Digitization of Industries & its Impact on PR

There is an increasing digital urgency across many industries to adopt new technology that will drive innovation and disruption. Digital transformation enables unparalleled opportunities for value creation. It used to take Fortune 500 companies an average of 20 years to reach a billion dollar valuation; today, digital start-ups can get there in just four years. Its clear that digital tech will transform many industries and businesses. But we still aren’t sure exactly how.

I recently attended the Digital Factory conference and listened to venture capitalists, start-up CEOs, analysts, and manufacturing leaders from GE, FedEx, Amazon, and Ford all talk about the evolution of manufacturing and what digitization of the factory will enable. They explored tech like 3D printing, AI-assisted design, and software automation. Questions about labor and business implications came up in almost every panel and fireside chat at the conference. In every single case, the response was that automation would not fully replace factory jobs but empower humans to make faster and more accurate decisions. Nate Linder, founder of 3D printing pioneer Tulip Labs, said something that stuck with me, “Automation must be augmented by humans.” In other words, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will never replace human emotional intelligence. But that doesn’t mean it won’t change the way we work.

It got me thinking a lot about how AI and digitization in general impacts communications and PR. PR has been in the middle of a digital transformation for years—at least since Twitter was founded in 2006 and completely changed how we communicate and share news. Caster has always stayed agile, shifting media relations practices to succeed amidst the digitization of the media landscape. Even before I joined the team, Caster had a reputation for growing and engaging social media campaigns, building audiences, and driving digital conversations. Since then, we’ve continued to invest considerable resources, time, and money into staying ahead of the curve for ever-changing social media trends. That’s just one example of how digitization has changed PR and Caster’s business.

Digital transformation makes communication in general more fast-paced. It has never been so easy to reach large numbers of people at once. But it’s increasingly competitive, and the accepted, traditional, same-old, same-old strategies must go out the window. We are talking about a necessity to learn and employ new technologies — an undertaking that not every PR practitioner will invest in.

AI & Automation as the Equalizer

PR is becoming increasingly more data driven. There are lots of start-ups and tools today using AI to help PR pros find and engage reporters, understand impact, and streamline workflow. We use Meltwater, for example—a great tool to help us gather data on coverage, analyze that data, and interpret the results by applying comparative data to it. All of that data can then empower us to determine and implement better and different strategies. The same can be said for AI tools for many industries. AI engines can do these types of tasks efficiently, but, just as Linder said at the Digital Factory, I believe that there is a critical human element to understanding, interpreting, motivating, and interacting with other humans that AI and automation will never replace, especially in the PR world.

It’s these human capabilities that will become more and more prized as we continue through this digital transformation. Persuasion and social understanding are extremely important when developing content, strategy, and building relationships with other people — a major skillset in public relations.

All of this can be, and will be, augmented by AI. Understanding and developing natural language for bots is still a major challenge for developers, but amazingly many machines are getting closer. Last week, I read about a new AI start-up tool called Primer which trains itself by reading millions of news articles and then uses that information to generate headlines for your article. Even the Associated Press is using AI to create quarterly earnings stories automatically. But will AI be able to storytell? A great story remains the very core of PR. Maybe one day the press release format won’t exist and, instead, that story will be told via new content formats like VR—but a compelling narrative will always be necessary.

The Human Connection Factor

I believe PR will always be a people-driven business. All the AI and automation tools won’t replace humans and the connections we make. Humans build trust with humans. PR people must nurture media relationships and build partnerships, become a resource for them, and connect them with those meaningful stories.

Choose a PR partner that embraces the progress of technology, leverages that technology to complement their emotional intelligence, and invests in the knowledge and tools that will help your organization tell great stories in the age of digital transformation.

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