself isn't a bad thing, the key issue here is that increasing reliance on tools does little to improve the reputation of public relations as a professional service and get PR counselors that coveted “seat at the table.”
The prevailing notion, now that PR agencies are rushing to position themselves as experts in not only PR but all things new media, is: The more messages you can put out there on a client's behalf, the better. However, I wholeheartedly question whether that notion is a good one. In effect, we should all be looking to issue only value-added messages on behalf of clients -- ones that make them stand out above the competition and clearly articulate what they offer and how it's unique. The more one company tries and put its hands into every pie imaginable, the greater the likelihood that something will backfire.
Also, PR as an industry can't claim to foster communication between clients and key constituencies if, at the same time, we essentially turn to a variety of “bots” to do most of our communicating. Machines and tools can't have intelligent communications with key stakeholders -- a skill that PR must master to keep that seat at the table. Finally, rather than trying to increase the number of messages that we're sending on behalf of clients, we should be measuring the value of those messages; for if a message isn't seen as actually contributing something worthwhile, it will certainly go ignored.
None of this is to say that the increasing number of venues in which we can communicate with current clients and prospects is a bad thing. A news article in a respected outlet has value to one demographic and a Facebook page that keeps customers up-to-date is valuable to another. Strategies that take into account that we're aiming, and hopefully reaching, a different demographic range on different platforms are what will help PR claim the communications mantle in this increasingly digital age. Simply replicating the same strategy across a variety of different platforms will not.
So while you're probably using a variety of tools to automate the transmission of data on behalf of clients, don't forget about personal phone calls and e-mails as a way to establish a true dialog with reporters, editors, and other constituencies. Carefully targeting all of your messages in a way that lets the recipients know you value their time and are attempting to send them something useful will continue to be the key to success no matter how things evolve.