Note: This post is a condensed version of a guest column in O’Dwyer’s. Read the full column here.
The same AI disruption story
News-writing software that can report current events in real time, with little or no human intervention, has obvious appeal to media companies and newsrooms, and it’s time for the public relations field to take seriously the eventual impact artificial intelligence systems will have on the practice of media relations.
This effect is most obvious in financial reporting, and as the founders of a fast-growing financial communications agency, my co-founders and I have studied these developments with interest ever since we opened Vested in 2015.
This situation is far more nuanced than worrying that the robots are coming for all of the PR jobs, or that artificial intelligence applications will eventually replace the need that clients have for consultants. These dire predictions are not grounded in reality.
Media relations as a bore service
For practitioners, the real threat is failing to recognize these changes and evolve, because, moving forward, “[n]ews is likely to get shorter, quicker, and more graphical,” wrote Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait.
This is what should strike fear in the hearts and minds of public relations firms that sell media relations as a core service. Journalists are simply more likely to value objective facts that AI-powered platforms can flag over subjective claims from publicists who spend most of their time trying to wedge clients into the news. For example, Reuters’ AI platform, Lynx, can “augment human journalism by identifying trends, anomalies, key facts and suggesting new stories reporters should write.” It is one of several examples of AI applications replacing the conduct that many media relations practitioners claim make them indispensable.
So, since financial stories are increasingly being reported by machines, and since financial journalists are turning away from media relations practitioners in favor of bots, what roles will continue to exist for traditional public relations service providers and in-house teams?
Strategy first, always
There isn’t a single answer, but rather, several possibilities.
The most obvious is that raw media relations will lessen in importance, and being integrated will become an imperative. Firms are already subordinating media relations for a different reason — the declining volume of reporters to pitch and the massive increase in public relations practitioners has created incredible competition for journalists’ attention — and the rise of AI-driven reporting will accelerate this.
Automating the agency
Adjacent to this is the mandate for modern practitioners to use software applications to increase their own efficiency, or that of their firms or teams. Firms that use tiered billing rates, where administration and client management is billed at a lower rate when compared to strategic work, have already signaled an appetite to rely less on downmarket activity. The next step is automating it away.
The bottom line is that earned media will remain important, but as a smaller piece of a sound communications strategy, not the whole of it.
Another possibility is for PR teams to adopt the same data-first approach that newsrooms are. PR has never been truly about data, because firms are service providers, not technology developers. But PR has historically approached media relations with a reporter’s mindset, and for the practitioners who aim to speak the same language as journalists do, using modern technology in a similar way should help.