by Brian Keenan
May 25th, 2018

In a recent debate for Mumbrella’s Head To Head series, Weber Shandwick Australia‘s Vice President, Planning Brian Keenan outlined how AI and automation may soon transform the communication sector.

It’s not a question of will but when. In fact, the more immediately relevant question is: how many functions of junior PR staff has AI already supplanted? Depending on the agency you ask, the answer can be none or many.

Before diving into detail, a brief pause to say for the purposes of this article I’m combining artificial intelligence with related but entirely different technologies, primarily automation algorithms and services. And by junior I’m referring to those staff members who are in their first years of entering the work force at the most junior levels.

With that out of the way, how are AI and automation pushing juniors out of the way? Simply, the technology already exists to perform many tasks historically assigned to junior staff in a faster, cheaper and more precise way than a human could. Some examples:

Scanning media and social for client and competitor mentions

Monitoring software can instantly capture mentions, send email alerts if required AND automatically update measurement dashboards.

Budget tracking and reconciliation

Time-entry and expense tracking systems compare themselves against original budgets in automated dashboards.

Product and sample send-outs

Third party fulfilment vendor packages and ships directly to recipients; feedback and ensuing coverage/content automatically tracked.

Building media lists

Provide a basic target audience or stakeholder profile, and an algorithm auto-generates a list based on journalist and relationship databases.

While the examples above are more “common” uses of automation, some agencies push even further:

· AI-written press releases, journalist emails and social copy

· AI-enabled consumer chatbots to replace basic social media community management

· Automating social feeds by AI-filtered and re-posted UGC (user-generated content)

You might have questions. How do you ensure quality control? What happens if something goes wrong? What will happen to the poor junior staff? I’ll close with some thoughts on those questions.

PR juniors will be fine – it’s us “senior” staff that need to worry. As automation replaces historically junior functions, younger staff will use their inherent tech-savvy to oversee the smooth operation of now-automated basic tasks – a historically mid-level function. They will couple this with training and upskilling as the agencies rapidly transition into a new structure.

Mid-level staff will still quality check and problem solve, but likely far less than today, freeing their time to take on more senior roles such as client and business strategy, but now with specialised expertise such as digital channel strategy or integrated agency operations.

Which leaves today’s senior PR staff. Traditionally media generalists and account leaders by training, senior staff will be forced to differentiate themselves against younger, cheaper, tech-savvy specialists.

Now, this change will take some time, if it happens at all. But I’ve laid it out in such frank, fait accompli terms because I think it will happen – and sooner than some might realise. Market disruption will only take one or two agencies wholly embracing and refining automation to send everyone else scrambling to catch up.

This article originally appeared as part of Mumbrella’s Head To Head series.

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