An AI in PR primer

An AI in PR primer

The CIPR #AIinPR panel has made good progress in six short months. We’re beginning to get a handle on how AI is impacting the business of PR.

Artificial intelligence (AI), has become a catch all term to describe technology that simplifies a task for a human being. It’s unhelpful and is contributing to hype and uncertainty around the topic.

Technology is impacting PR work in a variety of ways, including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.

AI goes a stage further. It’s a sophisticated application of technology whereby a machine demonstrates human behaviour or cognitive functions such as learning, analysis and problem solving.

The first task of the recently formed CIPR artificial intelligence panel, #AIinPR for short, was to crowdsource tools that are commonly used in practice. You can review the results in this document.

It’s an ongoing project. We’d welcome your involvement. If you spot a tool that’s missing or want to challenge our characterisation please make a submission to the project via this form. In each case we’ve added a description, and labelled each tool by function and sophistication.

The CIPR #AIinPR panel was set up in a bid to characterise the impact of AI on PR.

All AI is tech but not all tech is AI

In my day job at Ketchum we’re routinely using tools such as Traackr to identify stakeholders and influencers.

Brandwatch helps spot patterns in thousands of social media posts, and quickly determines their sentiment. It’s essential for reputation monitoring and crisis management.

Quid analyses natural language to identify issues, popular topics and white space. Google Analytics helps prove the value of our work by enabling us to attribute outcomes.

The CIPR #AIinPR team has developed a five point scale to describe the sophistication of tools. We welcome challenges to this model.

  1. Simplification – technology that simplifies a public relations process, or provides a tactical service
  2. Listening and monitoring – media and social media listening and monitoring tools
  3. Automation – automation of tactical tasks
  4. AI for structured data – machine intelligence applied to structured data
  5. AI for unstructured data – machine intelligence applied to unstructured data

Machine versus PR skills

Machines are ideally suited to processing large amounts of data or performing repetitive tasks.

All professions are being impacted by technology. Show me a body of knowledge and I’ll show you a machine that can turn it into a dataset.

There’s a common but misplaced assertion that PR is a special case because of its reliance on human characteristics such as emotional intelligence; ethics; and interpersonal skills.

This line of argument assumes that machine intelligence will never be able to achieve this level of sophistication. It’s a debate that’s taking place not in the media or PR industries, but among the computer and data science communities.

AI is already writing news reports for the Associated Press, creating and optimising ads on Facebook, and producing movies such as Zone Out.

What we do know thanks to a study led by Jean Valin on behalf of the CIPR #AIinPR panel is that right now 12% of PR skills are being assisted or impacted by AI.

Machines are already undertaking tasks such as data analysis, horizon scanning, and data management, performed by practitioners starting out in their career.

Valin’s work also shows that given the pace of development of software and machine learning that number is expected to rise to 38% in five years.

By 2023 AI will impact areas of PR such as stakeholder mapping, risk analysis, auditing, and behavioural analysis.

You can read my analysis of Valin's work and download his paper here.

History is repeating itself

Our profession doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to innovation at scale.

We benefit from innovation that takes place in markets around us rather than directing research and product development. History show that we’re collateral damage to media and technology entrepreneurs.

20 years ago a company called Google was founded. It created an opportunity for a new industry to help organisations create content and build relations online.

It’s called search engine optimisation and is a growing area of the digital industry. It’s a market that PR missed because it lacked technical skills.

History repeated itself ten years ago with the emergence of social media. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter required companies to pay to promote and amplify content.

Paid social was initially viewed as an ethically murky area for PR. Social media agencies emerged to grab the opportunity. It’s only in the last few years that PR has made inroads into this market thanks to the so-called integrated PESO model, short hand for Paid, Earned, Share and Owned.

Planning for innovation in PR

It’s easy to be grumpy. I’m frustrated by the polarised nature of the discussion around AI and the lack of critical thinking. Until very recently there was limited discourse in PR in the space between denial and techno-panic.

I’d urge you to consider taking a proactive approach to technology within your organisation. Here are some ideas for introducing a culture of innovation. You’ll undoubtedly have your own suggestions to add to this list.

#1 Learning and development

Explore the changes that technology is driving in media and PR. There’s a growing body of knowledge related to AI and the professions. I try and spend at least 90 minutes a day reading, and deconstructing information via my blog.

#2 Join the #AIinPR conversation

There’s a growing conversation around AI in PR. The CIPR #AIinPR panel is hosting a Twitter chat on 3 July between midday and 1pm BST and I’ll be sharing our work during workshops at the CIPR’s Northern Conference. We’re keen to explore where to take the work next.

#3 Investigate the third party tool market

The vendor community is keen to sell into the PR market. As a start point Investigate tools that could help deliver your existing work smarter or more efficiently, and look at new services. Listen to pitches and ask to trial tools for yourself.

#4 Make and break, test and learn

The current wave of innovation is creating a huge variety of new channels for public engagement. These include messenger bots, voice marketing and image recognition. Appoint people within you organisation to investigate different forms of technology, and the opportunity to create new services.

#5 Competency and skills for the future

Valin’s work for the CIPR AI in PR panel shows the clear march of technology in our business. However there’s a protected subset of skills: law, ethics, professional and ethics. These are a clear signpost to the future of our profession, and should be part of any medium term strategic plan for future proofing your organisation.

Thank you

My thanks to fellow CIPR #AIinPR panel members for helping drive this work forward: 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.

Machine learning image by Zapp2Photo via Shutterstock.

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