PR goes Big Data: The Future of Media Relations in the Age of Automation

AI is science and PR is art.

At its core, the industry is about creative storytelling – the kind that drives and informs everything and everyone, from publicity stunts to campaigns. A digital tool would be hard pressed to build trust between brands, customers and the media, something that requires a definite human touch. Consider Crisis PR: a bot would be unable to represent a client effectively without devolving into pure advertising because it cannot rely on human judgement to balance representation.

So should we call it a day and rest assured due to the fact that our jobs are all safe for the foreseeable future (after all, according to data compiled by Oxford’s Martin School, PR professionals are among the least likely to get replaced by robots, with only 3% of roles set to be automated)?

Yes and no.

The profession will still continue to exist as a whole, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t have to face the impact of the AI revolution or undergo a seismic shift to stay relevant in current times.

It’s important to consider that with bots learning everything from composing songs to creating art, the idea that AI can’t be creative is being actively challenged.

Yet the real danger does not lie with the purported creative prowess of AI but with the way journalism chooses to leverage targeted algorithms and newsbots. Gone are the days when AI assisted reporting meant merely compiling earnings reports (as AP did in 2014), transcribing notes or translating texts.

Forbes “Bertie”, an internal CMS which provides journalists with writing prompts after analysing their past stories, most recently developed a software that writes draft outlines of news stories. With the advent of Robot Reporters and the shrinking of newsrooms, an important function of PR is threatening to grow obsolete – namely, the targeting of journalists via press releases. We may have to learn how to write and target press releases specifically for bots.

More than that, as bots provide journalists with everything from story threads to the names of likely interviewees for stories, PR practitioners may find it even harder to engage with journalists on a personal basis on behalf of their clients – classic media relations, defined as maintaining good working relationships with reporters, could be coming to an end.

This is where the data train comes in.

PR needs to be proactive – instead of writing press releases based on selected information provided by clients, professionals need to get access to the entirety of in-house company data. By structuring and incorporating those complex data sets in databases which journalists can connect to their AI programs, publicists can stay one step ahead of the game (as well as the scouring bots!). Moreover, when you can get media professionals to rely on your data, it allows you to exert influence on and perhaps even set the news cycle, on a scale unprecedented for PR as of yet. As an industry, PR may very well be set to take over the role of Gatekeeper from the news media.

Of course, these changes won´t come to play immediately, but it´s undeniable that access to data and rights to intellectual property will drive the digital future – PR professionals may not have to become data scientists by tomorrow but understanding the methodology and investing in relevant tools will be necessary for agencies wanting to bring their A-game in a time of creative disruption.


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