An analysis of the impact of AI on skills in PR
A new report published by the CIPR examines how much of what we do in public relations is threatened by technology. It’s an important piece of work.
Today 12% of PR skills can already be undertaken or significantly enhanced by artificial intelligence. This figure is likely to rise to 38% over the next five years.
These findings are from a new report called Humans still needed: An analysis of skills and tools in public relations, published today by the CIPR’s #AIinPR panel. It examines the impact of technology and specifically AI on public relations practice.
Technology is impacting PR in a variety of ways, including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.
A further 27% of the practitioner’s skillset benefits from the support of some technology to assist in analysis and decision making. In five years there will almost certainly be a greater application of technology in these areas of practice but under human oversight.
Regardless of the tasks and skills that can be automated or benefit from AI, human intervention, editing, sensitivity, emotional intelligence, applying good judgement and ethics will always be needed.
My thanks to Canadian practitioner Jean Valin for leading this research project and writing the report on behalf of the CIPR #AIinPR panel.
Jean has been a driving force behind the Global Alliance’s work to define a capability framework for PR. I sought him out to lead this initiative when we set up the panel earlier this year.
AI tools in PR?
The market for tools in PR is exploding. A crowdsourced exercise by the #AIinPR panel over the past few months has characterised more than 120 tools.
AI has become a catch all term to describe technology that engages with people or displays human characteristics. It’s unhelpful and is contributing to hype and uncertainty around the topic.
The CIPR #AIinPR panel defines AI as a sophisticated application of technology whereby a machine demonstrates human cognitive functions such as learning, analysis and problem solving.
Each tool has been labelled by function and AI sophistication using a five point scale. The last two levels on the scale represent what the panel deems to be AI.
- Simplification – technology that simplifies a PR process, or provides a tactical service
- Listening and monitoring – media and social media listening and monitoring tools
- Automation – automation of tactical tasks
- AI for structured data – machine intelligence applied to structured data
- AI for unstructured data – machine intelligence applied to unstructured data
You can access the tool database and contribute to the project via my blog. In time we plan to share the database in a Creative Commons format and develop a web app to interrogate the data.
AI and PR skills
The AI and PR skills project used a simplified version of the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) framework which describes more than 50 capabilities in PR practice.
Tools were benchmarked against the GBOK framework by an international group of practitioners.
The exercise was highly subjective – hence so is the analysis and interpretation of the data. Responses varied greatly based on individual interpretation of the skill set and level of knowledge of existing tools.
We don’t claim to have found the best methodology to tackle this issue, we just had to start somewhere. In fact we’d welcome comments and challenges to the analysis. We’d also welcome approaches from any other organisations around the world that are working in this area.
Understanding the impact of AI on PR
The narrative around the impact of AI on professional jobs is typically polarised between denial and techno-panic.
The CIPR report is the first attempt to understand how AI is impacting PR practice and its workforce.
An immediate challenge in exploring this issue is that capabilities and skills cannot be mapped directly against how practitioners spend their time, however the annual CIPR State of the Profession survey contains a strong indication of how the issue is likely to unfold.
The 2018 report suggests that copywriting, campaign delivery, media relations, strategic planning and social media relations are among the most common PR activities. At least three of these activities are strong contenders to be supplemented or replaced by technology.
Mapping the impact of tools against skills
We plotted the capability of tools on the GBOK skills and abilities wheel to create a composite picture of what our reviewers believe to be the current capabilities of tools in PR both know and in five years’ time.
We're grateful to Catherine Arrow for allowing the use and adaptation of these GBOK graphics which is her original design.
Here’s our estimate of current tools plotted against GBOK PR skills and abilities.
Here’s our estimate of tools capability in five years plotted against GBOK PR skills and abilities.
You can clearly see where AI is likely to impact practice. In a podcast interview Paul Sutton said the images served as highly visible warning signs for practitioners.
Implication for the future of PR
Failure to adapt to technology could lead to other business categories such as management consultancy and digital marketing encroaching on the domain of PR. It may even lead to the creation of new categories or marketing service as happened with search marketing.
My personal view is that the PR business will continue to evolve. It’s unlikely that we’ll see an extinction event as doom mongers predict. We’ll adapt as we have with social media, content marketing, influencer marketing and PESO. These areas are all contributing to strong growth in the public relations sector.
The PR workforce in the UK has grown by almost a quarter (22%) over the past four years with more than 71,000 PR practitioners currently employed in the UK, according to ONS figures published in the CIPR State of the Profession survey.
The PRCA Census published in May is even more bullish. It claims that the UK PR and communications industry is worth £13.8bn up 7% since 2016, and employs 86,000 people.
There are three areas of opportunity for PR.
Technology creates opportunities for new products and services. Organisations that are quick to adapt new technology gain competitive advantage. Network analysis and natural language processing is enabling Ketchum to help client understand communities and identify areas of white space in conversations.
Ten years ago regional media relations was a strong area of business for a PR agency or national or regional organisation. Today it’s much reduced like local media itself, reflecting changing consumer habits. Progressive practitioners have reskilled and turned their attention to owned and social media.
I started out in PR 20 years ago creating media lists and clipping press coverage. Today databases, stakeholder mapping and monitoring tools perform each of these tasks with minimal human intervention, improving margin. This is the one area where the workforce will be threatened if it fails to adapt.
Report recommendations: education and ethics
The lesson for PR is clear according to report author Jean Valin.
“We need to emphasise education, experiential learning and continuous development of these very human traits that are valued in our profession,” he says.
This is where you should direct your personal energy if you want to stay ahead.
The second lesson is that we need to become aware of AI and its potential, pitfalls and quirks in our profession.
“AI is about to massively change our lives. The PR profession needs to keep up. We need more experience with tools and more critical reviews to learn how best to use them and their limitations,” said Valin.
Thanks to the following people for their contribution to this project and for helping benchmark tools versus skills: Catherine Arrow, David Brain, Karan Chadda, Sara Collinge, Anne Gregory, Laura Johnson, Ann Longley, Ben Lowndes, Maria Loupa, Sharon O’Dea, Sabrina Page, Selma Piper, Sarah Roberts, Kerry Sheehan, Andrew Smith, Iliyana Strareva and Ben Verinder.
Thanks also to my fellow members of the CIPR #AIinPR panel: Chris Dolan, Professor Anne Gregory, Maria Loupa, Alastair McCapra, Sharon O’Dea, Kerry Sheehan, Matt Silver, Andrew Smith, Jean Valin, Ben Verinder and Dr Jon White.
Join the conversation
Summary: improve your own knowledge of #AIinPR
Download the latest the Global Capability Framework for the Public Relations and Communication and Management Profession (opens and as PDF) published by the University of Huddersfield and benchmark your own practice and tools.
Explore the CIPR #AIinPR crowdsource tool list. Determine how these could be used in your own practice to support modernisation, innovation and improved business process.
Learning and development
Take a proactive approach to learning and development. This is a nascent but incredibly exciting area of technology and practice.