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Is AI the New Mail Merge? Why Media Relations Still Require Personalization

Despite the drastic adoption of generative AI technology, effective media relations strategies still require personalization to succeed.

Dear [insert journalist name], 

I wanted to reach out because I thought [insert publication] would be interested in my new blog post about why media relations can't be impersonal and rely on mail merge pitches. I know you value personalized relationship building, so I wanted to provide strategic advice on maintaining that human touch in PR, even as AI tools become more common.

The above entry isn’t an actual email written by AI—but it could be. While tech can be used to create a torrent of efficiency, it often lacks the personal touch necessary to bring home media relations results. But AI isn’t the first technological breakthrough missing common sense found in (most) humans.

I vividly remember the time I royally screwed up using mail merge—the seemingly helpful but potentially dangerous technology that lets you send out an email to multiple recipients. The incident happened at my first real midsize PR agency job.

Something—I’m still not sure what—went terribly wrong with the media list. Instead of merging to the media list I had most likely just pulled from a database, I sent a pitch about pouched tuna fish to every single person in my contact list. Imagine the feeling of dread that torpedoed the pit of my stomach when our account director, Caroline, pointed out that she had also received the email. It's been almost eight years, and I still don't think I've fully recovered. (Sorry, Caroline.) 

The appeal of mail merge was that it enabled you to send tons of pitches out very, very quickly.  AI tools now hold the same appeal for PR and marketing pros looking to automate pitching. But human oversight is needed to teach algorithms to avoid mistargeted outreach. AI needs PR strategy and nuance—otherwise, it may pull outdated info or make blanket pitches. 

In this post, I'll explain why personalized media relations remain essential in the age of AI and share tips on using tech to enhance, not replace, strategic pitching.

Mass Outreach Undermines Effective Media Relationships

Impersonal mass pitching is akin to “throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks." But this scattershot approach undermines effective media relations, which are built on relationships rather than volume—and it creates a heck of a mess.

The lesson is not to prioritize speed over strategy. While AI tools can accelerate pitching, true PR relies on personal connections. Before any launch, experts research target outlets, understand specific journalists' interests, and identify preferences like pitch timing or story angles. No algorithm can replicate that level of insight.

Relying on AI to spam media outlets sacrifices strategic thinking for efficiency—and it does so at the expense of efficacy, in both the short and long term. Not only will ill-fitting pitches be ignored, but repeated irrelevance will damage credibility with journalists over time. Media pros value those who understand their beat and pitching style. Impersonal outreach implies you haven't invested the time to learn what makes them tick.

Ultimately, there are no shortcuts to cultivating meaningful PR relationships, and haphazard outreach won't earn trust or coverage.

AI Pitching Lacks Human Judgement and Strategy

If I prompt generative AI to write me an itinerary for my upcoming vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona, it's gonna pull whatever it wants from the internet, but that itinerary is going to include bars (although we’re sober), restaurants without gluten-free options (although I’m gluten intolerant) and probably something my husband absolutely would not want to do (such as a three-hour lecture and Q&A on capital gains taxes?!?!). Why? Because it has no personal relationship with me. 

Similarly, without strategic guidance, AI pitching risks faux pas. Algorithms can generate content rapidly but don't fully grasp nuance. AI will likely surface outdated or irrelevant information, failing to vet sources. It also can't cautiously assess which angles align with a publication or reporter's interests like PR experts can.

And AI still struggles with tone, sometimes suggesting an overly informal pitch unsuitable for certain outlets. It lacks the news judgment that PR pros provide. Humans not only identify potential issues but use our interpersonal intelligence to pitch thoughtfully. AI has a role in supporting PR strategy, but it shouldn't steer the ship. We should guide AI's efficiency toward creating and pitching the best stories, ensuring relevance over robotic repetition.

Combining AI's Efficiency With Personalized Pitching

The solution is using AI to augment, not replace, strategy. While I have heard countless times in 2023 that AI will take my job as a writer and media professional, I'm not very concerned (my robot vacuum tried to eat a floor lamp last week). AI is a tool that can help enhance and streamline media relations when used properly. 

AI excels at optimizing repetitive tasks. Tools like Muck Rack and BuzzSumo analyze data to inform my outreach and content. Grammarly proofreads pitches with precision.

But AI alone cannot replicate the creative narrative crafting at the heart of PR. That requires a human aptitude for storytelling, messaging nuance, and nurturing relationships. AI should empower media pros to focus on our highest-level abilities, not attempt to automate them away.

I advise embracing AI as an augmenting asset while retaining personalized pitching. Let algorithms handle logistic heavy lifting like research and editing. But strategy and engagement should remain human-driven. With the right integration of AI efficiency and PR expertise, we can scale media relations without sacrificing quality.

While AI has a role in achieving efficiency, it can’t replace living, breathing humans. Like an unchecked mail merge, AI pitching could spam journalists and alienate meaningful media relationships. AI can write faster, but PR pros pitch smarter. Here’s to avoiding uncomfortable chats with Caroline.

Look Left’s earned media smartypants can help elevate your profile and drive leads. Reach out for a chat at hello@lookleftmarketing.com

Author
Tags
generative AI
media relations
PR
pitching

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