PR pros 'lack technical knowledge on AI and Big Data' says 'wake-up call' report

Comms professionals recognise the huge potential that artificial intelligence (AI) and 'Big Data' offer the industry but have limited knowledge on technical aspects of both, new research by the CIPR suggests.

Image: Monty Rakusen via Getty Images
Image: Monty Rakusen via Getty Images

A survey of 280 PR professionals found more than three times as many said they had limited knowledge of AI and lacked confidence in using it (43.2 per cent) than felt “very comfortable” doing so (13.9 per cent).

In addition, 41.5 per cent claimed to understand what AI as a technology means but did not consider themselves technical. Three in 10 practitioners said they were familiar with AI technology but didn’t feel confident to apply their knowledge to their role.

Only a minority of those surveyed felt very comfortable using data and analytics (20.7 per cent) and AI (8.2 per cent) in their role. Around one in five were familiar with the relevance of both AI and Big Data to the profession.

Asked about the biggest challenge to upskilling in data and AI, difficulties in finding courses for non-technical people was the most popular choice (26.4 per cent), followed by lack of certainty about what course should be taken (20 per cent) and "I’m not sure what I need to know" (19.3 per cent).

Regarding where AI and data skills were developed, the most popular answer was "on the job" (20 per cent). Attending webinars (15 per cent), going on an awareness training course (14.3 per cent) and reading books through leadership (13.2 per cent) were next.

More positively, regarding AI, far more felt "excited about it" (38.9 per cent) than felt "overwhelmed" (3.9 per cent).

The data is included in the CIPR's new publication: AI and Big Data Readiness Report - Assessing the Public Relations Profession’s Preparedness for an AI Future.

Professor Anne Gregory, co-author of the report, said: “Two years ago when we produced the AI and the Professions report we said that public relations was in danger of sleepwalking into the technological future. Unfortunately, nothing has really changed. The knowledge and skills that have been acquired, driven partly by the COVID-19 pandemic, have been largely tactical. We need to get a strategic grip and determine for ourselves what our enhanced role and contribution can be in the organisations we serve. Otherwise others will make the decision for us and it won’t be in our favour. This report serves as the wake-up call.”

A little over half (55.7 per cent) of respondents work in-house, with 50 per cent from Europe and six out of 10 being female. The online survey took place over the summer.

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