5th March 2020
Dr Miguel Martinez

AI and Strategic PR: The new frontier

Blog Series II: Game-changing productivity improvements for PR Professionals: How AI is the key to the future of PR

In the last decade, the PR and communications industries have gone through a huge transformation, with the sources of information increasing exponentially in volume and speed, as well as a complete change in information consumption patterns. For example, 20 years ago, only a handful of publications could have a meaningful impact on the reputation of most companies. Today, this could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the new reality, driven by the changes on information consumption, is forcing PR professionals to focus on more tactical tasks instead of using their expertise to full effect.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the tool that will empower PR professionals to focus and be more effective on strategic initiatives. More specifically, the combination of AI and human expertise is the solution to many of their challenges. This symbiosis between AI and humans in order to improve each other is what we refer to as augmented intelligence. Not only will this increase their efficiency on the tactical tasks they spend significant time today (as explained in the previous blogspot), but it will also open new opportunities to be strategic and influential across the organisation.

Based on a set of brands, people, areas of interest and audience they care about, I believe that there are five main high-level objectives for the industry:

  • Increase public awareness
  • Understand the public perception and reputation
  • Influence and identify change the public perception
  • Predict the changes in public perception given a potential event
  • Identify meaningful changes on public perception

Augmented intelligence can empower PR and communications departments to fulfill these objectives, allowing better decision-making across the whole organisation.

The first of these goals focuses on brand awareness, independently of how such a brand is perceived. As the old saying goes, “it doesn’t matter what they say as long as they are talking about you”. While today this may not be applicable in all cases, it is more true for lesser known brands, events or movements. The industry’s main mechanism to quantify this impact has been to measure reach and audiences, counting how many people have seen specific articles mentioning your brand. This step cannot be done accurately unless we are able to track brand mentions at scale with AI. An aspect that I would challenge is how the community is using the same indicators to measure their impact. I believe this is flawed as it is far away from the actual business goals. Instead, understanding, influencing and predicting changes in media perception is at the core of strategic PR and communications and much closer aligned to the company goals and impact.

The perception and reputation of a brand (or a person, product, etc.) relates directly to its communication and positioning strategy, yet it is a relatively ambiguous concept that the industry has struggled to use and quantify effectively. Some examples of questions that would be answered with media perception range from, “Am I seen as a stable company, an innovative one, or a legacy one?” to “What are the main characteristics of my product that my clients love and hate?” Answering these types of questions manually is a complicated and non-scalable process, requiring human experts to analyse all articles about a brand to understand how they are talking about it. In order for a company to be strategic, a media perception analysis on its brand and the industry should be done continuously. However, doing this in real time with global coverage and scale requires automation and AI.

For instance, imagine a company wants to be seen as innovative within the autonomous vehicles industry. They will need to understand how their own brand, as well as main competitors, are seen and what the main perceived differences are between them. In order to ask this type of question, you will require a solution that can identify two key factors:

  • When an article refers to specific topics/keywords and brands
  • How those two concepts are related to each other and with what intensity

Going one step further, in order to be truly strategic and proactive, there is a need for a similar understanding of the whole market, detecting and understanding new trends, ideas and potential partners or competitors coming into the same industry, including information we did not know we needed. These famous “unknown unknowns” are critical blindspots for any organisation. By focusing the spotlight on these aspects using Augmented Intelligence, potential opportunities and risks will become apparent, providing a clear competitive advantage and unique point of view. Understanding public perception is a complex task, but it is the first step in influencing this reputation towards the desired message companies want to convey to the market.

An interesting note about perception is that it is much more important to measure its change, rather than the actual perception itself. For instance, knowing that Tesla is seen as the main “innovator” in the self-driven car industry in all European countries might not be shocking nor insightful. Knowing that a relatively new player has a better public perception than them in Chile is, however, a massive piece of actionable information. An additional piece of insight would be to understand why perceptions have changed (e.g., the new player launched a groundbreaking self-driven tech in a local conference). This type of analysis would be impossible to do manually at scale due to its inherent complexity in order to have a holistic picture. While artificial intelligence on its own may not be able to fulfill this challenge just yet, I am confident that augmented intelligence can. The technology is advanced enough to be used in conjunction with users to slice and dice the data and the analysis in order to find the insights that will bring most value.

