Arthur W. Page Society

The Expectations and Realities Gap of CommTech

Technologists design CommTech to do what technology is built to do: make tasks easier, more economical, and faster. But without human expertise, CommTech fails to stand on its own. The optimal tech stack combines tools with talent.  With so many CommTech choices and cascades of data, the question for CCOs evolved from “which platform do I buy?” to “who manages the tool and who interprets, contextualizes and executes on the data produced by that platform?” 

Now, almost every public relations organization subscribes to one or more CommTech solutions and every organization has data; usually, too much data. As leaders of the communication function, many CCOs and the organizations they lead eventually collide with the limitations of what technology alone can do. Ultimately, the technology should enable better decisions: decisions regarding journalist, influencer and media targeting, release distribution and the generation of actionable insights.   Unfortunately, as a result of missed expectations, the tools suffer from neglect and the investment is wasted. New CommTech announcements seem to arrive daily, but they don’t offer a material advantage over those already available. As such,   it’s not a matter of choosing or changing the tool. Instead, CCOs must consider what they are trying to solve, and if the resources and processes are in place to benefit from a new CommTech tool. 

A New Perspective

While communications platforms are everywhere, CCOs face the reality that these are not push-button solutions or thinking machines: High-level artificial intelligence hasn’t arrived yet for public relations applications. The current state is “machine learning,” a lesser form of artificial intelligence that relies heavily on human input. Rather than instant artificial intelligence insights engines, the platforms require many hours of training – both the operator and the tool – as well as ongoing refinement to produce meaningful results. Few corporate communications organizations or their agencies are equipped to properly manage these tasks. And we must face facts: Hardly anyone enters PR to manage a tool…and, besides, who wants to be a “tool” anyway?  University curricula offer degrees in communications data science and graduates find themselves in high demand. In some ways, this is the tail wagging the dog: having over-invested in the technology, decision-makers spend good money after bad by hiring specialists to optimize the technology they should never have bought in the first place.  

Why do investments in communications technology fail? Sometimes the fault lies with the technology:

In other cases, the decision-makers erred by:

CCOs must assess and support the organizational behaviors that lead to CommTech adoption success or failure. Here are important considerations prior to investing in your Comms Stack:

Dozens of CommTech offerings now compete for your attention and loyalty. But how will the field evolve over time? Will a new category of communication technologists and data scientists emerge? Will the profession breed a new generation of specialists to train and manage the technology and data? 

As you approach your CommTech decision, remember that flashy dashboards aren’t enough. Stave off challenges by first understanding and then overcoming natural resistance to new technology to achieve higher adoption rates. Define your objectives before beginning the selection process. The pathway to purchase begins well before the transaction occurs.

While investment to develop and refine communications technology continues to flow into SaaS providers, we must remember that many aspects of corporate communication are uniquely human. The marriage of talent with technology is the only path to CommTech success: complement technology with creativity and critical thinking; augment the platform with data science and sector expertise; and supplement the speed and accessibility of software with an understanding of and experience in public relations. Finally, 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.”

Mark Weiner is the Chief Insights Officer for PublicRelay, the analytics and advisory firm. He is the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights.” Mark was invited to join the Page Society in 2016.  

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