Artificial Intelligence in PR and the new wave of PR pros

Posted by Daniela Hamill

BBC’s recent drama series ‘Years and Years’ explored how artificial intelligence and technology influenced a family 15 years into the future. Scarily, everything from relying on Alexa for information to real-life Snapchat filters actually seemed believable. Actress, Anne Reid’s monologue expressed how we’ve built a world where artificial intelligence has taken over, with emphasis on how self-serve machines have replaced humans in supermarket jobs. 

The CIPR’s newest report claims the PR industry is “sleepwalking into AI” and at a recent talk with CIPR’s Kerry Sheehan it was clear that AI is going to impact the work that I do as a PR account executive, and at a rate far faster than previously thought. What does that mean for junior PR pros coming into the industry and the future of the PR account exec role?

What is artificial intelligence?

Defined by the Oxford Dictionary: Artificial Intelligence as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

Weirdly, artificial intelligence isn’t as daunting as it seems. It’s something that we all probably take for granted each day, not just in a working environment.

Take every day travel as an example. Remember the days when we used to have to speak to an actual human to order a cab? Now, it’s all about the online apps, cutting the middle person out. We do it because it’s quick and convenient without realising its influence until we think back to a time before it.

How will someone entering PR now be affected by AI?

While we’re aware of the rise of artificial intelligence in other industries, what is its status in the public relations industry?

As someone who is just starting out in PR, being told some of my current account executive roles will be automated or non-existent in the next half a decade wasn’t the nicest thing to hear. It did give me a ‘well why am I here?!’ moment. 

However, the CIPR talk reassured myself and other account execs in the room that we will still have a place in PR, it’s just that the roles will shift and we have to get up to speed and work with the AI tools to enhance the work that we do.

A big take-away from the evening was data. If only I had a pound for the amount of times I wrote the word in my notebook. Data, algorithms and AI tools will replace some of my key account exec roles. They will better track, analyse and predict trends for a proactive approach to tailor content and campaigns towards what target audiences are interested in and will engage with. 

As social media currently takes up a large chunk of my responsibilities, social automation tools are useful AI software that myself and other communicators can embrace. Particularly for crisis and reputation management. AI can help businesses manage the challenging customer service and reputation aspects on platforms like Twitter. Especially for big companies, sieving out negative comments from the hundreds of daily interactions can be quite a chore (to give it some context, around 6,000 tweets are posted on Twitter every second). The tools use data and keyword technology, software can alert the social media coordinators on the most negative and important tweets – so they won’t get left out by human error.

What’s the advice to PR account executives from the CIPR?

The CIPR predicts that many PR tasks will be automated or be assisted by artificial intelligence in the industry over the next three to five years. For people just starting or finishing their PR degree, AI is going to be at the forefront of some of taught roles, so adapting to the change quickly will put undergrads and new qualified PR pros at an advantage compared with communicators with years of experience having to completely adapt to a new era of public relations.

CIPR’s main advice from the AI in PR talk is to start a conversation with the data pros such as software developers to see what the industry can expect from AI, how data works and how we as PR pros can use this data ethically and transparently. 

Thinking about how the public relations industry has changed over the years – from traditional methods to PR as I know it today, it’s clear from the AI in PR talk that as I enter into the world of PR I will have to adapt to an ever changing industry. And while some of my roles and responsibilities will be taken over by artificial intelligence in the near future, it’s fair to say that the creativity, personal and human elements of PR can be left to the pros (the human ones).