Industry speak: How has AI impacted the role of PR and communications?

AI has taken every single industry by storm, disrupting age old processes and automating many for the better. The field of public relations has not been spared from this wave of innovation. According to TRUE Global Intelligence report, communications would be the sector most disrupted by AI over the next five years. The research, conducted in US and UK last year, found that majority had a positive outlook around the potential for AI to change lives for the better.

With the aid of artificial intelligence (AI), public relations agencies and professionals are now able to derive insights from campaigns for efficient targeting and reporting. While no one thinks that AI is here to replace the whole gamut of PR duties, a Meltwater’s study said that it did nonetheless help minimise the time needed to complete  processes such as writing a press release, creating a media list and generating a media advisory among others. The article added that ultimately these “mundane” activities can be avoided, allowing PR professionals to maximise more time into creative work and people relations.

When working with clients, AI comes in handy as it quickens the process of media monitoring, and is able to gather deeper insights, said Joe Peng, managing director and head of digital innovation, APAC, Burson Cohn & Wolfe and Anu Gupta, director, Asia PR Werkz. Peng added with AI recommendations and tools, PR professionals are able to derive higher quality stakeholder insights to inform strategic recommendations for its clients.

Adding on to the conversation, Peter De Kretser, chief executive officer at GO Communications said today, AI can assist PR professionals avoid potential crisis situations enabling them to be more proactive rather than reactive. According to Kretser, the communications landscape is rapidly changing and that PR companies should embrace the AI revolution in order to improve convenience and increase productivity.

Here’s a look at some of his views, along with leading industry players’ take on how AI has impacted the evolving face of communications.

Peter De Kretser, chief executive officer, GO Communications

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Whether we like it or not, AI is very quickly making waves in the marketing and PR industry. It affects our lives in more ways than we realise. For instance, AI already affects what news we see on our news feeds, digital platforms and social media networks. PR and marketing professionals are constantly looking for ways to make faster and more informed decisions that drive results and reach set goals. AI and Big Data can certainly be powerful tools in improving the decision making process by giving practitioners the most in-depth and comprehensive look at how to solve their communications problems.

AI and Big Data can certainly be powerful tools in improving the decision making process.

AI and Big data help the industry better understand consumers’ core attributes and help PR companies process their data at rapid speed while improving how they perform services by helping them cut through clutter and find useful, relevant data. Subsequently, messages delivered are strong and direct. PR professionals can create tailor-made messages for their specific audience with bespoke content that will be well-received.

By making use of AI, PR agencies can also create more content and automate low value tasks, leaving executives with more time to focus on more high-level, strategic tasks such as conceptualising and executing creative campaigns, instead of time spent on laborious administrative tasks. AI can also assist PR professionals avoid potential crisis situations enabling them to be more proactive rather than reactive. Ultimately, AI together with Big Data is radically changing the communications landscape as we know it and PR companies should embrace the AI revolution in order to improve convenience and increase productivity.

Anu Gupta, director, Asia PR Werkz

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The media landscape in any country is always very diverse and local in nature, normally addressing issues related to the political, cultural and business climate of that country. This also leads to diverse ways of applying PR which can only be best advised by local PR professionals and not any technology platform.

The only role where we see technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) assisting PR is probably in innovating the media monitoring and evaluation process for the outcomes of PR campaigns. This could be a great tool in aiding us when it comes to presenting the results to clients, such as turning spreadsheets into logical infographics and analysing the media coverage. It can also play a vital role in monitoring digital media which has started to play an important role. From monitoring to analysing that news – be it number of views, reach (unique views or geographic data), readership profile are all crucial data that can be of great value to PR firms.

Public relations will always be a relationship-based profession.

But the use of the right technology can lead to optimising the time spent and empowering the PR professionals to have more time on hand to build stronger relationships.

Joe Peng, managing director and head of digital innovation, APAC, Burson Cohn & Wolfe 

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AI is rapidly changing the way PR people work from both a “creation” and “connection” perspective. On the “creation” front, a key example is AI-supported information mining. PR professionals are now able to use AI to analyse the value and real impact of information such as content and news, something we have been unable to do with traditional media monitoring and social listening. This has now advanced even further with multimedia search made possible using image recognition.

From this we have been able to derive higher quality stakeholder insights to inform strategic recommendations for our clients. However, while the technology has progressed quickly, a pain point for the industry has been the lack of a solid benchmarking or measurement approach to support this.

Looking at “connection”, communications agencies are using AI-based technologies to map and select target audience groups and media channels. PR will enjoy higher efficiency and more impactful outcomes if practitioners are able to intelligently embrace AI-informed dissemination and amplification strategies to reach and influence target audiences, bearing in mind the collection and processing of any personal data is GDPR-compliant where applicable.

As an agency, AI is changing the way we do business and we are focused on creating new offerings supported by this technology and building teams with AI expertise to support this. At BCW, we are committed to “Moving People” and AI will enable us to do just that as we work to build more powerful “creation” capabilities to forge stronger emotional “connections” with target audiences.

Carolyn Camoens, managing director Asia, Hume Brophy 

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There is huge opportunity for AI to eliminate some of the drudgery of tasks such as monitoring, for example. Interns everywhere will be chuffed, no doubt.

