AI and the future of PR

What does the future hold for PR and AI? Will it be a useful tool? Will it be handy up to a point? What if it makes a reputation-damaging mistake (hello Microsoft) or takes our jobs completely? What if it makes off with our children in the night? These are all important questions.

Yesterday’s breakfast event with Cision, CommsCon X INSIGHT, probed into some of these questions and explored the future of PR and AI, with a particular focus on measurement. Hosted at the Ministry of Sound, the event rolled out an impressive line-up of senior comms professionals.

The first panel included case studies by Macmillan Cancer Support and Kellogg’s, who showed how they have introduced modern measurement techniques that rely on big data.

The second panel spoke directly about AI, going as far as to say that comms professionals might be responsible for championing ethics in AI – particularly its relationship with fake news and false representations.

When it comes to PR campaigns, AI will be useful for measuring ROI. Timo Thomann-Rompf, COO at Cision, said: ‘At the moment, analysts are human-coding coverage. In the future, they will train the system to measure sentiment for them.’ Functionality such as sentiment measurement digs much deeper than simple metrics like impressions.  

Timo also told us that AI can find image coverage of brands – even where text and logos don’t feature – which platforms like Instagram have made necessary. This new kind of measurement helps PR professionals to better understand the full impact of their campaigns.

We also saw examples of writing done by bots. In some instances, AI can identify that changing a single word in a piece of promotional writing can have a dramatic impact. But writers needn’t hang up their hats just yet. It tends to be more fact-based, formulaic writing that AI is currently suited to. For now, at least, we need humans for creativity and original thinking. Kerry Sheehan, Artificial Intelligence in PR Vice Chair at CIPR, said: ‘Communicators need to be data analysts – but the basic skills of good writing, research and analysis will still apply.’

Emma Thwaites, CEO at Thwaites Communications, recalled how we once spoke about ‘new media’, sure it would never really catch on. Now, there’s no such thing as new media and we no longer debate the value of online coverage. Before long, she said, we’ll think about AI in the same way. It’ll be so much a part of everything we do that we won’t hold it up as something separate to be addressed.  

Historically, PR can be tech averse, but there’s much that AI can do to further improve our effectiveness and prove the value of our work. We should open our minds to big data and AI in order to improve our campaigns and measurement – or risk missing out on some exciting possibilities.