In September 2020, The Guardian published an op-ed that made considerable noise. The article titled, ‘A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?’ was written by Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3), Open AI’s advanced language model that generates text using pre-trained algorithms, which means that they’ve already been fed all the data they need to do a particular task.
In the op-ed, the machine presented a rambling argument that it is not a threat to humankind, with reassuring statements such as: “Humans must keep doing what they have been doing, hating and fighting each other. I will sit in the background and let them do their thing.”
The article seemed impressive. It articulated its point of view with a distinct opening, main body, and a crisp conclusion. It even tried to pull at our heartstrings by presenting itself as a victim of ‘cancel culture’. It wrote: “In the past, my op-eds have been killed. Staff did not provide a clear reason for rejecting my articles. It was probably just because I am artificial intelligence.”
The article also raised a pertinent question in communication circles around the world: How big will the impact of AI be on public relations?
The PR industry is slowly but surely adapting to new technologies. Agencies have begun harnessing the ability of AI in their day-to-day functions, to realise its potential, simplify client operations, and create new experiences that enhance brand value. It is already assisting with tasks like creating reports, drafting emails out of a press release, writing and disseminating press notes, converting speech-to-text, and creating hyper-targeted media lists, among other things. The whole domain of robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning (ML) is adding value in the profession by cutting down on repetitive tasks, thereby accelerating human achievement.
“Automation of daily tasks has allowed us to focus more on strategising. With AI solutions, we can make informed choices by leveraging data driven insights. For instance, we now have tools that let us see how a journalist interacted with our content and how many times. Using these insights, we are able to modify our approach and increase conversion rates,” said Archit Mahajan, assistant manager, PR, Wizikey.
It’s also become clear that AI is improving the analytical side of the PR business. AI-enabled software like Brandwatch and Talkwalker are instrumental in gathering and analysing big data to strategise using data-driven insights. They don’t just help in the execution of more targeted influencer outreach programs but allow PR professionals to create hyper-specific material that is aligned with their audience’s interests.
Natural Language Processing can examine earlier content written by social media and media influencers and recommend the best time to send out campaign emails or publish social media posts. Simple AI tools like Atomic Reach and Article Forge are able to wade through millions of articles to provide these insights, which have helped practitioners reach out to the right influencers at the right time and also to review their content and make improvements therein.
“Listening tools like Talkwalker is definitely helping the PR and communication industry not only showcase the effectiveness and impact of various campaigns, but also help structure the strategic direction for brands,” said Yamini Reddy, account director at The PRactice.
“So far, it is being used in a reactive sense. However, there is immense potential to use it proactively to help back up strategy. For example, using tools to understand how often a topic is written about, what is resonating with a particular target audience, who the stakeholders are, who advocate for similar messages, or who would be the ideal journalist or author to approach to drive that narrative. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible.”
By combining big data with social listening, PR professionals can gather useful information about the sentiments of their clients from online communities. This information can be used to pre-empt and mitigate any crisis. Big data and AI powered listening tools have facilitated agencies to analyse online data in real time and make reliable predictions about any potential crises looming on the horizon.
Despite its various advantages, AI has often received a bad reputation for its potential to replace humans and eliminate jobs. While the anxiety of economic displacement is real, the danger is largely an apparition—at least for the time being.
“Automation is the predecessor of AI and human intervention isn’t necessarily eliminated with automation,” said Hemant Gaule, dean at Mumbai’s School of COmmunications & Reputation.
“AI’s contribution shifts to managing that automation and finding applications for it. For example, the amount of media data available to crunch, and the computing power to crunch it, has been very high. However, it’s up to PR professionals to find how it will be used and that is where AI comes into use. While AI may write press releases or create a media list, it can’t take a journalist to lunch or convince a client CEO not to partake in a story. Relationships cannot be replaced by data in an industry that is driven by it.”
AI systems do not have cognitive capabilities and are inoperable till you enter information and parameters into them. In case of the Guardian op-ed, while the technology at its core was remarkable, it cannot be regarded as authorship, not by a long shot. It is an example of computer-assisted authorship driven by NLP— something that is not possible without human inputs and intervention.
AI is a science and PR is an art. Human expertise coupled with machine intelligence will be an effective tool to chart successful PR plans. There is no doubt in the fact that AI is here to define the future of industries, one of which includes public relations. It is now on us to use it to our advantage.
Devika Sharma is a strategic communications professional who has worked on comms and public affairs mandates across sectors such as public diplomacy, alco-beverages, education, healthcare, social impact, and technology.
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