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How can one maintain a list of publication lists inside MC and allow service agents to manage an individual subscribers publication list preference within SC?

I imagine we could do this using automation studio querying data extensions and then doing a file import but is there an out-of-the-box solution?

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There is no out of the box solution as Publication Lists vary by organization and could not be related to any standard Sales Cloud fields.

There are a couple of options that can be done to manage them:

1) Salesforce apex by building a custom solution that would do the update to SFMC Publication List.

2) Using (as you mentioned) continuously running Automation Studio to query SF field values and importing these values to Publication Lists.

For client side management it's typical to build a custom Preference Center that has the Publication Lists on them, with these populating in real-time by Salesforce fields by using RetrieveSalesforceObjects function and the same way they are updated by UpdateSingleSalesforceObject whenever users make any changes.

With an additional SSJS script piece that would be using Salesforce field values to update corresponding Publication Lists through their ListID values.

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