Yes, it certainly does seem to me! I have been reading a lot about industries across the world incorporating Artificial Intelligence and automation in their operations. From manufacturing, driving cars, delivery services, warehousing, accounting, to the media and entertainment industry (Haven’t you heard of automated/algorithmic/robot journalism?), the words Artificial Intelligence and automation represent something unknown, incomprehensible.
Then, can they really be a threat to the public relations business when at its core, and in every aspect, PR is a people’s business? You cannot automate relationships! Communication requires having the right mix of content and emotion to create the desired impact, thereby building reputation.

In this new expanding tradigital landscape, technology is a support system, simply helping us tell our story better and in pace with consumption patterns today. For example, data analytics is helping us know better what content people want to consume, and where and how they want to consume it. ‘Snackable content’ and access to news and information platforms are being driven by tech. Our lives are simplified by software that help us track news better and sort our media lists in the blink of an eye.

Technology allows us to achieve better outcomes for our clients. Businesses, brands, governments, individuals now expect the PR industry to provide integrated communication and reputation management solutions beyond just media relations and crises management. From providing marcomm strategy to fulfilling the role of creative agency to providing social and digital media strategy and content in order to communicate better with their stakeholders, investors, clients and employees, the PR industry is at the center of business growth in India today.

Influencer, micro-influencer and nano influencer-led campaigns are the buzz words today. No longer are traditional publishing services a priority for many clients. How we use publishing services is determined by how people connect to them on an emotional level. Social media and self-publishing are fast gaining preference because target audiences are turning to these platforms for their news and information. Social media has shifted the focus from calling-out the functional USP of a brand ot highlighting what value it stands for. Agencies are reinventing the traditional press release to appeal to a new generation of media professionals and consumers raised on a heady diet of the digital short video, new-age platform and social media.

At the same time, PR professionals cannot dismiss traditional publishing services entirely just yet. A large part of India still gets its news from print and television. India is one of the very few countries in the world that is seeing a consistent growth in traditional media consumption even as digital/new-age media is fast catching-up. India is pegged as the fastest growing market among the top 20 Ad markets globally. While digital is clearly the growth engine with 500 million Internet users (and growing) and inexpensive data plans, print continues to keep pace, despite the common belief that it is on the decline.

In my experience, some of the campaigns that really worked well for our clients and resonated with audiences are the ones that established an emotional connect and struck a chord reiterating the fact that the ‘human’ factor remains at the heart of public relations. Which brings us to the other part of the human factor in PR – nurturing talent within organizations.

For all the technology, we might want to infuse in our business, we cannot ignore our innate creativity, humor, unique storytelling and empathy that is the core of our business. Having said that, the need of the hour for communication specialists is to upskill ourselves – talent, from senior to junior, is being encouraged to update their skill sets to be ready for the next wave of change. They are being trained not only to read and interpret data, but also anticipate scenarios that clients might not think or be aware of. A PR professional should be skilled to draft a press release, write a script for a digital short and tweet with sublime agility, all in a day’s work. What technology has done is given the PR industry tools and platforms to harness the potential of storytelling in ways we could not imagine with the simple black and white press release. Technology helps PR professionals understand increasingly fragmenting audiences better.

The future will continue to see technology reshaping the PR industry no doubt. Pitches in the boardroom will happen with the help of Augmented Reality and the public will consume their news using Virtual Reality. However, no matter how much the algorithm is altered, the human factor will always be a constant every time the story is retold. PR is a people’s business, you cannot automate it.

This article was originally posted as part of Silicon India Magazine here.

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