PR survey finds communicators think tech's influence isn't positive

Comms pros also lag in tech proficiency, says the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations Global Communications Report.

Los Angeles: PR professionals acknowledge the power of technology to shape communication, but say it generally won’t be for the better, according to the fourth annual Global Communications Report, commissioned by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations.

In the report, published to take the pulse of agency and in-house communicators, 61% of those surveyed said citizens will become more engaged because of tech. But the same percentage thinks misinformation will drive that engagement, and 74% say our society will be more polarized because of it.

While cynicism over the effects of technology may be understandable, the survey also found PR pros are not adopting tech as quickly as might be expected.

Of those surveyed, 44% said media monitoring, which is not a recent invention, was the most important technical tool they used.

For Fred Cook, chairman and former CEO of Golin and director of the Center, the disparity between the acknowledgement of tech’s importance and its implementation in PR was what stood out most among the survey’s results.

"My biggest takeaway from doing this research is that tech is clearly the future of PR, but the industry is playing catch-up with some of the other marketing disciplines," he said.

"People talk about the media’s use of AI, and in the survey they predicted AI will be writing about a third of the media stories produced in five years," Cook noted. "But Bloomberg is already writing one third of their stories that way. People see what is happening but I don’t think there is necessarily an understanding about the full impact of what AI will do."

Cook said that while PR people generally move more quickly than their advertising counterparts, the ad people just have more direct experience with technology.

"I agree that the PR industry is more nimble, but the marketing and advertising industry has been using specialized technology for longer than we have. And now the tools are coming online and there are a lot of them. So most people have a hard time keeping up with them."

"I would say overall the industry gets a B minus when it comes to tech," Cook added. "We have a long way to go in terms of using the tools that are available and the tools that will become available."

This year’s survey interviewed 1,580 in-house and agency PR pros along with public relations students.

It was conducted in conjunction with Union Pacific, Worldcom Public Relations Group, Davis and Gilbert, the Page Society, Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, IABC, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, International Communications Consultancy Organization, Institute for Public Relations, MCC Consulting, PRCA, PR Council, PRSA, and PRSSA.

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