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The PR sector will face many changes in the future, and AI may just be the most daunting. However, I recently attended a CIPR webinar about AI in PR, and learned that change in the sector might not be as daunting as we think.
As humans, we instinctively feel threatened by the possibility of AI and it is clear that PR professionals’ sentiments towards AI in their sector varies. The AI and Big Data Readiness Report (2021) by the CIPR AI in PR Panel measures that some communications professionals are encouraged that AI will increase efficiency and opportunities, but others feel that AI is synonymous with job loss and ethical obstacles. There seems to be a mixture of emotions where AI is concerned, flipping between optimism and fear. However, there is a silver lining: research by Oxford University in 2013 shows that the industry only has a 0.18% probability of automation and computerisation. This reiterates that PR, at its core, is a creative sector where humans cater to humans. Yet, similar to all industries, PR must evolve and the expansion of AI is already proving this.
AI vs AI – what does it all mean?
When we think of AI, we naturally think of artificial intelligence – but in analysing AI in the PR industry, augmented intelligence appears much more fitting. This distinction can be confusing, both artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence share similar objectives, but these two concepts differ wildly in their methodology. Where artificial intelligence is the creation of machines to act like humans, augmented intelligence uses these same machines to support and enhance human decision-making.
How can we make AI in PR work for us?
The PR sector is lagging behind other industries that have already embraced AI changes, such as Business and Finance – 41.5% of comms professionals know what AI is but feel they lack the technical skills and 30% are familiar with AI but do not feel comfortable applying AI knowledge to their role. Simply put, AI is still seen as a ‘new’ concept by many in the PR world. However, taking these sentiments into consideration, there are some areas within PR where the shift to AI provides PR professionals with useful tools to pick up granular detail, assisting us with reporting for our clients. As a Junior Account Executive, my day-to-day tasks are influenced by programmes that use AI: I can use Roxhill or Muck Rack to gather the best media intelligence; I can view social media analytics to measure engagement and sentiment; and I can use speech-to-text to help me capture soundbites for content creation. These applications provide me with the opportunity to be as efficient as possible as I work.
Looking to the AI future
So what do we actually have to look forward to? Allison Spray, Managing Director, Data + Analytics at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, explained that augmented intelligence will rise in popularity in two areas in the coming decade: firstly in prediction and production, and secondly in strategic planning. We can already find augmented intelligence programmes starting to transform copywriting with smart-writing applications like HyperWrite changing the landscape.
The position of the copywriter will be directed into more editorial waters – amending text written by augmented intelligence rather than starting with a blank page. Secondly, augmented intelligence will change how we plan and evaluate communications campaigns, with programmes emerging that can build matrices and models that outline the different options we can take and predict their outcomes, providing PR professionals with the most cost-effective and efficient options for their clients.
Emma Thwaites, founder of Allegory Communications, talks data and the way it influences our behaviour and business.
Data headlines are here to stay
Every aspect of modern life is defined or quantified by data. The Global Datasphere measures how much data is created and consumed every year. I find the scale mind-blowing – the total amount of new data predicted to be made in 2025 is 175ZB, up from an estimated 59ZB in 2020.
If you are struggling with visualising this (I did), I Googled it and, using my rudimentary maths, calculated that it’s the equivalent of 3.5 billion 4-door filing cabinets full of text. It’s unsurprising that we all somehow feel the presence of this invisible but massive force even if we only consciously think about it occasionally or never.
Data underpins the way we understand the world
Like water, electricity and roads, data is woven through the infrastructure of modern life. It influences our behaviour, our lifestyles and the choices we make. Data is increasingly the story – making front-page news and raising big political questions about transparency, privacy, and ownership. In March, research for the Centre for Data and Innovation showed an unprecedented increase in the use of data-driven technologies in the pandemic. This contributed to a 54% rise in UK media coverage of data-driven technologies in the first 12 months of Covid-19.
