Future proofing the public relations profession

Pixabay (Creative Commons)
Pixabay (Creative Commons)

David Phillips explores how technology is transforming public relations, a profession critical to wealth creation.

It’s new, exciting and full of career-changing opportunity.

Tucked away under the tower that houses the BT Martlesham Research Centre is a small hi tech company that can map cultures. Its software will tell its users if there are cultures out there that will help a government, organisation or cause. It can map, compare and contrast attitude, emotion and influence.

This software is one of a number that provide the basic research that informs new generation public relations about the issues and opportunities that are available in real time. It mines the Big Data now available from interactions via social media, search engines an the Internet of Things.

Its sources of information grow all the time. The movers and shakers of opinion become evident with these new public relations technologies.

Such tools can view the PR environment at varying degrees of closeness to the client. The norm of twice removed comment, commentary and action in the model adds complexity.

In the meantime, the CIPR's #AIinPR panel has lists of automation and artificial intelligence tools that can be used to influence opinion forming media, monitor it and report on its effects.

In the universities, there are academics who can help students in their first degree to master these powerful technologies and who can develop and provide courses for practitioners who want to take their skill sets to use this new generation of public relations technologies.

The powerful intervention of the Institute, financed by the internet tool makers and venture capital associated with development of technologies and with academic research support, resolved the big problem for 10,000 practitioners - who until 2018 had to hunt down software and vendors. This is a game changer.

Its agenda was to re-invigorate the profession as described by Toni Muzi Falconi, Senior Counsel, Methodos, Italy and Frank Ovaitt, CEO Emeritus, Institute for Public Relations, USA at Bledcom in July 2018 in Bled; and Andy Green with the Dublin definition project also supported by an international group of academics and practitioners.

Further interventions by Professor Anne Gregory and Dr Jon White in a CIPR podcast also provided a new perspective of organisations being able to thrive in the complexity of the modern communication environment. They described how PR affects the intangible value of companies. Earlier this year, I proposed - together with Dr Annie Danbury of the University of Bedford - a Cultural Relations Theory.

I also noted that relationship change affects value - and public relations, as the profession with charge over the broad impact of relationships - was thereby critical to wealth creation and management.

Exciting reporting of analysis and evaluation of influences on peoples and culture relationship change is today delivered on big screens projected from laptops and in dramatic Virtual Reality, using real time, moving representations. Notifications of variation signifying issues and, even crises are built into the system and ‘ping’ on practitioners mobiles as the PR environment changes. The practitioner now has notification of relationship and, consequently, value change affecting organisations (and, if need be, cultures).

It is here that the practitioner and client can view an organisation’s licence to operate and can project forward the extent to which this will change over days, weeks and even, with AI prediction, months.

Some people in the industry and some academics are also looking at how technologies are beginning to intrude into practitioner consultancies.

Issues such empathy, trust, humour and relationship building as detailed by Jean Valin for the #AIinPR project and the Dublin Conversation’s focus on trust are being examined in other spheres to identify where they can be adopted by the PR profession in its role as a wealth creator and defender.

The big model is there to assist in creating and managing relationships and there are other initiatives in train.

For example, Blockchain is a technology that can replace trust as between bankers and, using blue sky venture capital funding, research can be used to see how much further this capability can be developed.

Then there is the big issue of ethics and the work being done by a range of institutions including IBM. There are examples of AI assisted ethics management which can now be explored.

In developing this forward thinking evolution of the PR profession, its institutions can safeguard not just the future but the value of PR practitioners in these changing and uncertain times.

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