Public Relations Riot:
The Anxiety of Automation and the Relic of PR Here at the Crossroads of Communication

Adam Nelson
4 min readApr 8, 2019


Adam Nelson | CEO, WORKHOUSE

Within an industry traditionally slow to transform, Public Relations needs a radical rebellion and must defend — and extend — its existing business.

Austrian Economist Joseph Schumpter coined the term “creative destruction” which describes the process of young, entrepreneurial companies sweeping away large incumbent enterprises akin to old men losing vitality as they age. This process of industrial mutation has reverberated and the street is littered with the likes of Blockbuster, Tower Records, Polaroid, and Sears: Industries who did not heed innovations call.

The province of Public Relations faces similar devaluation. Have this industry’s greatest innovations over the past two decades truly been a pitch shift from fax to email? Glossy press kits to EPK? Influencer marketing? Newsjacking?

Today we stare directly into the reflective glass of a communications field attempting to keep up in a world of self-promotion.

This is its clarion call to get with the times.

A recent survey states “84% of PR Pros Say Media Relations Remains Important But Adaption to New Challenges Seems Slow

Is it therefore surprising that many believe the ancient PR model to be a critical patient?

Over the course of my 25 year history as a public relations executive and the founder of a firm that specializes in creative communications, I believe it is mission critical to riot here at the crossroads of communication for we are in a frontline battle that demands elicit changes to both our practice and paradigm.

William Penn said, “Passion is the mob of the man, that commits a riot upon his reason.”

Over four millennia, PR has evolved and expanded its influence worldwide.

Until it didn’t.

Primitive public relations bloomed in 1800 B.C when Sumerians used a farm bulletin to explain the growth of crops. The road to modern relations extended to the propagation of faith during the Middle Ages, creation of The Federalist Papers to support formal passage of the United States during Colonial Times, the pioneering press agentry of P.T Barnum and his touring circus, Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats,” to the founding of the Public Relations Society of America in 1948. Examples that both established and esteemed the fine art of communication.

Trapped in tradition until the dawn of the digital age, our values soon became bipolar. Success was found in the combination of two different PR generations, relationship-building entwined against digital savviness.

In this era of lean newsrooms, whittling publications, and a world media hamstrung by ‘Fake News’ and ‘Alternative Facts,’ we must reclaim our relations by building innovation into our industries DNA to avoid a slow death.

Public Relations is now a hyphenate. It is a content partner of visual assets that extends well beyond the identification of media opportunities and interest segments, while constructing a strategy, system and culture that sustains growth. Experimentation and collaboration are the new arts and crafts within a blindingly innovative communications culture. The magic of our might involves both the management of our relationships and the crafting of emotional content to solve problems not easily measured. Its goal? To provide communication conceived as long and short term objectives which turns reputation into revenue.

And what is the revolutionary fix to our fragile infrastructure? A moonshot ascent into bold new realms?

No, industry leaders define the future as a premise termed PESO.

The PESO model (Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned Media) has been heralded with the potential to become the industry’s largest untapped opportunity; a data-driven mindset absolutely necessary to elicit metamorphosis.

Both agency and client-side PR pros point to the current landscape as:

• Content Creation (81%)

• Social Media (75%)

• Brand Reputation (60%)

• Media Relations (55%)

For an industry lauded for its imagination, this is nothing more than a band aid for a battlefield.

We can begin by recognizing the four forms of industry innovation:

Conventional Innovation: We must build upon our existing technological competencies in order to exploit our current business practices. PR must imminently rise, craft an agile approach to fuel a future through technical integration and media collaboration.

Disruptive Innovation: We must shift our present business model and embrace digital literacy and fluency within new and revolutionary roles as creators, makers and strategists.

Progressive Innovation: We must enable a major technological change, one that reinforces our existing business through skillset and storytelling in order to become leading lights in surpassing our audience expectations.

Engineered Innovation: We must institute radical change technology while simultaneously creating a new business model by integrating tech tools within an industry and fragmented media world rip for disruption.

Conventional, Disruptive, Progressive or Engineered, these innovations constitute a Public Relations riot.

I think of the cannon of women and men who aspire to change the world through howling headwinds and status quo — futurists with soul, sound and fury. Champions who do tomorrow’s work today. As we approach the 20th anniversary of my agency Workhouse, I aspire to aid in the ascension of aspiration, dive deep into the depths of disruption, and amplify the change we will make to the very nature of this industry’s facile foundation.

Not simply reconfigure the power percentages of possible media placement.

To tackle the paradigm shift before us through evolutionary mechanisms, I am intensely interested in banding together industry-wide to divine a new direction forward for a business that should own its future.