Things are moving so fast that the explosion of data often outpaces our ability to manage our response or understanding of it. As individuals, unpicking the truth from exaggerated claims and conspiracy theories woven with data is almost impossible. The issue is further exacerbated when data is taken out of context and manipulated to suit false narratives.
For leaders of complex organisations, keeping a grip on how data is being gathered, stored and processed is a mind-boggling task. According to a poll of 250+ business leaders, insight, marketing and communications professionals attending the recent DataComms 2021 conference, only 12% feel ‘very prepared’ to respond to a major crisis involving data, (e.g. a data breach), and almost a third (32%) stated that they would be ‘unprepared’.
There is work to be done. How we manage and communicate about data – something that was once primarily internal and often confined to ICT departments – is now very much an outward-facing concern. Whether we do it well or poorly can influence how trustworthy people consider our organisations to be. Data protection penalties are on the rise, climbing 40% in the past year (FT.com), and organisations are increasingly being held accountable for their use of data by regulators and consumers alike.
Corporate Digital Responsibility moving up the business agenda
Data is becoming a new battleground for those concerned with building and protecting corporate reputations. Consumers are data-aware as never before. While they may be happy to share personal data with organisations they trust, they are also ready to punish them for any misuse of data or perceived lack of transparency. Organisations that can master data, using it ethically and in an open and trustworthy manner, will win. Company reputations will be built on the strength of how seriously they take their Corporate Digital Responsibilities, at least in part.
So how can communicators master data? How can we make sure that we know and understand enough to advise our organisations confidently at the most senior levels? We must embrace it in its full capacity, understanding both the power it holds and the risks it may expose. Here is the basic process that we have developed at Allegory for achieving this:
- Carry out a comprehensive data audit. What data does your organisation hold? Where is it stored? Who has access to it? What is it used for? Is it shared? How long is it kept for, and how is it protected?
- Evaluate your data policies and procedures against your wider organisational mission, vision and values.
- Identify weak points and ensure that all data is being gathered, stored and used ethically and transparently.
- Ensure that the risks of data mis-management are fully understood and mitigated across your organisation (ie. captured and considered in your organisation’s risk register)
- Make sure that the data you need to do your job is readily available and can be accessed quickly in the event of a crisis.
- Consider publishing public-facing, data-driven dashboards – showing your organisation’s performance across key metrics.
- Make data protection an integral part of your risk register and your crisis management response.
- Ensure that people in the business understand the company’s responsibilities, processes and commitments concerning data.
- Address any skills gaps.
- Provide a strategy to communicate to your audience why your company takes CDR seriously and the measures to ensure these principles are upheld.
- Be transparent about company policy concerning data, especially what your organisation is/ is not prepared to share and how it will do so safely.
With the requisite infrastructure, skills and plans in place, you can be confident in your ability to communicate your organisation’s use of data openly and positively, both for growth and in times of crisis. As a communication strategist, being an expert in your organisation’s data policy and practice will enable you to protect and enhance its reputation.
Allegory has been working in this field for nearly ten years and is passionate about best practice in communicating about and with data. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about our data governance workshops for communication and marketing professionals. Our mission is to use our expertise and our network to help organisations embrace data for positive change and the greater good.
Iain is a highly-experienced journalist, media consultant and copywriter with 25 years of professional experience. He has written features for the Guardian, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Times and Independent, as well as a vast array of magazines and periodicals.
His commercial clients have included Nesta, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Transport for London, Channel 4, University of Kent, Debt Hacker, Borkowski, JLL, Economic and Social Research Council, Microsoft, Rated People, Red Bull and the Child Poverty Action Group.
His work varies from consulting on thought leadership to ghost-writing for CEOs and from placing stories to staging newsjacking or guerilla events. He is an experienced interviewer and known for his original ideas as well as being able to create engaging copy from complex or hard-to-grasp information.
Iain is the author of two books and contributor to a dozen more. He is also co-director of a Community Interest Company working with creative social histories and popular culture.
