Laura M. Sutherland: Public relations and artificial intelligence can work together

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PR practitioners are scared of the term ‘artificial intelligence’ and it could cost them, being slow to modernise, up-skill and learn how to work WITH AI.

If you don’t know your artificial intelligence from your STEM, don’t worry. An event I attended recently had me thinking about the links with public relations…

How an event about STEM got me thinking about artificial intelligence and PR.

Let me explain how I join artificial intelligence up with STEM, it’s a long post, but I hope it helps start a conversation and spur on your thinking.

I attended my first Ellevate Scotland event last week.

A summary of the event content > “STEM and indeed STEAM makes sense as it pervades every aspect of our lives and is our children’s future. It also remains a sector where women are under-represented at senior levels and where more women train in STEM subjects than move into the STEM workforce.”

What really excited me, when listening to each of the speakers talk about their own work, challenges and how they were facing challenges head on, was the pattern I saw. The pattern that public relations can actually be the strategic function which helps solve problems.

“Invention, creativity and ingenuity have always been central to Scotland’s enterprising history. As we move into the next industrial age we require different skill sets than in the last Industrial Revolution. Whether today’s students go on to be artists, Scientists, doctors or politicians, we know that the challenges their generation faces will demand creative solutions. The problem-solving, the fearlessness, and the critical thinking and making skills that you see every day in the Art department are the same skills that will keep our country innovating, and their development needs to start in school.

“STEAM is gaining traction as a movement in government and research circles as well. With global competition rising, Scotland is at a critical juncture in defining its economic future. STEM combined with Art and Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century in the same way that science and technology did in the last century, and the STEAM movement is an opportunity for Scotland to sustain its role as innovator of the world.”

One of the examples discussed was how Apple and Google have managed to put user experience to the forefront of their products using data and informatics.

The image below demonstrates the impact of culture on social and economic development. You’ll see the UK fairly low down, but you’ll see Sweden top in both cultural and innovation rankings. This is no surprise as the Swedish have a completely different culture to the UK. More time for being creative, taking breaks, innovation and you’re encouraged to be diverse.

Habits of Nobel Prize winners

How ‘art’ has impacted my critical thinking so far

Tom Inns, Director of Glasgow School of Art talked about the Product Design and Engineering (PDE) Degree course, which is a blend of design and manufacturing. I actually worked with the PDE Degree students on their Degree Show a number of years ago and was fascinated by the products they were developing, which solved problems and had an impact on how people live.

You’ll also perhaps remember my work with The Lighthouse, specifically the Design Impact Award, which celebrated the best ‘design’ to impact every day lives – the first winner was someone who developed a piece of equipment which helped disabled people in and out of swimming pools. He then went onto supply one for the Commonwealth Games.

Other relevant points made at the event before I come back to the focus on public relations and artificial intelligence.

  • Up-skilling as technology develops was mentioned by all speakers
  • Josh was also a very interesting speaker who talked about the lack of data scientists in general, plus the fact women weren’t coming forward to be educated in this area.
  • Scotland need data and AI experts
  • 46% of workforce in Scotland will be redundant due to automation
  • The Guardian gave Ed Sheeran’s Calculating Soul album a 2 star review last year, saying he “created a suspiciously slick album that aspires to appeal across the board”. It was an album said to have used an algorithm to analyse the best of every genre and bring it together to make one almighty impact, ticking all the boxes. Wow!
  • Data must be non-discriminate – professionals must act ethically

All of this got me thinking. I’m already considering learning to code. I’m already thinking about algorithms and developing tools to help myself…

Public relations and artificial intelligence – my point

I’ve painted the picture about culture, data and automation, but does this not sound like it’s something we’re all too familiar with in public relations?

Joining the dots with a very broad brushstroke, if organisations and industries had amazing (modern) public relations practitioners (and I mean those of us who currently use data and analytics to inform strategy) working at board level, working on engaging strategies which identified the issues and addressed them, surely we can make a huge difference?

One of the issues we have however, is the slow-to-modernise practitioner who still wants to write press releases and make a call to a journalist. Whilst in some cases, traditional media can form part of the strategy, if we consider all of the above, if we up-skill and learn more about data and AI and how it works WITH PR, public relations practitioners can really make headway, reinforcing their purpose, their role and the value they can add to an organisation. It needn’t kill public relations!

Can AI replace the work of a PR practitioner?

Whilst this post cites 46% of the Scottish workforce could be redundant due to automation, we must consider that whilst simple tasks like gathering, adding and spitting out reports may be fully automated, can we really say that artificial intelligence will replace public relations? FYI Stephen Waddington blogged last year about the impact of AI on public relations which is worth a read.

We need to start a conversation about this. We need to think like entrepreneurs! (See my previous post PR and entrepreneurial thinking and come to think of it, this post too about PR and Design Thinking). We need to figure out what we need to do now and for the (not too distant) future. We’re already using simple tools like Coveragebook to gather online coverage and give analysis, but can algorithms have a bigger impact on what we are being presented with and will it start to influence decisions, perhaps written by governments, for example? We’re already seeing a big change in what we are ‘allowed’ to see by Facebook with its new algorithm.

I’d really want to be part of a conversation, perhaps the one which Stephen mentions in his post, which explores, develops and shares thinking and insights.

Finishing up, as you can hopefully tell, my thinking around artificial intelligence came from an event which talked about challenges in particular industries, but which looked to other industries for ‘growth’ inspiration. Hence STEM to STEAM. I believe we can learn from other industries, we can use our brains to figure out what we need to know to be able to progress and remain relevant, but we need to do it now and we need to stop thinking of everything as a an issue and start thinking of the opportunities.

Who’s all in for the ‘AI and PR’ conversation?

Guest post by Laura Sutherland FCIPR Chart.PR, who runs consultancy Aura PR, working across the UK business and organisations, helping them communicate effectively.

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