By David Odimegwu
Artificial intelligence is here to stay as the digital era progresses. It’s surprising that public relations consultants and practitioners aren’t feeling the ground shake as an army of robots kicks down the doors of public relations firms all around the world. As an industry, we should brace ourselves for the revolution and maintain our heads held high. However, data points to insufficient knowledge of AI, a lack of understanding of AI skills, and fear of job losses, in addition to widespread competency within the field. So, what is the solution here? What skills do public relations professionals require to compensate for the reality that many basic PR skills are being automated?
As PR professionals, we spend hours crafting content and use storytelling strategies to bring a brand’s story to life. Because we may be writing a speech one day and campaign material the next, no two days are ever the same; therefore, we must be adaptable as well as imaginative. Some observers, such as Mark Weiner, have even stated that our combination of creativity, empathy, and strategy is one-of-a-kind. The difficulty with such an attitude is that it fails to take into consideration AI’s future capabilities.
Surveys, such as the AI and Big Data Readiness Report, provide some illuminating facts about the industry’s AI skills, attitudes, and expertise. While 43% confess to knowing nothing about AI, 31% consider ‘ownership’ of AI as unknown. While few people are using AI to its full potential, the general consensus is that there is an urgent need for more AI knowledge and abilities across the board.
What, therefore, are the good, the terrible, and the ugly?
Let us begin with the positive effects. As Heather Yaxley has pointed out, he believes that AI will free up our time and make our lives easier by automating the most routine duties in public relations. Consider that the National Statistics Report in the United Kingdom found 27 percent of public relations occupations that can be automated. Content generation, appraisal, social media, management, measurement, and research are examples of such tasks. This frees up time for PR professionals to focus on the more fulfilling aspects of their jobs. This raises the big question: Is it the time for industry to assume that long-coveted seat in boardrooms across the country?
I believe that the new AI communications landscape is a game changer for consultants who understand how to optimize AI technologies and prevent potential pitfalls. AI could also make humans more efficient. When AI is used, data analysis becomes faster, more accurate, and precise. There are significant benefits to employing AI-generated systems that can perform media monitoring and sentiment analysis, both of which are critical components of reputation management. Moving on to the terrible and ugly, we must overcome our fear of AI. That it will result in employment losses or that machine-generated content will become dominant. ‘This whole AI issue is about the partnership of humans and machines, not the supersedence of one over the other,’ says Amy McGeady.
If the PR industry doesn’t take ownership of AI, then who will? It’s a big responsibility, but if it’s left entirely in the hands of an IT and data specialist, where does that leave us? As a result, cross-industry collaboration is required, with Public Relations taking center stage in terms of ethics, language, and content development. This would be a good starting point for the PR sector to stay relevant. This situation is similar to how the public relations industry had to react to the assault of social media in the early 1990s. In terms of the magnitude of its influence, AI is no different, and yet we appear to be sleepwalking toward it. A suitable starting point would be the implementation of multiple training seminars / customized AI course packages. This could be used to disseminate awareness of the effect, capabilities, and time-saving benefits of AI.
As an industry, we should be shifting toward what Macnamara refers to as a shift from competency to capabilities in his book “Capabilities of PR Professionals for Critical Activities (2018)”. While competency focuses on the daily activities of practitioners, capabilities are more responsive to a rapidly changing technology environment. As a result, practitioners would be able to consider the possibility of acquiring competencies even if they do not already exist. If the PR sector wants to stay at the top of its game, it will need to continuously learn in order to keep up with the AI revolution. It’s important to keep in mind that AI is still in its infancy, making this the ideal time for the PR sector to examine its own reflection. There is no denying that hard effort and training may accomplish a lot, but we need to start being open and sincere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Odimegwu is a Public Relation Analyst, Communicator, Media Practitioner, Brand strategist, and Public Speaker with over 2 years of experience in the Media and Communication Industry. He has worked with brands that cut across the Telecommunication sector, FMCG, Sports sector, Aviation, and Beverages, among others to his credit. He is currently a study member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM: UK) having bagged a certificate in Applied Marketing (UK).