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AI in PR – Fact, fiction and the future

For the better part of the last decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has played an increasingly prominent role in how we’ve experienced the world around us — in some ways that are obvious, like the digital personal assistant that responds to your every need, and in others invisible and technically complex, like the algorithms powering the camera in your mobile phone that help you take professional-looking photos worthy of Ansel Adams’ admiration.

AI is also impacting virtually every market sector and profession globally. Gartner predicts AI will contribute $3.9 trillion in business value by 2022, up from $1.2 trillion in 2018. While it’s difficult to quantify the bottom-line impact on the business of public relations, it’s clear that AI is having a profound impact on the practice of PR today and will play a more important (and permanent) role in how PR professionals evolve their craft.

To understand the upside and impact of AI in PR, it’s important to understand what it is, and what it is not.

AI is...

  • A general term used to describe anything that mimics human intelligence. It’s also a more specific term used by technologists to label a machine learning technique known as Deep Learning, which is where most of the media hype, mysticism and global technology investment is focused today.
  • A powerful enabling technology that, when applied correctly, helps us improve speed, efficiency, and accuracy of repetitive, often mundane, but important tasks.
  • Just math (middle school math) and rather basic computer science.

AI is not...

  • A magical cure-all for the world’s problems. In fact, Deep Neural Networks, the state-of- the-art in AI algorithms, which for the past several years have promised everything from autonomous driving to curing cancer, have fallen short of their intended goals.
  • Capable of independent thought, reasoning or creative, out-of-the-box thinking – the unique traits that will continue to define and differentiate humans from machines for many generations to come.
  • A threat to you, your PR job or the survival of mankind.

So what does this mean for you and the business of PR today and into the future?

From an efficiency standpoint, AI is already increasing productivity by streamlining and automating repetitive tasks such as news and social media monitoring, trend analysis, campaign performance measurement, and results reporting. Advances in natural language processing will make it easier to predict, react to, and even defuse an emerging brand-related crisis before it happens, and will continue to reduce the time needed to generate content such as blogs and press releases. Media outlets including the Washington Post, Associated Press and Bloomberg have been leveraging AI to automatically generate sports, financial earnings, and first drafts of general interest stories for a few years. As this same technology becomes more widely employed by PR and crisis communications pros over time, machine-to-machine communication will ensure that tailored messages hit the mark with greater accuracy in seconds or minutes, not hours or days.

With less time spent on repetitive, time-sucking tasks, an increasing amount of work band- width will be shifted to activities that require creative thinking, strategic planning and instinct–the essential attributes of successful communications professionals that no machine will offer in our lifetime. And even in the case of automated tasks, human input and guidance are still critical. AI systems, while hyper efficient at achieving intended objectives, are not flawless and are only as good as the data and expertise used to train them.

Confronting a brewing brand crisis with an immediate, AI-driven response may blunt the virality of the news at the outset, but snuffing it completely still requires strong personal relationships with media and influencers (and a healthy dose of nuance). But with the help of AI, communications professionals can make faster, more informed decisions, resulting in what will be a necessary and fruitful collaboration between humans and machines. We will do our best work as a team.

To be truly successful in an AI-powered world, it’s important to be well versed in its terminology, concepts, and applications in your business and the business of your clients. Technology is now more relatable and accessible, and having conversational knowledge of AI will be expected at a bare minimum. Functional knowledge of AI, to be most effective in selecting and utilizing AI systems, will increase the efficacy of your efforts and value of your results.

To download a full copy of the 2020 Relevance Report, click here.