Vicky has over 15 years’ experience in PR and communications, having worked at leading UK PR agencies and in-house at large organisations, including Direct Line Group and the University of Hertfordshire.
She develops PR and communications strategies that connect businesses and organisations with their target audiences and stakeholders, using audience insights, her nose for news and creative storytelling to grow clients’ positive reputation. She specialises in consumer financial services, consumer health and research communications.
Marketing Manager | Senior Account Manager
Rachel has over 15 years’ experience in multimedia consumer marketing, delivering award-winning campaigns for brands such as Starbucks, John Lewis, Change4Life and Sony Music.
She specialises in strategic communications and content, creative solutions, brand narrative and storytelling.
Prior to joining Allegory, Rachel spent three years working as Marketing Director for an independent beauty brand, leading a strategic branding, marketing and design function in-house.
Kristin is a former television journalist who recently moved into communications after a long career as an award-winning producer-director.
She spent 10 years on the staff of the BBC, starting as a reporter in regional news, progressing rapidly into news editor roles, and later working on the flagship current affairs programme Panorama.
As a freelance producer-director and series producer Kristin has worked for all the major broadcasters, where her credits include Channel 4 Dispatches: Britain’s Cheap Clothes, BBC1’s Helicopter Heroes, and ITV1’s The Murder of Rhys Jones: Police Tapes.
Throughout her career Kristin’s goal has been to produce television programmes that make a difference to peoples’ lives and she is continuing with that ambition by sharing her journalistic insights and storytelling skills with people whose values align with her own.
Her first clients include Donna Ockenden, who is leading the Independent Review of Maternity Services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, and Allegory, where she works on the Open Data Institute & The Alan Turing Institute accounts.
The public is broadly supportive of the application of data and technology during COVID-19 but governance and transparency are critical to trust.
Public attitudes towards data and technology have significantly shifted during the COVID-19 crisis thanks to tools aimed at suppressing the virus and coping with its effects.
Data-driven technology has been used effectively in response to the pandemic and to mitigate the impact of lockdown.
The CDEI has explored the application of data and technology during the pandemic and documented them in a repository. It also conducted a longitudinal survey of public opinion among 12,000 individuals between June and December 2020.
The report records a broad range of applications including contact tracing and an algorithm to determine qualifications in the absence of exams.
Other innovative applications include drones used to deliver medical supplies in remote regions and the creation of health equipment databases to monitor the availability of assets in the NHS.
The CDEI report suggests that the use of digital technology has increased since the start of COVID-19. It suggests that this trend is likely to continue the long-term, pointing to changing attitudes resulting from the benefit observed during the crisis.
Awareness of technology and adoption during COVID-19
Almost three-quarters (72%) of the UK population believe that digital technology has the potential to be used in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a view that is consistent across all demographic groups and regions.
However not everyone thinks that the full potential of data and technology is being realised. Fewer than half (42%) believe that digital technology is making the situation in the UK better, and 39% said they thought the technology is not being used properly.
Governance and transparency critical to public trust
Governance and transparency are the primary concern of the public in ensuring trust in data and technology. Almost a quarter of the public (24%) do not believe that the right rules and regulations are in place to ensure that digital technology is used responsibly in the UK’s COVID-19 response. This is largely consistent across age, region, and gender.
More than two in five people (43%) believe regulation is appropriate. 39% of younger people would know where to raise these complaints if governance was failing. This falls to 14% for older people.
Media coverage of data increased during COVID-19
Social media has seen a boom during the pandemic however when it comes to news consumption, traditional news sources remain the dominant source. Media coverage of artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven technologies is contributing to public discourse and adoption.
According to the CDEI report there has been a 54% year-on-year increase in the number of articles in UK newspapers reporting on topics such as AI, algorithms, and data. The increase is driven by the pandemic notably among tabloid media.
CDEI is an independent expert committee, led by a board of specialists, set up and tasked by the UK government to investigate and advise on how we maximise the benefits of data-driven technologies.