AI in PR: What do we need to consider now?

By Sarah Roberts

The CIPR has introduced a new #AIinPR panel, which is being led by Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington. It aims to understand what technology and tools already exist for PRs to use artificial intelligence in order to do their jobs even better. And there is a great deal currently available at our fingertips. I recently spent some time assisting with the mapping of the 95+ tools against PR skills and competencies, and what is clear is while there is a degree of sophistication in the technology, not many make use of artificial intelligence.

So, what is artificial intelligence?

It’s important we understand what artificial intelligence (AI) means; it’s what makes machines seem like they have human intelligence. Hubspot nails the basics in this video:

Human plus machine

There is a lot of hype in the media about robots coming for our jobs, and this results in techno-fear (as Wadds refers to it) being felt across our industry. Co-authors Paul Daugherty and James Wilson of Human + Machine don’t subscribe to this panic. They believe that AI helps us to do things more effectively, like many other technologies, and the best way forward are fusion skills – human plus AI capabilities – rather than entire replacement of people. Public relations is relatively low in the rankings for jobs that will be likely be replaced – estimated last year at 17.53% for public relations executives.

Skills replaceability

We’re at a stage where much of the focus on AI is around doing the same processes, but better through automation. We’re essentially automating steps within our jobs, for example, how we brand listen and interpret data, which adds value to the way we work for our organisations and clients. Eventually, as the technology develops, there will be a shift in the application of AI to do things entirely different. How much this will affect how communicators work is yet to be known, and there are some skills that likely never will be replaced. There should always be a place for developing human relationships without AI, right? Let’s see how that one develops.

Opportunities for professional communicators

With new technology comes the emergence of new roles, and some of which will need to draw on our collective skill set – creativity, engaging narrative, and a fundamental understanding of human behaviour. Most people consider the opportunities for jobs to be more from a coding perspective, and yes, there is definitely demand for these skills. HBR Idea Cast explores three new job categories that are developing to help build and manage smart machines, which co-authors of Human + Machine coined ‘the missing middle’:
  1. Trainer – A person who trains AI how to behave, e.g. personality trainers drawing on psychology, sociology and drama.
  2. Explainer – People who explain the business consequences of AI, e.g. AI detectives.
  3. Sustainer- A person who manages the ongoing consequences of using AI.

AI has a significant impact on choice

We need to be mindful of what impact AI is having on our publics, and particularly those who we are actively trying to reach. Netflix found that 80% of video hours result from algorithmic suggestions based on users’ viewing habits. In the battle for the customer base in the on-demand entertainment industry, retention and user experience are of top concern. It’s also estimated that 1/3 of Amazon sales are generated by the recommender system. How can PR cut through recommended content when it appears to work so well, or more importantly, how can we use it to our advantage?



In the CIPR Platinum podcast, the discussion around transparency is a needed one. Disclosure and clearly labelled bots are essential to know that you’re not actually speaking with a human.

Fake news

AI has the capability to create deep fake videos – where a person is made to say something they didn’t actually say. Take Fake Obama as a caution *strong language warning*: Stephen Waddington highlights the struggle to tackle fake news:
“Fact and fiction can spread at equal speed, and actually fiction might spread faster.”
How would you handle a fake video of your CEO? It’s something we all need to consider.


The Fast Company reported on bias in AI, which highlighted some of the issues facing developers. From Microsoft’s Tay which became racist within 24 hours to the AI used to predict future crime during sentencing that was biased towards black people, more work needs to be done to address the imbalance. Developers need to get rid of bias rather than amplify it.

Get ready to be recruited through AI

As the AI filters into more aspects of our lives, expect to see a change in recruiting processes as AI is incorporated into organisations’ talent acquisition. Unilever now incorporate AI into the first two rounds of their hiring process. The first an online game designed to understand a candidates values and behaviours, and the second, a video analysis of the applicant that looks at comfort levels and facial gestures. The results are clear – diversity has been expanded and the process end-to-end has reduced from 4 months to roughly 4 weeks.

Final comment

There are so many unknowns on the road ahead, so I wanted to finish on some wise words from the CIPR’s Platinum Podcast, where co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto David Weinberger urges us within the PR profession to not pass up the opportunity that this new technology gives us:
“This new technology and the tools that machine learning will provide, gives PR an opportunity to engage with customers and journalists in real ways, in ways that that reflect what it means to be human and in line with the values with the people they are talking with. “That’s an opportunity not to be squandered.”

Further reading/listening/watching