Currently AI’s greatest impact on the industry is experienced through insights. With the industry relying more on insights to inform targeted campaign planning and engagement, the ability to generate these insights with greater speed and efficiency is going to be hugely important. The only gap will be the issue of nuance, which will need some level human intervention in order for us to achieve the desired level of accuracy.

When we look at how AI is experienced in actual campaign execution, it opens up options for changing the model of engagement between brands or agencies with the media, for example. I think there is merit in applying AI to create content generation or distribution models which add value for both the brand and media. Early iterations of this can be seen in search and engagement-optimised newsrooms employed by the bigger technology companies, which effectively altered the paradigm of media engagement. The media is now able to go into newsrooms to pull content that was relevant to their editorial focus rather than being fed that information through press releases arriving into their already burgeoning inboxes, much of which was not relevant.

When we consider the realities of smaller editorial teams and the limitations of time:

AI’s ability to help brands and media engage more effectively, I feel, is yet to be fully explored or exploited.

Will AI kill what’s fundamental to the craft of PR like the art of the pitch or exquisitely written content? Absolutely not. It will give us the tools to elevate our craft. I think what’s important here though is to have some element of collaboration within the industry. We will get further with scaling the implementation of AI and the value it can deliver if we work together. But this is, as we know, an intensely competitive industry and we have examples of how we could have succeeded better if we had collaborated more effectively. Measurement, for one – in the individual quest for the silver bullet, all we’ve really done is guaranteed the survival of AVEs.

The value AI can deliver is bound only by our creativity and our ability to shift mindsets about the role of communications. And we, as practitioners, need to be willing to evolve ourselves and our craft by embracing new technologies rather than fearing that they will make us obsolete.

Darren Burns, APAC vice chair, Weber Shandwick 

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AI is here and now. Broadly speaking, we are leveraging AI in two key areas – analytics and content innovation. By harnessing the power of AI, we can create a better understanding of our customers (or stakeholders) and deliver content that is useful to our audience and breaks through the clutter to create real impact. The key for us as communicators is to continue to bring the human touch augmented by AI. That’s when the magic happens.

For clients in Asia Pacific, we are creating new sources of intelligence that positively impact their business – not just their communications metrics. We use machine learning to combine eCommerce, search and social to provide a perspective of the audience: what they like or dislike, what information they are looking for, and what messages or emerging trends resonate with them. The practical implications have been transformative – from modifying brand tone and manner, identifying new ingredients and flavor trends, and even changing package sizes.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that to break through, we need to constantly use AI technology to create value and improve the communications experience. We are using AI to improve customer experience – we’ve created bots to engage Psoriasis suffers for Novartis. A chatbot with a bedside manner that combines AI with genuine humanity. We’ve experimented with deepfake or synthetic content for HSBC to highlight the dangers of fraud.

Rebecca Wilson, EVP, Singapore & Australia, WE Communications

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AI is a tool, not a brain. While AI allows us to gather and analyse data faster than before, AI can only get us to a certain point. Without humans to provide the input and translate the output, AI is just a function. It is the ultimate tool in efficiency. It does quickly the things we can do, but not easily and quickly, such as crunching large data sets or automating repetitive tasks.

As communicators we have the ability and time to focus on critical thinking and storytelling to ensure content resonates with audiences in more personal ways. This automation is a powerful device to assist communicators with previously time-consuming tasks such as A/B testing, crafting timely and relevant content and unveiling audience insights.

Our success as communicators relies on our ability to leverage these new tools. AI is only its early stages and tools will only multiply. Those who embrace AI will have a leg up in connecting brands with new audiences and on a deeper level, providing more value to organisations. If agencies fail to accept this new reality and fear AI as a competitor rather than a counterpart, brands will move forward themselves, without its agency partners, given the imperative for change.

Joseph Barratt, CEO, Mutant Communications 

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When I talk about AI, I’m referring to tools capable of learning, analysis and problem solving rather than just new tech that might help streamline, simplify, or gather data on simple tasks. If you look at PR as simply creating press releases and pitching to media, then AI tools will not serve much purpose in a world of increasing automation. Where AI can be empowering to the PR industry is in helping drive real business outcomes beyond tactical coverage.

PR professionals empowered with deeper analysis and tools for problem solving is never going to be a bad thing.

For instance, I can see a time where real time analysis and feedback from different stakeholders of the business including customers, sales and marketing can help shape messaging, drive better results, and allow instant feedback and guidance.

Look at the way advertising has changed in the past decade. Better transparency, decision making and measurement has significantly improved the industry without impacting jobs. There is still plenty of room for people at different levels of the chain from creative, insights, problem solving and the senior guys to still charter yachts at Cannes every year. Overall in the short to medium term, I see AI strengthening and justifying PR’s role in an organisation. In the long term, we’ll either all live in harmony or our new AI overlords will decide the planet is better off without us.

James Brasher, director and partner, Rice Communications

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AI in our social listening and media monitoring is key to understanding audiences and how to best reach them. That is important because clients no longer only care about securing coverage; they want to see how that placement drives consumer action, its value to the company’s bottom line. Data-driven PR, powered by AI, has made PR professionals smarter and more efficient. It has given us more opportunities to create stories that we know are going to deliver results. By embracing AI, we’ve built a team who are able to collaborate with client marketing teams on optimisation and amplification efforts—leading to better performing campaigns.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)