By Kerry Sheehan Chart.PR; FCIPR #AIinPR Panel Chair
How is AI impacting PR right now and what can we look forward to in the future?
Data-driven PR, powered by artificial intelligence, is impacting the evolving face of communications and, whether we like it or not, AI is very quickly making waves in the PR and communication industry.
Communicators are constantly looking for ways to make faster and more informed decisions that drive results and smash goals across all industries and sectors.
AI and big data are certainly proving powerful tools in improving the decision-making process by giving practitioners the most in-depth and comprehensive look at how to solve their communications and marketing problems.
They are also helping the industry better understand consumers’/stakeholders’ core attributes and helping PRs process their data at rapid speed while improving how they are performing services by helping them cut through clutter and find useful, relevant data, creating real impact.
This is giving us more opportunities to create stories we know are going to deliver results – messages being delivered are stronger, tailor-made for their specific audience with bespoke content that is well received.
Comms/PRs and marketers won’t be replaced
While no one thinks that AI is here to replace the whole gamut of PR duties, it is helping minimise the time needed to complete processes such as writing a press release, creating a media list and generating a media advisory among others.
AI is helping us avoid these ‘mundane’ activities, allowing us to maximise more time for creative work and, importantly, people relations. It is turning spreadsheets into logical infographics for better business presentation and stakeholder engagement.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that to break through, we need to constantly use AI technology to create value and improve the communications experience.
Without humans to provide the input and translate the output, AI is just a function. It is the ultimate tool in efficiency.
The communications industry will be completely disrupted by AI over the next five years or so
By making use of AI, marketers and communicators can also create more content and automate low value tasks, leaving more practitioners and teams with more time to focus on more high-level, strategic tasks such as conceptualising and executing creative campaigns, instead of time spent on laborious administrative tasks.
As communicators and marketers, we will have the ability and time to focus on critical thinking and storytelling to ensure content resonates with audiences in more personal ways. This automation is a powerful device which will more and more assist communicators with previously time-consuming tasks such as unveiling audience insights and crafting timely and relevant content.
Ultimately, AI together with big data is radically changing the communications landscape as we know it and PRs should embrace the AI revolution to improve convenience and increase productivity. But our success as communicators relies on our ability to leverage these new tools. AI tools and processes will only multiply.
Experience with AI gives a competitive advantage
Those who embrace AI will have a leg up on the competition, in connecting businesses and brands with new audiences on a deeper level, providing more value to the organisations.
If PRs fail to accept this new reality and fear AI as a competitor rather than a counterpart, we may start to see businesses and brands move forward themselves without communicators who do not know all things about data, AI and machine learning – given the imperative for change.
By embracing AI, we can optimize and amplify efforts, leading to better campaigns and messaging.
Artificial intelligence is coming speeding up the process of media monitoring and is able to gather deeper insights. AI recommendations and tools, PR professionals are able to derive higher quality stakeholder insights to inform strategic recommendations for its clients. AI is also starting to assist PRs in avoiding potential crisis situations, enabling them to be more proactive rather than reactive.
The future will be about connection and creation
The future will see more changes to the way PR people work from both a creation and a connection perspective. PRs will be able to use AI to more effectively analyse the value and real impact of information, such as content and news, and it will advance even further with improvements to areas such as image recognition.
Comms pros and marketers will benefit applying content generation which add value for brands and the media. Early reiterations of this have already been seen in search and engagement-optimized newsrooms employed by the bigger technology companies, which effectively altered the paradigm of media engagement. The media is now able to go into newsrooms to pull content that was relevant to their editorial focus rather than being fed that information through press releases arriving into their already full inboxes, much of which was not relevant. PR will have to follow.
Intelligence to advance business goals, not just metrics
We should start to see PRs creating new sources of intelligence that positively impact their business – not just their communications metrics. We will work closer with other business functions to use machine learning to combine areas such as e-commerce, search and social to provide a perspective of the audience, what they like or dislike, what information they are looking for, and what messages or emerging trends resonate with them.
The practical implications will be transformative, from modifying brand tone and manner, identifying new products and trends. However, while the AI technology has progressed quickly, a pain point for the industry has been the lack of a solid benchmarking or measurement approach to support this.
PR will enjoy higher efficiency and more impactful outcomes if practitioners are able to intelligently embrace AI-informed dissemination and amplification strategies to reach and influence target audiences.
AI won’t replace human intelligence it augments it. It’s the communicators intelligent assistant helping us to work smarter, faster in our roles and also as we advise organisations, business and brands on AI adoption and deployment – we are no longer in our own swim lanes.
