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PR embrace new technologiesMany public relations professionals resist adapting new technologies and new ways of doing business. Instead, PR personnel continue to rely on what they’re accustomed to. Old-school communications tools remain dominant. That’s the unfortunate conclusion of new research by APPrise Mobile and the PRSA.

PR uses primarily email for both internal and external communications, even though many agree email is not the most effective communications technology. PR professionals are slow to adopt newer technologies like social media, mobile apps, streaming media and live video conversations.

Over 60 percent of more than 600 communications professionals who participated in the survey believe that other technologies eventually should become as important as email. (In many professions and industry segments, they already are.)

PR is Can Now Control its Tech Destiny

“This is unfortunate, since now more than ever before we as communications professionals have the opportunity to control our destiny when it comes to the implementation and use of new ways of doing our work,” argues Jeff Corbin, CEO of Apprise Mobile, a native app platform for mobile communications.

Because of the proliferation of mobile technologies and cloud computing, PR no longer needs IT to install solutions. They can often sign up ourselves and start using new tools immediately, Corbin explains.

Some key points from the survey include:

  • 95% of corporate communicators use email for internal employee communications, yet only 69% say email is the most effective way to reach employees.
  • Email is used for external communications 91 percent of the time, yet only 27 percent believe email is the most effective way to reach external audiences.
  • Only 31% say their company has an app for communicating externally.
  • 62% either lack access or have great difficulty accessing their company’s intranet through their mobile device.
  • 31 percent say that different groups within their company utilize different messaging technologies.

Always Late to the Game?

Some PR veterans say the survey presents another example of how the profession is generally slow to adopt new technology. In the past, PR hesitated to embrace social media. More recently, the profession has been slow to understand chatbots and artificial intelligence.

“Our industry has made it a habit of being late to the game, then scrambling to catch up,” writes Shel Holtz, Holtz Communication + Technology. “Consequently, we make a lot of mistakes in the glare of public scrutiny, while our friends working in paid media made their mistakes early on when everybody else is still figuring it out and missteps are more easily forgiven.”

Journalists often complain about PR pitches. The problem is typically not the PR people themselves. “In most cases, it’s outdated tools, or services that facilitate bad behavior” writes PR veteran Bill Hankes in Fast Company.

They are Not Luddites

Other PR leaders counter that attitudes of PR people toward technology are not nearly as bad as some critics claim.  Most PR pros now take advantage of a range of technology tools and software to improve efficiency and results, although most of the tools were not originally designed with PR in mind. Many PR departments have implemented social media, content marketing and influencer marketing as core activities. They have also adopted more advanced media measurement tools like Glean.info. The technology and software they now use help PR pros tell better stories, connect with influential bloggers, and monitor and measure traditional and social media.

“Like most areas of business, PR has reinvented itself for the digital age. Ironically, word hasn’t gotten out,” asserts Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications.

The recent survey may have simply asked the wrong questions or framed the questions improperly to accurately assess the use of new technologies in PR. While the profession has a reputation for lagging on adoption of technology, there’s plenty of evidence that PR folks – especially the younger generation – have adapted to the new era in communications and the technologies, including cell phone, text, mobile apps and streaming video.

In the major centers of new communications such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and even Silicon Valley, the young PR pros are widely recognized as being among the “hippest” when it comes to technology. They are certainly more advanced than doctors, lawyers, accountants, and many other professions. So, maybe for a change, PR should give itself a big “Booya” for its technology savvy, even while resolving to become more adept at applying emerging new technologies including virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Bottom Line: In the coming era of rapid technical change including machine learning and artificial intelligence, PR’s typical sluggishness in adopting new technology could endanger the profession’s future. Some warn that PR may be absorbed by marketing departments if the profession does not become more technologically savvy. The good news for PR is that more vendors offer tools and services that are easy to install and use – and affordable. In addition, younger PR people are more technically savvy and more likely to adapt and adopt emerging technologies.