AI readiness: The seven hard truths for PR

By Claire Simpson.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform the PR industry. We’ve known this for some time, but the question of our readiness in PR remains a salient one.

The pros and pitfalls of AI for the PR industry, the impact of AI-powered tools on practice to date, and how this is set to develop in the coming years, exposes seven hard truths for PR.

AI knowledge is currently sitting with IT

One of the key findings from the CIPR’s AI and Big Data Readiness Report in 2021 reveals that AI knowledge most commonly resides within an organisation’s digital or IT team. Alarmingly, almost a third of respondents in the research, which underpinned the report, said that ‘ownership’ of AI knowledge was unknown or irrelevant to them. This mindset needs to shift rapidly if PR wants to keep pace in a fast-changing business landscape.

We need to recognise augmented vs. artificial intelligence

One common point of confusion among practitioners is what we’re actually talking about when we say ‘AI’. For the most part we’re talking about big data, insights and automation. AI is the wrong term, at least in the here and now. We should be saying ‘augmented intelligence’.

It’s going to take several years before AI replaces PR roles entirely, and a lot of these positions are focused on manual tasks. AI alleviates the heavy lifting of data analysis, helping PR people to get to insights faster. This means more time will be available to spend on higher level tasks.

People are at the heart of AI innovation and deployment

Organisations need to look at their people and where they want to go as a business to effectively harness AI technology. That means attracting, and being more open to, a wider talent pool. For example, bringing in data scientists and coders to have the conversations we’re not able to have right now. As subject matter experts, these hires can also help upskill the current workforce as AI adoption accelerates.

We all need to become more data literate

Too often, AI is often seen as ‘somebody else’s job’ and PR practitioners need to change this mindset.  Data literacy is a must for any business department, not just PR.

Understanding complementary skill sets and how AI will augment your PR role, will empower practitioners to engage in conversations around the technology, and feel more comfortable when their business starts implementing these tools.

AI is the future of prediction and production

Prediction and production offer a two-fold view of how AI is set to transform the PR industry.

Production will see the rise of more sophisticated AI language models. This means computers being able to effectively generate copy that users can edit rather than create from scratch. This has implications for PRs and journalists alike. By automating low level copywriting, AI can take care of mundane or prescriptive content. However, the real opportunity is on the predictive side.

Though less mature at this stage, AI has the potential to support scenario planning and augment strategic planning. This presents perhaps the most interesting application for strategic communication.

We need to communicate the AI opportunity better

There’s a mix of fear and optimism around AI. This is characterised by the dichotomy between potential job losses and a huge desire to learn among practitioners.

World Economic Forum data reveals that there are 85 million jobs at risk due to decreasing workforce demands across sectors due to AI. However, the technology will drive a net benefit, with 97 million new roles set to be created by 2025. In short, AI won’t replace the role of PR, but if organisations don’t start using these tools, they’ll get left behind as others do.

Continuous learning is the first line of defence

Going on a journey of continuous learning is the first line of defence for PR. Age, gender and tech knowledge shouldn’t be a barrier to engaging with AI, or any other innovation shaping the future of our industry.

We shouldn’t worry endlessly about what jobs will be left for PR people in the years ahead. Complacency is the bigger threat to the industry. Understanding basic probability and statistics, as well as developing data storytelling skills, are some of the fundamentals for AI success.

In a post-pandemic world, organisations across sectors no longer have a choice but to adopt new systems and embrace innovation. There’s just too much data out there putting pressure on industries to respond faster. And PR is no exception.


Claire Simpson is a Senior Communications Consultant at Hard Numbers


Adapted from an original post, including commentary and insights from a panel of experts at an event hosted by CIPR Greater London Group.


Image by Peshkova on iStock

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