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PR in the age of Artificial Intelligence

What you need to know

According to Google, Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is “the intelligence exhibited by machines or software”. Though AI is often associated with dystopic sci-fi visions of the future (think The Matrix), its presence has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. We already welcome AI into our homes with Amazon’s Alexa, and into our palms with Apple’s Siri. In essence, AI is a computer, software or algorithm that is able to display characteristics associated with intelligence, including thinking, learning, predicting, or actually working.

How has AI affected PR?

In the world of public relations, artificial intelligence has had a tempered (though growing) effect. While content publication and distribution have been automated for years, previously human-owned or creative activities have seen a rise in the use of automated technologies. For example, Associated Press (AP) has implemented AI technology to produce all earnings reports. Tech companies are designing AI that produces outbound content, including press releases, product descriptions, email outreaches etc. While these activities are in their early stages, and can largely be differentiated from human-produced content, machines are now able to use natural language processing (NLP) techniques to produce unique and insightful prose in mere seconds.

So far these primitive AI tools require structured data to create insights; that is, data with a high degree of organization, a predefined set of rules, that is readily searchable through search engine algorithms or other search operations. Yet in the near future, cognitive computing will be able to harness the power of structured and unstructured data by analyzing and producing information in novel ways.

As Maria Winans, Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Cognitive Engagement notes:

Maria Winans
“The biggest challenge is that some of the most revealing data about critical human insights is in unstructured forms such as images, natural language and video. This “dark data” has traditionally been out of reach, with 88 percent of all available data dark to most organizations… I’m talking about insights into emotion, attitude and tone – elements that can bring you closer to your buyers. The potential for marketers is enormous as we access these new data types and gain new awareness of feelings, motivations and behaviors.”
Maria Winans

But is AI a threat to PR jobs?

Whether machines will replace humans in the workforce is a topic that dominates the cultural and economic zeitgeist in 2017. Though there is little doubt that automation will replace blue-collar jobs such as driving, how it will affect knowledge based, white-collar jobs such as public relations remains unclear.

The often cited argument is that while machines will do the laborious and administrative parts of PR work, AI will in fact free up the public relations professional to do work which requires the distinct human qualities of creativity and empathy.

Business Consultant, Katie King argues that:

Katie King
“Creative thinking and messaging are aspects that would fundamentally need human input...the future looks promising, especially for those in jobs where creative input, craftsmanship and human judgement will remain superior to what a machine can do”.
Katie King

McKinsey research reinforces this idea: “the hardest activities to automate with currently available technologies are those that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work.” In the PR professionals world this would encompass devising communications strategies, building relationships with journalists, and producing content.

Yet there are some glaring (and perhaps self-deluding) flaws in such arguments. The question of automation is about when, not if, it will happen.

AI is already here, doing our jobs

First, machines are already far superior to humans, in certain areas, in analyzing short and long-term trends, and devising algorithm based techniques to achieve strategic goals. It is conceivable that software in the future is capable of monitoring data on the internet, evaluating emotions and opinions, and consolidating the information into natural language with the highest probability of influencing audiences.

Second, we overestimate the power of the human touch. Sure, you may prefer speaking to a human over a robot customer service representative now - but these technologies are still currently in their early developmental or clunky phase. Once technologies improve their natural language processing, and algorithms become more powerful, it will become difficult to differentiate human interactions from those with machines.

In fact, research done by Hubspot reveals that “when given the scenario, 57% of respondents were interested in getting real-time answers from chatbots on a company website”. Perhaps the most damning news to human PR is this: “when we asked respondents if they had a preference for who should help them in a service setting, 40% didn't care if they were helped by a person or AI tool”. With their capacity to provide instantaneous, round-the-clock service on social networks, websites, and messaging applications, organizations will increasingly lean on machine based PR tools.

Lastly, with growing capabilities in machine learning technologies, AI is already dispelling the notion of an ethereal human quality of ‘creativity’. Machines are now competing against, and beating humans at some of our most cherished artistic endeavours such as music and art.

Where to from here?

It is argued that artificial intelligence, like all information technology, is undergoing exponential growth. The most ambitious estimates predict that AI will outperform humans in most jobs within the next 20 years. Considering that Facebook started 14 years ago, this really isn’t far away.

Source: Brainfood: Moore’s Law Explained

Where then, does this leave us? For public relations (indeed for most occupations), this is a significant existential question. While it is difficult to predict the outcome, it will be important for PR professionals to remain vigilant of emerging technologies, and to identify opportunities to work alongside AI wherever they may appear. Whether that can be even be done in the long term remains a mystery.

Though AI will form a large part of the future of PR, there are other trends and tools to keep on top of. Learn how to personalize your content, and to harness the power of video and offline content to stay ahead of the game.


About PressPage

PressPage provides a SaaS PR platform with additional services for creation of advanced social newsrooms, virtual press centers and online media hubs. It enables brands to publish and distribute rich content, and provides direct insights into the results. PressPage empowers PR professionals by adding efficiency and effectiveness to their daily work routine.