Celebrating a commitment to excellence at  CIPR graduation ceremony

Celebrating a commitment to excellence at CIPR graduation ceremony

Continuous learning and professional qualifications are the only way to benefit from AI and future proof your career.


I was honoured to address the CIPR's 2018 graduation ceremony in London tonight. More than 100 students graduated in this year's cohort. Here's a copy of my speech.

Welcome to Ketchum. We're the world's most creative PR agency delivering work that matters.

I’m delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the award of your professional CIPR qualification with your colleagues, friends and family.

I want to talk to you about artificial intelligence or AI. It’s an issue at the heart of the future of PR and public discourse. It was high on the agenda of this year’s BledCom, the international public relations research symposium.

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.

Unless we get to grips with how technology is impacting practice we’ll miss out on the opportunity to benefit from its application in practice. We’ll also fail to understand its impact of media and public discourse.

These are very significant issues for the PR profession.

The CIPR #AIinPR panel was set up in a bid to characterise the impact of AI on PR. I want to thank CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra for backing the project and committing his own time to its work.

Making sense of AI in PR

Our first task was to crowdsource tools that are commonly used in practice. To date we’ve characterised more than 120 tools.

In my day job at Ketchum, we routinely use 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.

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.

What we do know thanks to a study led by Jean Valin on behalf of the CIPR #AIinPR panel is that currently 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.

Valin’s identified four areas, namely law, ethics, professional standard and personal interaction that are likely to see minimal impact from AI.

Future proofing your career in public relations

The good news is that as CIPR graduates you’ve committed to future proofing your careers by doubling down in each of these areas.

I want to leave you with two insights from my career.

First, never underestimate the value of meeting your public face-to-face.

Our profession has access to planning and listening tools unlike ever before but the simple act of looking someone in the eyes and listening to them is incredibly powerful. You’ll gather insights to inform your work. Listening is one of the most underrated professional skills.

Second, please continue your professional development journey and commitment to excellence.

There are estimated to be 80,000 public relations practitioners in the UK. The CIPR has 10,000 members, of which around a fifth have made a commitment to Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Increasing this number will help the CIPR to achieve its purpose of promoting public relations within both the profession and the public interest.

I want to thank you for the commitment that you’ve made today and for inviting me to celebrate the award of your professional CIPR qualification.

You should be incredibly proud of your achievement. Good luck continuing your professional journey.

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