How PR pros should prepare for artificial intelligence
Any agreement among agency executives about the future of artificial intelligence in PR seems limited to, well, its limits.
In a recent column on PRWeek,
Ivan Ristic of Diffusion suggested that while AI might be good for data
mining keywords across blogs and online publications to find trends for
clients, it still won’t replace relationships that define the industry.
“A bot can’t lay claim to emotional intelligence, a cornerstone of all PR
work. Teams employing AI handling external communication would be wise to
have plans to manage reputation should anything go awry,” he wrote. “Humans
build trust with humans—not bots.”
When used effectively, machines can get smarter about how to book hotels,
solve customer service issues and much more. Is it really so difficult to
imagine a bot that would generate pitch ideas for specific journalists?
While some in the profession loathe to hear it, it’s not far-fetched.
There is good news for communications pros. The future of PR will be a
blend of both technology and human insight. Most experts suggest AI will
augment that strategic thinking by synthesizing details the way marketing
automation has done for others.
recent story on Ragan.com
sums it up well:
By taking advantage of massive quantities of data and using AI to draw
insights on it, PR pros can now . . . cut through clutter and find useful,
relevant data, quantify buzz and press hits, properly attribute revenue,
know which tactics are working, spot brand and revenue indicators and
identify PR funnel accelerators.
Communications pros don’t need to move immediately, but they would also be making a
mistake to not prepare for AI. Just as personal computers entered the
workplace to reduce onerous paperwork and administrative tasks, there’s
nothing wrong with taking baby steps with AI before PR professionals
maximize its potential.
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A blogger on Towards Data Science suggested this is precisely the low-hanging fruit they should begin to
pick. “If you have an agency full of clients, you probably already realize
how exhausting it is, engaging with the public on social media, liking,
replying, following, searching all over again for every single account you
manage daily,” she wrote. “How good it would be if every task could be
automated, saving the time of PR professionals for vital tasks such as
creative work and decision-making activities?
Maybe the best way to get started is by learning how technology experts are
defining AI. The below video from PBS Digital Studios explains in detail
the difference between automated machine learning and AI.
One day the PR industry may want and rely on both pure and pragmatic AI,
but to make that call you need to understand how a machine actually learns.
Think about how we teach children in school. A group of elementary children
might be asked to learn their multiplication tables and solve a few
problems but are free to ask for help here and there. Machine learning in
AI works much the same way.
In what’s called “supervised learning” technology can use what it is given, or “training data,” to get from A to B
on a particular task where you know exactly what the end result should be.
Imagine you want to take headlines and rewrite them for social media in a
way that highlights your client’s or brand’s role in the story. The next
step might be copying and pasting the text with the URL in the field of a
social networking service. Then it might be cross-referencing the right
hashtags, including one created for a particular PR campaign, to include in
the post that is known to get the most amount of pick up.
While most people have a person do this today, supervised learning
algorithms with good training data might be able to manage some social
media promotion to scale some of your social media engagement. Now think of
other tasks where AI could be put to work organizing work back schedules or
even writing rough drafts of a press release based on your firm’s brand
voice and guidelines. The
Associated Press is already using AI to write earnings stories.
A more complex version of machine learning might be able to look for clues
about the sentiment of earned media coverage, sending alerts about negative
stories the second they appear so PR professionals can respond more
quickly. The technology might also become sophisticated enough to spot
“fake news” or inaccuracies in the way a company operates, or nicknames for
people and organizations that might otherwise get missed when looking for
where a brand is being mentioned online.
Next steps for PR pros
A few months ago, PR consultant
Steven Waddington took to his blog to chastise his peers for seemingly attempting to avoid the revolution unfolding before them.
“The impact of algorithms on discourse in the public sphere needs to be
characterized and their creators held to account,” he wrote. “Public
relations, like other professions, is sleepwalking into the issue of
artificial intelligence. It’s an issue that is rarely addressed at events
and by media in the business of public relations. That needs to change.”
In terms of how that change could take place, here are a few ideas:
Seek out an AI advantage.
Whether you want to use advanced machine learning to solve big problems or
just reducing some of the grunt work, begin brainstorming with your team,
as well as though in other departments, on where AI might make sense as a
Lay the foundation for automation.
The transition to AI-enabled processes will be much smoother for firms that
have already gotten familiar with technologies that assist in areas that
have traditionally been manual, error-prone or both. If you’re a
data-driven PR shop, you could have a head start on what AI could do.
Adopt a reporter’s mindset.
The journalists you pitch are often infinitely curious—and highly
skeptical—about what they see and hear. They ask a lot of questions to get
at important details. They may even focus on the negative angle before they
get to any “good news.” Such behaviors and characteristics could serve PR
professionals well as they learn more about AI and what it could do for
Chris Lynch is the CMO for Cision a media monitoring and database
company. A version of this article originally ran on
the Cision blog.