Run a web search on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and one of the top questions is “can AI replace humans?”

It is an emotive question. How will it affect our work and career? Our lifestyle and wellbeing? Or the ways in which we all communicate?

It is a question that the CIPR’s #AIinPR panel is seeking to answer. What does the future hold for people working in PR and communications? Through a crowdsourcing exercise and literature review, the panel is reviewing the latest tools and thinking on the subject.

In May this year, the panel also published: “Humans still needed: An analysis of skills and tools in public relations.”

It is fair to say the topic is gaining momentum.

Earlier in the month, I took the opportunity to attend an event organised by the CIPR Greater London and CIPR International groups to find out more.

Talking AI

Three speakers took us through the current state of AI, predictions for the future and how it will impact PR. These were #AIinPR panel member Kerry Sheehan, Paul Miller, head of digital at Vuelio, and agency owner Emma Thwaites.

Some points from the speakers that stood out to me:

  • AI is limited: an example shared was Facebook. Despite all of their resources, AI processes are still supported by humans, who add the sense of meaning
  • AI is fetishised: people in tech are saying it should be everywhere, which is leading to a disproportionate emphasis on its use and abilities
  • AI has no moral compass: regulation and ethical codes are essential
  • There is a diversity problem: what is the background of the coders who are determining the processes? How is this impacting inclusion, gender bias, language, etc.
  • AI needs to learn: so data will need to be shared and analysed. Security and privacy is at risk
  • Process v Creativity: creativity is human, whereas AI is more suited to process driven tasks
  • Companies need to take a stance: what does AI mean for them and their customers?
The rise of chatbots

The panel presentations were followed by a practical session guiding us through the process of building a chatbot (using ManyBot). Led by Jim Rowe, the demonstration showed how simple it was to create a bot and run customer interactions through Facebook Messenger.

Whilst the process of building is easy (no coding needed!) the hard part is mapping out the possible chat outcomes so that the bot can answer a full range of potential queries. A detailed exercise is needed first, thinking through possible conversation chains. Answers, language and tone should be consistent with the company brand. Jim added that every bot launched “breaks” initially, as someone will always ask something unexpected.

The challenges don’t stop there. Slang, spelling and grammatical mistakes, can all cause difficulties if they aren’t programmed at the outset.

What next for AI and PR?

In her introduction, Kerry suggested that all PR pros should use the following five-point action plan to prepare for a future with AI. It seems the best place to start:

  • Commit to learning and development on the subject
  • Join the #AIinPR conversation
  • Investigate the third party tool market
  • Make, break, test and learn
  • Challenge your skills for the future

My overall feeling from the event is that AI is here but there is a long way to go.

In the meantime, PR practitioners should use the time to learn and upskill. As with most technologies, there are advantages to being an early adopter. AI can already be used for a range of tasks such as analysing large datasets (e.g. stakeholder mapping, listening/monitoring), image recognition, or for repetitive tasks. This can free up time for higher-level activity. It is the strategic, ethical and relationship building skills that will be most essential in the future.


Photo by Christopher Burns via Unsplash

2 Replies to “AI is here in PR (but it has limitations)

  1. Hey it’s Jim of Jim Rowe-Bot. the Chatbot market is a real wild-west currently as more and more players enter the market.

    The range of skills required to develop and deliver a well-received chatbot are many beyond just the technical. Conversational design as a role is starting to appear and the role of a copywriter is extremely valuable.

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