-Mariana Agathoklis, head of communications, Verizon Business
-Megan Driscoll, CEO, EvolveMKD
-Brian Grace, CCO, Nationwide
-Michael Kaye, senior global PR manager, OKCupid
-Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO, PRophet
-Mandy Menaker, global head of PR, ClassPass
The half-dozen industry leaders who recently convened for this virtual roundtable found immediate common ground in the staunch belief that as powerful a tool as AI is to help smart communicators do their jobs even better, its value is very much linked to human input and guidance.
“Technology tools and intelligence data can help us become more performative,” says Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO of PRophet, an AI-driven, SaaS platform designed for and by PR pros. “But sometimes we focus too much on the artificial side of AI, as opposed to the augmented side.”
The assembled leaders were quick to detail some of the key PR functions in which AI can either enhance or expedite their efforts.
Myriad media benefits
“AI should be feeding us suggestions for content creation, giving us a first draft, creating a list of pitch targets and taking a first swing at how we might personalize the pitch to individual reporters,” offers Nationwide CCO Brian Grace.
As a tool, AI can be particularly useful in pinpointing targets in a media industry that is becoming increasingly more fractured. While PR depends on human-to-human connections, AI can be a powerful tool to strengthen bonds with the right humans.
“Too often with big analog databases, we're looking at lists of names, but we're not actually digging deeper,” notes Kwittken, who is also chairman of KWT Global. “We need to move from lists to fewer, better targets. This will help us land more placements and have greater relationships in the future in less time.”
“AI could help us provide the most value to reporters,” adds Grace. “There are lots of different angles on a story I might want to take. Each reporter will want the angle that best fits the way they're covering the world. AI can help comms pros best personalize a pitch to a particular reporter.”
Mandy Menaker, global head of PR at ClassPass, says AI allows comms pros to pull information about specific journalists, examine the types of stories they handle and their style.
“Ultimately, when you reach out to a journalist, you want them to feel like you have taken the time to get to know them,” she advises. “That they are the right writer for the story you have.”
The use of AI helped Michael Kaye, senior global PR manager at OKCupid, pinpoint which websites or outlets were driving the most people to the company’s website and app during the pandemic.
“It was very different than what our top targets were at the beginning of the year,” he recalls. “We wouldn't have figured that out without AI.”
The technology can also help companies package information in a way that’s most useful for journalists.
“Reporters need to be multi-channel now. Newsrooms are shrinking, they're all overwhelmed and overworked,” notes Mariana Agathoklis, head of communications at Verizon Business. “AI can help make their jobs easier.”
Agathoklis says her team is also looking at ways AI can help direct reporters more efficiently and quickly to information they seek on Verizon’s corporate website.
Roundtable participants were (clockwise from top left) Agathoklis, Driscoll, Grace, Menaker, Kwittken and Kaye.
For Megan Driscoll, CEO at EvolveMKD, AI allows her business to spend more time on tasks that provide the greatest value.
“As a business owner, AI means efficiency,” she asserts. “It’s lowering staff costs on lower value work and saving human brains for the higher value work, which our clients are much happier to pay for.”
Panelists agreed that AI will have an impact on workplace upskilling.
“AI will greatly benefit our junior-level staffers who are going to have the opportunity to focus more on strategy versus simply account management,” shares Kaye.
As far as internal communications, tech tools have tremendous potential value. With more staffers working remotely, the assembled leaders were enthused to discuss employee engagement and how AI and tech tools could help create a roadmap of when and how to communicate.
“Smart communications leaders are thinking about how to leverage technology, inclusive of AI, the same way internally as they do externally,” notes Grace. “AI has the promise to help us find the signal in the noise.”
In a year when teams had to communicate to employees about a worldwide pandemic, the largest civil rights movement of this generation and a contentious election, Kaye concedes that it can be “a challenge to figure out when you're over-communicating and when you've already waited a little bit too long.”
“It's hard to measure what other companies are communicating to their employees and which issues they are tackling,” says Menaker. “There is a tremendous opportunity for AI to help when it comes to crafting some of those more difficult messages, to quantify what percent of similar companies have a message on social media about these specific issues and what specific words are getting a negative reaction.”
“We're asking for more data – some of it AI-driven, some of it polling – to help us support conversations that we're having with colleagues, our bosses and our clients,” adds Kwittken. “We want to be able to help them do the right thing, say the right thing at the right time. Language matters.”
Proving the value
Tech tools are also valuable yardsticks for assessing performance.
“Being able to rely on data to assess the effectiveness of what we're doing is still the one thing every PR professional is trying to crack,” explains Agathoklis.
OKCupid worked with a media-measurement platform that allowed Kaye’s team to determine that, in 2020, the company’s share of voice was larger than its competitors.
“That helped me clearly display the value of PR to our C-suite and senior leadership,” he reports. “It led to a bigger budget increase for PR. We have research to show that OKCupid users who were downloading the app after reading a news article in the United States were above average for spending money on the platform.”
Driscoll finds that sharing data with clients helps narrow the focus of a project.
“When the data comes, clients are forced to define their specific goals,” she notes. “Clients are starting to realize that determining exactly what you want is a pretty hard exercise,” one helped by AI.
The next wave of technology, with 5G at its foundation, will dramatically increase the availability of real-time data. Yet human input will continue to be essential for AI to be optimally helpful. Comms pros need to truly understand and articulate what they need from it for the PR/AI relationship to be fully productive, precise and successful.
“AI is a wonderful tool in the middle, but it needs humans on both sides,” counsels Grace. “It will only be as good as the direction you give it. The importance of the human in that equation is ensuring that AI is answering the right strategic question. Then the human comes in on the other side to put some fine sandpaper on the result.”
He adds that AI could be a meaningful tool for measurement if it had the ability to see through paywalls, to factor tone and key message pull-through to accurately score sentiment, to assess share of voice and in tagging.
“It's not all there yet,” concludes Grace, “but there's so much promise in this space.”