Automation, crowdsourcing and a word of mouth: Will a fancy joint invention born in collaboration between a renowned Russian business journalist and Russian PR community restructure the entire PR industry?

With new tech quickly diffusing in our everyday jobs (and I am obviously referring to our usual ‘PR in IT’ routine), you all must have noticed how frantic efforts are to preserve usually advertised “personal and customized” approach to the target media. Yet, we secretly console ourselves with a much-coveted desire to automate this exhausting PR routine and still be able to bake unique articles every day. No less have you been trying to find balance between the client’s wish to show face everywhere and the limitations imposed by prep work one has to do first to proactively generate speaking opportunities for a customer.

The main pillars of successfully profiling your customer’s spokesperson have been unanimously identified as “Know your press”, “Hear your industry”, and “Create your own story”. All of them, arguably, are the key ingredients of a proficient PR agency: strong media relationships help to open doors to many, even extremely challenging, companies you serve; industry awareness, basically, sets you apart from notorious ‘did-you-publish-our-latest-press-release’ PR assistants; finally, an ability to share unique and valuable content is what makes this concoction work and ultimately contributes to overall success. 

Today, when the speed of content generation is dictated by online media and social networks and pretty much challenged by an abundance of competitors fighting for the space in a short-charactered overview article by a top media outlet, the task of creating valuable content and work with over 10,000 federal and regional media becomes something of a Sisyphus labor. The urge to keep pace with this rush creates demand for automated analytical platforms streamlining information on thousands of media influencers and allowing you to hear the beat of the industry and find a spot where your client should perfectly fit. However, although being quite a hype today, debugged and affordable Big Data platforms which can be readily used to work with Russian media are still nowhere to be seen, and many Russian micro- and boutique agencies find themselves constrained and in limbo making both ends meet for both yesterday’s proven practices and the demands of tomorrow.

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That necessity for a win-win solution for both PR people and journalists motivated Kommersant’s Konstantin Bocharsky, a long-term contributing editor at Sekret Firmy, a Russian business magazine, to apply the essentials of the data aggregation approach and create a unique PR-media interaction mechanism that he was able to turn into a full-functioning platform in as short as three months.

You know how Uber works, don’t you? There is a need for you (a passenger) to meet a fitting transportation option (an Uber car) based on your location and the desired class of the car. The app searches for the car closest to you, and then you get a lift and the driver gets money. No ad or dispatch office is needed for you to get the taxi – it’s only location data that matters for both of parties. Most probably, this idea, or everyone’s obsession with similar apps, was behind Konstantin’s foundation of a ‘comment aggregation’ service.

Just on my first day to the office after a long New Year’s vacation, I stumbled across a post in the Facebook community about a guy who was on venture to automate PR-media interaction through something called ‘Press Feed’. The sole reason why a journalist was the one who came up with the idea which is by design seemed to make the PR person’s life easier, was, again, the abundance of data and the need for unique content. Being an early adopter, I immediately subscribed to give it a try.

How does Pressfeed work? In fact, pretty much like Uber. A user is registered in the system as a Reporter or Newsmaker. A Reporter creates a request for help with their future article: it usually includes a profile of a publication, an overview of the topic, certain requirements towards the contribution and the deadline. A Newsmaker immediately sees the update on the Pressfeed web dashboard and also receives an email alert with new topics twice a day.

Frankly, I was all skeptical at first, but upon seeing three requests in the row issued by top business dailies, I plunged into it, immediately advertised the service to the team, and what we have seen throughout the couple of months, was the pool of opportunities for our clients who ultimately saw their bylines and commentaries appearing in influential trade, general, and business publications.

With regards to the PR industry, the initial amusement at how simple and straightforward the idea was got replaced by sheer enthusiasm on seeing the first results, and then organically transformed into a crowdfunding effort to make the service more convenient. Frank Facebook conversations with the Pressfeed team (then solely consisting of Konstantin Bocharsky) fueled up fast and constructive usability tests and drills, and now, only half-year since the service was launched, the platform employs selection by industry, selection by region, a timer, a “invisible” mode, built-in commentaries, newsmaker/reporter ratings, the count of accepted or submitted commentaries, early deadline closure, and many other essential capabilities which made once simplistic platform a powerful tool in PR’s everyday arsenal.

As soon as the platform got traction and the founder was unanimously acclaimed the PR industry’s disruptor, the legitimate questions started to emerge: does Pressfeed undermine the whole idea of a reporter’s function of independent writing and analyzing? Does it eliminate the role of PR now, when the very function of building the bridge between a speaker and a journalist can be essentially taken over by Pressfeed?

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The history of IT industry has proven that you cannot blindly oppose the true disruptors in order to preserve the old model (what springs to mind here again is, ironically, the Uber story) – this brand new world is getting so unbelievably fast it will simply wash you down the drain. Pressfeed might be challenging the order of things in the PR-media relationship, but what it has done so far is offered the way out of some tight knots:

  • It offered the journalists the right to enjoy certain privacy and not end up in a database of bulk email addresses for all email subscriptions in the world;
  • It streamlined the amount of incoming data and took a burden from PR people’s shoulders by ranging topics and media to pursue and tackle;
  • It opened up opportunities for standalone experts and companies which are not bathing in marketing budgets to convey their message on-par with the real industry giants;
  • It eliminated one of the most annoying layers of the PR-media bond, a.k.a. advertising managers dictating their policies to editorials;
  • It introduced the true competition spirit between newsmakers: the only factor that matters when the reporter selects commentaries among dozens of submitted materials is the true value of the content;
  • It disciplined PR departments to be on-time and on-message with their submissions and respect deadlines;
  • For numerous regional and new media, it opened access to top newsmakers and speakers and, in turn, allowed PR people to add news names to their media influencer lists;
  • Ultimately, it offered a transparent way to evaluate a PR manager’s efficiency by introducing a straightforward mechanism of assessing content ‘conversion’ rate (by calculating accepted vs. submitted ratio).

It is obvious that, no matter what Pressfeed is for you, you cannot deny the disruption it brought to your PR routine. The fact that the lead in creating this tool was taken by a journalist, really signals that this platform was something the media needed, in the first place. Like with Uber, you cannot stop this change – for good or for bad, it has already transformed your everyday reality.

Now when Mr. Bocharsky is an honored guest at all Russian PR summits, roundtables, and discussion clubs, and Pressfeed has already contributed to publication of over 10,000 commentaries and materials in the media since Day 1, I think, there are some more steps the promising service should go, including the monetization of the subscription model and the start of the licensing program. To give you a piece for thought, a similar service in the US called HARO (Help the Reporter Out) was in the end successfully sold to VOCUS and, consequently, to CISION. But this will be another story. As our world today is ‘Uber’-fast, these Pressfeed developments seem to be just around the corner.

By the way, here’s Konstantin’s recent interview to RusBase: http://rusbase.vc/interview/bocharskij/

By Valeria Titova

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