How AI can change, and is changing, public relations

12 October 2020
Written by

Jay Evans

Head of PR Jay Evans explains how the days when artificial intelligence was confined to sci-fi movies are long gone.

Artificial intelligence conjures up visions of androids sitting at desks and writing emails to journalists, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong there is many a comms office around the country that wouldn’t mind an android doing the tea run or compiling coverage.

Ok, we’re not there yet – well not all of it. The coverage reports are well on their way.

So, what is AI in PR and what does it mean?
AI is a definition for technology that interacts with humans or emulates real people. Think Siri, Alexa and chat bots as the simplest example. But this goes so much deeper and some of the programmes and services we’re using every week already contain an element of AI and these are growing in complexity at incredible speed.

If you haven’t delved into the world of AI or are perhaps overwhelmed at the thought and unintentionally burying your head, now might be the time to rise up and get educated. Not least because some (but by no means all) of what we do day to day could be replaced by AI, or at least improved by it. It’s time to get in the game.

Better reporting
Coverage reports: the bane of every young PR pro’s career. We’ve moved from Excel sheet reporting, basic screen captures / clippings and ad spend equivalents – but have we moved far enough, and is the next phase of reporting already here? Alongside the strides we’re taking with reporting to our senior team or clients, AI is developing the ability to read actual sentiment too. I know, this has been happening for a while, but it’s grown in intelligence. Let me give you an example. This sentence would normally be classified as negative:
“McDonald’s produced the worst toys and most expensive children’s meals, but Burger King’s was great.

Due to the two negatives in the first half of the sentence, the positive sentiment for Burger King has been lost. The Burger King team would have lost some valuable positive sentiment reporting – but this new, educated and intelligent programming is able to identify this, and efficiently too. As the technology strides forward, this is going to be a future we’ll all appreciate and provide even more value to PR.

Better writing
If you’re anything like me, you can be a little precious about your writing. I’m now not afraid to pass a release or an opinion piece written for a highbrow publication to a colleague now, but in my younger days I could never handle the critique. But can this now be achieved by a computer programme? To a degree it can! I’m a massive fan of the Hemingway App and Grammarly, plus there’s Readable too. All are wonderful tools in PR, analysing your written work and providing scoring and results on the quality of your work. 

Better conversations and conversions
Can AI improve our ability to reach influencers and journalists? As professionals, we’re ‘improving’ our ability to distribute our releases to more relevant audiences. But we can also agree that sometimes our lists contain mistakes and we, reluctantly, rely on an element of mass distribution. Our time is too precious to write specific pitches to absolutely everyone. 
Could AI bring this comfortably into the 21st century? Could analysis of online articles help an artificial intelligence to curate a list that’s 100% appropriate for your release? Will this then improve your open rate? Obtain more coverage? Annoy fewer journalists? Of course!

Frankly, I don’t think this level of AI is too far in the future and if it adapts with the ability to monitor communications versus coverage, it will be an industry gamechanger. Honestly, I would welcome this and consider it an enhancement of the way we currently work. No matter how hard we try, we’ll never have time to do this manually.

Why do we need humans?
There are many human traits and learnings that can never be – and in my opinion should never be – replaced by AI. No machine can replicate human ethical standards, judgement and sensitivity. These are all skills we learn over time and grow with experience. If our tasks are to become automated with AI, we have to focus on our humanity and continuously improve our emotional consciousness, our creativity, our dynamicity and our perception of others. Our role dictates we have these skills in abundance, which AI simply cannot emulate, so it’s time to drill them deep into our core and become the irreplaceable asset we know we are!