Why we shouldn’t be translating AI in PR as ‘Alien Invasion’

Why we shouldn’t be translating AI in PR as ‘Alien Invasion’

Last month, the House of Lords released its Select Committee report on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on British life. One estimate says 900,000 London jobs are at risk from automation and globalisation by 2030. So how will AI affect the PR industry, and how can it adapt its skills set to capitalise on the opportunities?
Much of the hype around AI seems to centre on its potential to decimate workforces, and the concerns are no different for public relations; both the CIPR and fellow industry body, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) are closely monitoring the potential impact of AI on the industry. According to experts interviewed by PR Week, account managers, account directors, business directors, data analysts, and unit managers may all find themselves at risk of being overtaken by ‘bots. But while there’s no doubt that AI will have a marked impact on public relations, as every profession, could many be looking at this all wrong?
While it’s natural to go on the defensive, the important thing is to pay attention to what is currently driving adoption of AI. As with most jobs, PR contains repetitive tasks, like research, media monitoring, and the gathering and interpretation of data to better inform strategy and creative work, which are ripe for automation. While there are already helpful services out there for such tasks, many still require a lot of manual oversight or corrections since the intelligence just isn’t quite there yet for the tools to really know what’s relevant and what’s not. Using AI to make these tasks quicker and more efficient is surely a no-brainer; who wouldn’t choose to simplify processes to gain back more time to focus on the creative, rewarding activities that our clients value?
AI can go much further than playing the role of admin assistant. In an industry which is constantly striving to create better, simpler, more effective and more personal experiences, AI can play a chief role in enabling this.
The rise of new interfaces and interactions such as 1:1 messaging, voice-enabled services and natural language processing means AI can bring us closer to consumer expectations, passions and emotions, helping us to create campaigns that press all the right buttons, at precisely the right time. By finding data patterns, content can be optimised to appeal specifically to an individual consumer with messaging that resonates every time, to improve engagement, loyalty and increase brand affinity. In this way, AI could enable us to pitch more effectively; helping us to target the right journalists, at the right time, on the right channel, and keep messaging on point.

AI advancements are also helping create smarter chatbots paving the way for further conversations on behalf of brands in a relevant way, particularly on social media where chatbots could interact intelligently with relevant hashtags or respond to comments and direct messages on a company’s behalf.

AI could also enable us to use industry talent more effectively. Microsoft recently partnered with French multinational advertising and public relations company Publicis Groupe on the development of an artificial intelligence platform named Marcel that will allow employees to pitch to work on projects and be recommended for projects based on their skillset.

But while Associated Press already uses AI to produce copy, albeit it highly formulaic quarterly earing reports, there’s still a while before we’ll be replaced – fully. It’s a big stretch to get to a time when skills grounded in human-to-human interaction, or tasks that need a creative, emotional, or strategic element, will be taken on by robots…at the end of the day, we work in a creative industry, where new ideas and approaches are key. It’s also a people business, and so much of what we do is based on personal interaction within our teams, with journalists and other influencers, as well as managing clients.

And that’s surely the bottom line, for now anyway. While computers can memorise and process infinitely more information than the human brain, and AI has the capacity to collect the datasets that will help us fine tune campaigns to the nth degree, they don’t – at least not yet – have the ability to make decisions based on empathy. And in an industry that relies heavily on emotional appeals, this is crucial.

But to think negatively about the effect AI could have on our working lives – rather than a handy assistant at the very least – is a mistake. Instead of thinking of AI as a disruptor, waiting to steal our jobs, we should regard it as a tool freeing us up from time-consuming tasks so we can win back time to focus on some our core strengths – such as empathy and creativity. Spending more time finetuning what machines can’t will only help to elevate our profession.

Posted: 15 May 2018

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