5 Things I Want #AIinPR to Do for Me ASAP

An Open Letter to Digital Media Toolmakers

We've been studying #AIinPR for a position paper we published last week called “Artificial Intelligence and the New Imperative for Communicators.”

When we started, I felt like I only loosely understood what AI was, but after researching what’s been published on the topic and talking to a bunch of smart people, it turns out I already knew the basics: AI refers to tools and technologies to make machines smart. Those tools are powered by algorithms that we can teach to analyze big pools of data faster than a human is capable of and then make connections among that data to better inform the decisions humans make.

The process opened my eyes to where we are with the adoption of this technology, and three things I'm glad I now understand are:

  • AI is a massive force impacting the motion of brands across every industry, and it is driving the next big motion in influence and storytelling. AI is changing the way we “do” communications.
  • AI has existed for decades, but mainstream use and adoption are in the early stages, making this a perfect time for our industry to elevate to new heights as both advocates and the conscience for ethical and smart use of AI.
  • Professional communicators have an essential part to play in how emerging technologies and new advances, like AI, are used and applied in both our own work and in the work of the clients we advise, whether they be internal or external.


Communications is playing catch-up with AI

However, another thing that became abundantly clear through our secondary research—and through speaking with people like Kerry Sheehan, Artificial Intelligence deputy chair for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations; Jon Iwata, former senior vice president and chief brand officer at IBM; and Paul Roetzer, head of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute—is that when it comes to adopting AI technology to give employees superpowers, communications is SLACKING. We’re behind our colleagues in marketing, and we are way behind industries like healthcare, manufacturing, and retail that are using AI and related technology to do things like real-time analysis of patient data for prioritization and triage in the ER or creating a robot bee drone that can pollinate like a honeybee.

Roetzer, in particular, has strong feelings on the topic. He said, “Many of the applications we have for AI right now simply just don’t exist in PR and communications because nobody’s taken the initiative to build them. There’s a lack of vision in the industry. Most major players in marketing and communications aren’t building the stuff that’s readily available to be built right now.”


What can AI do for communications?

So, armed with a better understanding of AI and what it can do for our profession, I’ve come up with a list of tools and applications I want … ASAP. 


1. Match my story to the right reporters

AI could be used to scroll through a media database, and then identify and rank reporters most likely to be receptive to a particular story.


2. Determine likely day two and day three stories

Social listening is already big in marketing, but communicators haven’t yet taken the next step—creating a tool that could analyze social conversation and media coverage on a breaking news cycle and tell me what the day two and day three stories are likely to be. Taken a step further, what about an AI tool that can tell me how my company or client’s competitors will weigh in on a breaking news cycle? 


3. Let me know where my audience is starting from

Some media organizations are experimenting with using AI to analyze user history in order to figure out their level of knowledge on a topic. So, for example, if we’re creating owned content about blockchain, the AI could determine whether the recipient needs to receive version 1, which explains what blockchain is and gives some context, or version 2, which assumes a basic understanding.


4. Manage my digital files

Asset management is a chore for any company. An AI tool that manages and organizes, labels and annotates digital files, and associates individuals with specific documents would be invaluable. How great would it be to pop into a chatbot window and ask it for everything I or my predecessor ever did on product launch events for mid-sized retail brands?


5. Transcribe and organize notes from interviews and discussions

As our CEO, Melissa, pointed out in about the AI conversations happening at USC Annenberg’s recent symposium, AI could be used to edit and shape a voice-to-text transcription—and identify themes, subjects, and structures—to make notetaking and organization automatic.

To all my hard-working colleagues working in the digital media tools industry, consider this an open request. Drop me a line when you can help with any of these things, and if you’re curious to find out more about the role AI could play in communications, check out our position paper, “Artificial Intelligence and the New Imperative for Communicators.”

April 23, 2019

Matt Ashworth
Senior Vice President, Technology
General Manager, Seattle