Looking slightly more long-term, one of the major changes that AI will bring to the industry is its ability to allow us to think more about the future than the past, preparing us to respond to future events, both expected (e.g., a CEO planned departure), and unexpected (e.g., a damaged product complains). In either case, the ability to predict potential outcomes (e.g., financial, reputational or political) of these events would be extremely powerful. This is the type of analysis that will need both advanced automation and AI capabilities, as well as humans in the loop to add, contextualise and enhance the predictions with their technical knowledge and expertise.

We are at the start of a decade when PR and communications departments can, and will, recover their rightful place as one of the main influencers of company strategy. However, I strongly believe this will only be possible if the industry fully embraces the power of augmented intelligence, seeing it as an enabler for their own skills that will empower them to move towards a much needed and impactful strategic perspective. This seismic change will differentiate between the people who can adapt well enough and those who cannot.

Augmented Intelligence and Strategic PR: The new frontier

In the last decade, the PR and communications industry has gone through a huge transformation, with sources of information increasing exponentially in volume and speed, as well as a complete change in information consumption patterns. Unfortunately, this has forced PR professionals to focus on more tactical tasks, rather than using their expertise to full effect.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the tool that will empower PR professionals to achieve their strategic goals. By embracing the symbiosis of AI and human expertise, the technology assists humans rather than replacing them. This is what we refer to as augmented intelligence, and what I believe is the future for PR.

Media perception

The industry has traditionally determined its impact by measuring reach and audiences for articles mentioning their brand. This might be the correct approach to measure brand awareness for new or lesser known brands, events or movements. However, I believe it is flawed to use these metrics to measure the impact of PR. Instead, they should measure, influence and predict changes in media perception, which relates directly to communication and positioning strategy, as well as business impact.

For instance, imagine a company wants to be seen as innovative within the autonomous vehicles industry. They will need to understand how their own brand and their competitors are seen and what their main differentiators are. There is also a need for a similar understanding of the whole market, detecting and understanding new trends, risks and potential partners or competitors. This might include discovering information they did not know was needed. These famous “unknown unknowns” are critical blindspots for any organisation. By focusing the spotlight on these aspects using augmented intelligence, opportunities and risks will become apparent, providing a clear competitive advantage.

An interesting note about perception is that its change might be more important than the actual perception itself. For instance, knowing that Tesla is seen as the main “innovator” in the self-driven car industry might not be surprising nor insightful. Knowing that a new player is better perceived than Tesla in Chile is, however, a massive piece of actionable information. An additional piece of insight would be to understand why perceptions have changed (e.g., the new player launched a groundbreaking self-driven tech at a local conference).

Answering these types of questions manually is a complicated and non-scalable process, requiring human experts to analyse all articles related to a brand or an industry to understand how they are talked about. AI might not yet be able to solve all these challenges but I am confident that augmented intelligence can. The technology is advanced enough to be used in conjunction with users in order to find the insights that will bring most value.

What does the future hold?

Looking slightly more long-term, one of the major changes that AI will bring to the industry is the ability to think more about the future rather than the past. This will help prepare us to respond to future events, both expected and unexpected. In either case, the ability to predict potential outcomes (e.g., financial, reputational or political) of these events would be extremely powerful.

With this, PR and communications departments will recover their rightful place as one of the main influencers of company strategy. However, I strongly believe this will only be possible if the industry fully embraces the power of augmented intelligence. They must see it as an enabler for their own skills that will empower them to move towards a much needed and impactful strategic perspective. This seismic change will differentiate between the people who can adapt well and those who cannot, eventually rendering the latter obsolete.