Demystifying AI in the PR context

We realised that this is such a hot yet misunderstood topic when, during one of the PR conferences, a presentation on the future of our industry mentioned AI, which sparked furious debate afterwards.

As we understand it, AI is an assortment of technologies, algorithms and tools that aspire to make machines as smart as humans. It entails use of data, detailed algorithms and processing technologies and learns from patterns in the information that’s available. A popular example is ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer), an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched in November 2022. It is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 families of large language models and has been fine-tuned using both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques.

Depending on the way we adapt and look at it, the impact of AI on PR could be huge, mostly positive. Just imagine a world where machines have the competency of understanding audience sentiment in real time on the basis of immense data and can also create bespoke messages and get them to audience segments via sharp targeting, all without human mediation!

AI may sound sinister, but we believe it has the power to take things to the next level.

Organisations have experienced that enabling AI at their enterprise level has increased their operational efficiencies. Artificial intelligence will certainly be more productive than human workers when it comes to repetitive programmable tasks. However, humans will always outperform machines in jobs requiring empathy, relationships and imagination. And these are basic tenets of PR and communications. So, we are one up!

Coming to the fear of job losses across the spectrum due to AI and ChatGPT, there are multiple reports claiming different time frames and percentages. However, these are vague estimates and statements, and we would rather think about how we can use AI to our benefit. Change is constant. For example, when computers came in, professional typists (typewriter operators) went out of a job. Those who enhanced their competencies survived. So, it is all about being up-to-date on skills and using technology to our own benefit. AI in PR, we feel, is an enabler. Any professional should be happy to have these technologies to help them perform better.

We firmly believe that AI will not define us—in fact, we could define it in a way that it is beneficial and adds value. AI is not good or bad. It is the manifestation of the user, just like the internet—it can be used both for fake news and for authentic narratives. AI’s true value is in augmenting the human experience.

Here’s our take on where AI can be an ally for PR folks:

Data-driven decision-making

AI is all about data, cognification of information and identifying patterns to predict the next steps. If the data is correct, decisions cannot be wrong. So, at a very basic level, with AI at work, PR professionals would be able to avoid guesswork and decide when to launch a campaign, which region to pilot it, whom to engage with and maybe even narrow down on the most appropriate influencers to work with. Imagine your system’s media lists giving you pop-up recommendations for journalists based on the stories they do (just like how streaming services recommend movies of similar genres). Think about the impact analysis that AI can carry out, that too with real-time updates, trends and coverage sentiment and what it could do for your decision-making. The measurements would become robust, and we feel there could be a completely new set of success metrics that will replace the anecdotal ones currently used by many.

Realistic audience sentiment analysis during a crisis and brand health

We have all personally experienced the ‘need to respond’ during an incident (that is not even a crisis yet). An ambiguous situation can make even the best crisis communicators overreact and make decisions that may be regrettable. Again, imagine, during a crisis, if your AI-based crisis communication system mines data globally and the algorithms, using their language processing ability, establish the region- and audience-segment-wise sentiment of the narrative. How easy it would be for crisis managers to respond without getting emotional. Let us stretch this imagination further: today, a lot of digital content, be it tweets, posts, videos, podcasts, text messages, etc., goes unmined. How cool would it be if an AI-based system could process this data and give out indicators of the brand health vis-àvis competition in real-time?

Bespoke messaging with micro-targeting

Stories are what we absorb as humans. Imagine if they accurately target specific audience segments in a way they like and on platforms where they consume it most of the time. This could be epic. The era of bespoke messaging could be just around the corner. AI can enable micro-targeting and that too in innovative ways, maybe even using VR and AR apart from regular modes. It could even redefine how press conferences or briefings are conducted. For global organisations, AI could help better localisation of content. In essence, PR professionals should enhance their skill sets and adopt AI to underline the indispensable value that they bring to the table. In fact, contrary to the theory that AI will replace jobs, we feel that it will up the game of PR. Very soon, AI/ChatGPT is likely to generate media lists, recommend influencers, analyse sentiments or even write a press release in a hundred languages with zero error. However, can AI take stakeholders for lunch to discuss issues or story angles, empathetically explain the organisation’s stance during a crisis or plan exclusives with favourite media friends? No, not yet, at least. That’s what we’re here for!

Excerpted with permission from The Pursuit of Reputation: Unlocking the Power of Public Relations, Amith Prabhu and Sujit Patil, Westland Books.