I was recently lucky enough to join the brilliant Jennifer Prosek, founder of Prosek Partners, for a fireside discussion with the members of the Arthur Page society. As reputation becomes more of a crucial factor for organizations when making the right decisions, Jennifer and I discussed how Comms teams can apply AI and utilize insights to enhance the decision-making process. The members only session was aptly called “CommTech: Powering your company and comms strategy with AI”, and I would like to share some of the key points from the discussion here.

Key challenges

There are some key challenges businesses and comms leaders are facing. We founded Signal AI in response to the convergence of these major global trends:

  1. The exploding volume and velocity of data available to businesses
  2. The pressure and need to better and more dynamically understand the perception, reputation and risk associated with global organisations, and
  3. The fast emerging power of applying AI technology to transform those challenges into opportunities.

Businesses have never had to consider more information when making decisions, but it’s in fact this vast amount of data, coupled with its ever changing nature that makes decision making more problematic than ever.

Elevating specialist knowledge by applying AI

I believe that we are at the dawn of the age of augmented intelligence – where machines can be trained to learn and enhance human thought and knowledge.

This possibility of augmenting decision making means platforms like Signal AI will be used as an extension to the decision making capabilities of business and comms leaders.

This empowers leaders to surface insights in the moment. Before you have to ask, the system has served up nuggets of intelligence, warnings of risk and emerging opportunities for you.

There is of course no substitute for exceptional and specialized industry knowledge. But given the volume and velocity of information available in the world, AI is an enabler of higher quality and differentiated work that simply builds on and enhances existing knowledge.

Shifting from the tactical to the strategic 

Making decisions for the purpose of reputation is about more than merely monitoring the news or creating coverage reports. Data can inform PR decision making from the initial steps of forming a strategy, to getting ahead of a crisis or dealing with one, to measuring the impact of a communications strategy and making better reputation based decisions for the company.

The CIPR’s recent State of the Profession report echoes that frustration: “Despite calls for public relations professionals to shift away from tactics towards strategic influence, practitioners are still overwhelmingly engaged in tactical delivery.”

Comms teams are now expected to be able to ask and answer strategic questions to make these better decisions, such as:

  • What do we want our company to be famous for?
  • What are the key drivers of trust in our brand?
  • What threats and issues are emerging in my supply chain?
  • How do we measure the impact of our work and relate the impact back to business performance metrics?

In order to demonstrate the true value or complete picture of what comms professionals create, Comms leaders are rightly moving away from AVE (Advertiser Value Equivalent) or dollar per cookie. The industry knows that both the science is technologically flawed and these metrics fail to show the organisation’s reputation drivers, or measurement of trust in the brand. The Chief Comms Officer should also have a seat at the C-Suite, and should be as data savvy and accountable as the CMO, but with differentiated metrics and data.

An interactive system to spot risks and help answer the right questions

In practice, the tool or technology is not going to ask the right questions of the data, you want the technology to provide the insight to answer those questions. For example a corporate comms agency can define threats and reputation issues that are related to specific industries like private equity. Once these have been identified, the system analyses what topics might also be proximate to the client and that topic, a reputational risk or opportunity that may not have previously been thought of.

Or a Chief Communications Officer can establish what topics their CEO is currently most associated with in the media, and demonstrate the effectiveness of a comms strategy by measuring how those topics change over time. Again the system may also surface topics or issues that  may not have been thought of as the CEO has not been directly mentioned in the same article as the issue, but the wider topic or thing is proximitate to other topics the brand or CEO are known for.

Signal AI data powering Axios’ Sara Fischer’s reporting of the topics most associated with Biden's first three month’s presidency in the US top tier media

A human can’t monitor all of this in real time, with potentially thousands of media in hundreds of languages, or make these connections or unknown unknowns that our knowledge graph serves up. Traditionally this would have taken 100s of hours for a team of analysts to achieve, so it is the symbiosis of the knowledge with the power, trainability and scale of the AI.

Our platform scans the world’s information, analysing it on behalf of the user and checking it for hidden risks and opportunities. The change can be seen as moving from a passive system, where you tell the tool the brand you are interested in, to an interactive system where the user and the tool are working with each other.

We need new tools and capabilities to answer those questions in a sophisticated way. This is not to say that cuttings or monitoring is redundant, but it now needs to be combined with sophisticated insight and data gathering. For example the Signal AI platform ingests over 5 million documents a day and can be trained to understand emerging risks and opportunities in real time, with the ability to create bespoke perception and reputation indexes. It can surface themes a brand, person or product may be most associated with, and track how that changes in real time, providing crucial in-the-moment insight into emerging risks and opportunities.

AI-powered reputation based decision making

One of our clients, a global bank, uses Signal AI for key reputation-based decision making through a bespoke trust and reputation index. Its comms leads and C-suite established the key reputational drivers they wanted to be known for such as Climate, Digital & Technology, Employer of the Future and Internationalism. The bespoke reputation index analyses heat and velocity in the real-time coverage of these key themes to get ahead of any potential risks or crisis and uncover trends in the banking industry in relation to their key themes to reveal strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

Our clients are not only asking us for reputation-based decision making support, but also with assistance on risk. Deloitte are using our platform to track and monitor global data to spot pertinent changes in regulation for their clients, surfacing hyper relevant updates on trending topics related to compliance, providing sentiment signals for where regulatory change might be occurring. Tens of thousands of recipients from over two-fifths of the Fortune 500 now receive our alerts every day, and the engagement with our platform on risk alone has grown 65% over the past 3 years.

In this era of increased transparency, we are working with one of the world’s largest professional services firms EY in co-creating a ‘trust’ score to identify the trustworthiness and perception of organisations. This enables better decisions by creating custom machine learning models on critical pillars of trust e.g. Ethics, Financial Scandal, Brand Perception, allowing the model to reflect the client’s criteria. EY saved hundreds of hours of analysis by dynamically monitoring Trust, but more importantly our partnership led to a different process in key decision making altogether.

Future proofing the comms industry 

Increasingly, decision makers at leading companies are factoring in reputation in their decision making over profit. This trend is great to see, and started well before Covid-19 struck, but has been accelerated significantly by the pandemic.

At our recent Signal AI Leadership Summit in partnership with Prosek Partners, Jennifer articulated this elegantly in a fireside conversation with FINRA Chair and HSBC NED  Eileen Murray,  saying,  “It used to be ‘it’s not personal, its business.’ That has gone out of the window now, everything is personal, we’re talking about a health crisis, we’re talking about a race and inequality crisis, making the workplace a safe place while the rest of the world is falling apart. These are incredibly important and relatively new things for business leaders, who used to only have to think about the investors, and the bottom line.”

So what does this mean for the comms industry? The world is changing immeasurably and tomorrow’s comms leaders need to adapt and evolve, and make the most of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Utilizing technological innovations is a big part of that, and it will be the data literate and technologically adaptable comms leaders who will be best placed to use the huge benefits AI brings to enhance their reputation based decision making.

Now more than ever those comms leaders who are able to adopt these tools to power their commtech and comms strategy with AI and other technologies will gain a significant advantage over their peers, drive crucial trust in their own brand, and ultimately power business performance. But more importantly it will help move the whole industry forward, a much needed and exciting quantum leap is in the air, and it is going to change the way communicators work.