As with any emerging technology, AI is often misunderstood and, naturally, with misunderstanding comes misuse and mistrust. For AI to be truly embraced, PRs will need to start sorting the facts from the fiction.
The future demands trust
Building the right kind of trust in the AI services of the future will be key to ensure communication and messaging around AI. PRs and marketers will have to play their roles in setting business, organisational and public discourse and narrative correct on AI, cutting through the hype, helping to create AI-powered organisations and also best placing and promoting AI to audiences in the right way.
However, communicators cannot do that if they do not have a good understanding and education on what big data is, data bias, data ethics, algorithms, machine learning.This is important as AI is only just starting to build momentum, yet many globally say it needs more regulation and restrictions.
There is a need for constant communication and increasing awareness to improve the understanding and applications of AI. This concern by the public the technology is spiraling out of control presents us with the biggest communications challenge AI will face between now and 2025.
PRs, comms and marketers will also start to be tasked with supporting business and brands on artificial intelligence deployment. We are no longer in our own swim lanes and must help drive growth. AI will become a core business function within organisations, with business models and strategies changing to accommodate and embrace the technology.
This age of information is cluttered and inefficient
We currently live in the era of information, but it’s cluttered and inefficient. Artificial intelligence is the door that will allow us to access its real value. AI will help organisations become truly scalable and agile. We’re just on the cusp of unlocking the massive potential of AI. Aspects of it are still unknown but we have reached the point of no return.
But the future will always come with the premise that PR and marketing will always be a relationship-based profession, and so humans are still needed. The use of the right technology will lead to optimizing the time spent and empowering PR professionals to have more time to build stronger relationships.
Will AI kill the fundamentals or PR and marketing?
Will artificial intelligence kill what’s fundamental to the craft of PR like the art of the pitch or superbly written content? Absolutely not. It will give us the tools to elevate our craft – and that is phenomenal.
The key for us as communicators will be to continue to bring the human touch augmented by AI. That’s when the magic will happen!
How do other professions compare with PR in terms of adoption of AI?
All other professions such as finance, banking, law, accountancy, retail, to name a few, are sending their work forces en masse on AI education training courses so they have a good understanding of it and are able to support their organisations and businesses to become AI-powered when the time is right for them.
However, the PR industry – just like throughout history – is not doing that and the onus is very much now on the individual to learn and upskill into data, AI and machine learning.
We have just completed some exclusive research into AI in the professions which paints a very stark picture for the industry and tells us we are already a long way behind the other professions in upskilling.
*Look out for our #AIinPR panel’s exclusive research into AI in the professions, which shows PR is already way behind other professions, which will be launched at The Turing Institute, London on 16 January 2020.
The UK’s CIPR AI panel has repeatedly said PR is sleepwalking into AI. What does that mean?
In a few years, interacting with AI will be as commonplace for the consumer as tapping on a phone, We expect AI to become mainstream and permeate into every walk of life well before 2025, akin to computers in the 90’s and Internet in the year 2000
The fear since the beginning of the industrial age – that machines will take over humans and jobs, is our biggest communications challenge. This is further aggravated by: a lack of understanding of artificial intelligence, compounded by confusing communication by various players during the current hype cycle.
Despite the challenges and misconceptions, we have just described, AI is in a strong position, with almost half of the global population expecting it will change the way we work and live for the better.
However, throughout history PR has such a poor track record at adopting any tech innovation, let alone at scale. We talk a good game, but many communicators seem to think “This isn’t how I work currently” or “My organisation is not looking at AI”.
But it only takes communicators to move business or organisation to realise there are some people out there really looking at AI. How will you have the skills and knowledge to do the job if you haven’t upskilled? How will you ‘clean up’ the reputation mess when AI potentially goes wrong (it’s not all rosy) if you really don’t know what data you have, where it comes from and the who, how what and why of deployment including the tough ethical questions we must ask as we move to be guardians of the truth. It is our roles.
If we, as PRs and marketers, are the ones to support business, organisations and brands build trust, we must address the knowledge gap fast. We must reassure business and consumers artificial intelligence is not about an upcoming apocalypse, it is about tools today that can drive productivity, boost profitability and, done rightly, can help people live better lives.
People, in the main, believe AI is a positive and exhilarating subject but their understanding of what it can deliver is not always accurate. Communicators must be the voice of reason here.
Artificial intelligence, its impact, potential and ramifications isn’t a conversation for say 2025, it is a conversation for now, for 2020, and communicators don’t seem to take that in.
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