AI and data science understanding is now a critical path for public relations and communications professionals

We are now in the midst of the 4th industrial revolution characterised by many as “’a fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Data is right at the epicentre of this revolution: it continues to turn entire industries upside down (e.g.transport) and has changed leadership directives at many large companies — and the disciplines of public relations (PR) and communications as well as the organisations, business and brands professionals work for are not immune from this revolution — in fact they need to be at the forefront of it!

Data science, yet to be formally professionalised, has emerged as an interdisciplinary work area in which workloads around the creating, handling and interpreting broad and increasingly large amounts of data and identifying and communicating new insights from these data is critical. Doing this data science ‘right’ is also an essential component of artificial intelligence — as data is the fuel source for any artificially intelligent machine.

Not every industry has been revolutionised by data science: those gaining immediate reward and profit through optimised data management, customer and or product insight are generally leading the way. Amongst these marketing professionals are, in the main, according to Forbes, the most data-driven people in any organisation. Customer and stakeholder data and using the latest data tools to manage it have become core skills for today’s marketing professionals. Whilst this isn’t the case at all organisations, it is no secret public relations and communications have been slower in joining this trend — and arguably the PR industry has not been particularly good at adopting any kind of tech innovation at scale.

It might not be immediately obvious for everyone how an industry responsible for the reputation and favourable perception and profits of organisations and individuals can be affected by data science and artificial intelligence. Today’s PR professionals have to move to a place where they rely on tools that utilise machine learning, they need to understand how their clients, and also competitor organisations, whether in the private or public sector, are utilising data; and they also need to respond to and avert potential crises caused by the mishandling of data, data breaches and biased artificial intelligence algorithms by their clients. On the upside, maybe PR professionals can also find a way to leverage AI and mitigate against a potential crisis situation through improved issues management processes.

Because of this, it is essential PRs and communications professionals to have a core understanding of data science and artificial intelligence concepts, vocabulary and tools.

They do not need to become data scientists themselves — (great if you can!) but need to be able to communicate with data scientists, people in the AI field, all the clients and companies using these technologies, all the while they utilise the most sophisticated tools to optimise their tasks .

Jean Valin, the co-editor of Public Relations Case Studies From Around The World , CIPR fellow and part of the AIinPR panel, has identified three categories for the skills that PR professionals use in their work at the end of 2018:

  • skills that use little, or no IT or artificial intelligence tools (this was at around 32%,)
  • skills that have a minor contribution from tech or AI (at around 27%,) and
  • skills where tech or AI is already prevalent. Approximately 41% of total PR tasks can be categorised as the latter

Where AlinPR sees the field change in 5 years:

So what is the status now?

According to the latest estimates by the Office of National Statistics, 27% of PR jobs are directly threatened by automation.

The tools utilised by these affected skills included technology that simplifies a process or provides a service, social listening and monitoring tools such as chatbots, automation of tasks, and machine intelligence applied to structured and unstructured data. Sentiment analysis and text mining is also used to aid reputation or brand management. The CIPR Artificial Intelligence panel also predicts that skills that already rely on technology will continue to grow in numbers and as the artificial intelligence solutions become more and more sophisticated, skills that already use this technology will be increasingly reliant on the tools.

The continuing training of the public relations workforce now needs to include training in data management and artificial intelligence. It is clear that the growth of the profession relies on a basic understanding of data science and the new tools that the emergence of machine learning has made possible. For people entering the profession, some of this training will be par for the course in their university and on the job training but for seasoned PR professionals a conscious effort will be needed to extend their knowledge base — to be able to remain relevant in the profession.

What can PR professionals do now?

CIPR member Chris Tomlinson, a marketing director, holds a Masters Degree in PR and Communications is now the Director of the Data Science Foundation. He is complete advocate of PR and communications professionals diversifying their skills to ensure they remain relevant and continue to bring added value to the organisations and clients they work for, as well as bringing solutions to the problems businesses face.

Chris recently completed data science training with the Southampton Data Science Academy, led by Dame Wendy Hall, part of the Parliamentary All Party Group on AI.

“The course has helped to change my opinion about the role of a data scientist because of the emphasis it placed on communications. It goes without question that the data scientist or the data science team needs to pass on the knowledge they are creating to decision makers. The course however suggests that the disciplines of professional communicators / journalists and the analytics teams, if not merge, at least have a definite crossover. Creating this awareness of shared ground, as opposed to a boundary between disciplines, will create better understanding and more positive results.

I will now consider that the job of the data scientist is not complete unless they have considered their audience and then constructed a message and created a visual based on their findings. And I will not consider a journalist’s job complete unless they have moved in the opposite direction and at least reviewed and audited the data and methods used to produce the insight, before they start communicating the findings.”

Public relations might not yet be a field at the forefront of data science and artificial intelligence currently, but to best serve clients in a world revolutionised by data, PR and communications practitioners must be better versed in the rapidly emerging and overlapping fields of data science and AI and the tools and techniques which surround them.

We can help with training!

Understanding data science and AI will help us work smarter, faster and, importantly, remain relevant. For more, follow #AIinPR. If you are a CIPR member or a public relations or communications professional and would like to take advantage of a unique data science and artificial intelligence training offer we are delighted to be able to offer the following:

Coming up in April 2019

Webinars in AI and Machine Learning (This page will be updated with registration links)

May 20th 2019: AI and Machine Learning course

Online but tutored by world class experts at the Academy and backed up with the credibility of UK-Co Chair on AI Professor Dame Wendy Hall

For attendees of our webinars we will offer a special discount to our training course. To register your interest, please click here.

Thank you very much for their contributions to this article: Chris Tomlinson of the Data Science Foundation and Kerry Sheehan of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Bogi Szalacsi is a Senior Associate with infoNation, based in London. You can contact her at bogi@infonation.io and follow her on Twitter: @infoNation5.