As 2022 Budget Planning Beckons, Consider PR Tools’ Pros and Cons

Communication technology is exploding. Investors are pouring millions into companies that provide platforms, tools and automation for PR pros. PR software spending grew 7.5 percent in 2020, topping $5 billion, a new analysis shows.

With so many software choices and cascades of data, the question changes from ‘Which platform(s) do I buy?’ to ‘How do I manage the tool(s) and interpret the data?’

Communicators eventually find themselves bumping up against the limitations of what technology alone can do. In response, tools are neglected and investment is wasted.

New tools emerge, yet they offer few advantages over existing models. So, it’s not a matter of changing tools, it’s about getting the most out of what you own already.

Buyers face the reality that tools for PR are not push-button solutions. High-level AI hasn’t arrived. The current state is machine learning, which relies heavily on human input. Rather than being instant insights engines, platforms require many hours of training–the operator and the tool–to produce accurate and meaningful results.

Few PR agencies and corporate communication departments are equipped to manage these tasks. In some ways, the tail is wagging the dog: having over-invested in tech, decision-makers are forced to spend good money on specialists who can optimize tools they should never have bought.

What’s behind the failed proposition of a PR technology revolution?

I consulted organizational psychologist and PR veteran Michelle Kempskie, a strategic advisor who’s worked with organizations of all sizes and disciplines for 25+ years.

We recounted experiences to begin explaining why investments in PR tech fail. In some cases, the fault lies with technology. Here are examples:

  • The technology cannot be adequately customized to meet specific needs
  • The user experience makes operation more difficult than expected
  • The tech package includes more than the user needs
  • Additional technology is required to optimize the tool
  • The technology can’t aggregate relevant content and generate accurate data


In other cases, the decision-makers miscalculated by:

  • Neglecting to identify objectives for tech at the start
  • Focusing on visuals alone (not the underlying capability)
  • Assuming technology was the answer without adequate review of current practices
  • Not involving those whose job it is to operate the tools and whose roles will be impacted by the new technology
  • Incorrectly guiding set-up and implementation
  • Neglecting to recognize the commitment required for an effective (and profitable) adoption
  • Failing to examine how well the vendor supports the tech
  • Overemphasizing purchase price without considering total cost of operation
  • Being overly susceptible to sellers

Prior to Investing

Michelle continued to shed light on organizational behaviors that lead to failed technology adoption. She suggested these important considerations prior to investing:

  • Specify whom the technology will impact
  • Be thorough and objective when assessing the talent and bandwidth for successful implementation
  • Consider behavioral change(s) required
  • Build support for the technology to ensure buy-in
  • Define what success will look like
  • Gather and assess questions the team seeks to answer using technology.
  • Determine how you’ll incorporate outputs and data into workflow and deliverables

How will the field evolve? Will we see a new category of communication technologists and data scientists? Will PR breed a generation of specialists to train and manage technology and the data platforms generate?

As you approach technology investment, remember:

  • Widgets and flashy dashboards alone won’t get you where you want to go
  • Understand and then overcome natural resistance to new technology to achieve higher adoption rates
  • Define objectives before beginning the selection process
  • The pathway to purchase begins well before the transaction occurs

While the equity investment to develop and refine communication technology continues to flow into SaaS providers, remember many aspects of corporate communication and PR are uniquely human. The marriage of talent with technology is the sole path to business success.

As such, we must: complement technology with creativity and critical thinking; augment platforms with data science and sector expertise; and supplement the speed and accessibility of software with our understanding of and experience in PR.

Last, remember the human elements required to lead behavioral change and adoption. Beyond ‘software as a service,’ remember your goal of delivering the benefits of software with service. n