Artificial Intelligence (AI) in PR & business – friend or foe?

[:en]By Maria Loupa, Account Director Ballou PR; MCIPR; # AIinPR panel 

With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, there is no doubt that AI will create significant business opportunities and will have a tremendous societal and economic impact on our lives. However, ethical dilemmas keep being raised by new advancements in the field – from IBM’s Watson AI to Google’s new Duplex system or its AI programme AlphaGo, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Gaining traction 

In April 2018, the European Commission called for an increase of at least €20 billion for investments in AI research and innovation in the EU, highlighting the potential opportunities but also the measures that need to be considered ahead of widespread adoption. According to the European Commission, ‘Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to systems that show intelligent behaviour: by analysing their environment they can perform various tasks with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals.’

Essentially, we already use AI, even if we don’t fully realise it. The technology is being implemented across our mobile phones and e-commerce tools to customise the consumer’s experience via leveraging data insights from a range of platforms – be that chatbots, virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana, or smart home devices. 

AI applications 

AI’s outcomes are as diverse as the potential applications – it is already being used to prevent cyber-security attacks, across banking for fraud checks, retail for customer support, marketing and advertising for effective targeting; it’s being used to transform public transport and urban mobility, as well as healthcare.

As Theresa May highlighted this week, AI can revolutionise the NHS, by preventing over 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year by 2033. And this scenario is not that far out – according to ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskind, IBM’s separate project with the Baylor College of Medicine has developed a system that scans existing literature to generate new hypotheses for particular research problems. Interestingly, this scanning process would take a researcher up to 38 years to digest 70,000 medical articles.

In recent years we have also witnessed gradual AI implementation across the media spectrum. From Reuter’s News Tracer, using AI to determine whether trending topics are newsworthy and truthful to their launch of launch of Lynx Insight, a tool capable of writing sentences and pitching stories, to similar attempts from The Washington Post and the Press Association, among others.

Across the board, it seems that AI is primarily being used to optimise processes and facilitate workflows, while human input remains the most valuable asset in the news process.

AI in PR: CIPR leading the way

Similarly, in PR we have seen attempts towards AI implementation, but these have been sparse with no concrete outputs. A deeper analysis of AI’s impact on our profession has not been examined on a large scale; with this in mind, the CIPR’s Artificial Intelligence panel was formed. In fact, we have published today a new research revealing the impact of technology, and specifically AI, on the public relations practice. The pioneering research – led by Jean Valin Hon FCIPR – is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of AI on public relations skills now and in five years.

The discussion paper uses a simplified version of the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) framework, which describes more than 50 capabilities in public relations, to visually represent the skills that AI is most likely to replace. Tools were benchmarked against the GBOK framework by an international group of practitioners.

The report found that 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills could be complemented or replaced by AI today, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% within five years. According to the findings, fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship building can’t be automated. However, technology is impacting other areas of practice including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.

Nature vs nurture

Although the level of sophistication is evolving quite rapidly, with a number of tasks being automated or assisted by AI across PR and other professions, humans are still needed. Soft skills like adaptivity, creativity, emotional intelligence and relationship-building will become increasingly desirable. By shifting our workforce towards a mentality of life-long learning and using technology to tackle mundane tasks, we will all be hopefully able to carry out more meaningful forms of work and achieve superior life quality.

Over time, this new focus may impact how we define professions within our societies as a whole, but in the meantime, we need to ensure we are preparing for socioeconomic changes by setting an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

While at this stage AI is focused primarily around driving efficiencies – quantitative not qualitative – and help us deal with the upscaling of online communications we have been experiencing over the past decade, it is bound to evolve further. We need to set aside our existential fears and survival instincts against upcoming changes, keeping in mind that technology itself isn’t inherently bad or good; its applications are merely a reflection of our morals. With proper regulation, gradual implementation and training, we can reach humanity’s full potential – these are the main aspects we need to be focusing on right now.

You can join the conversation about AI in PR via the #AIinPR hashtag on Twitter.

Image courtesy of maxpixel

*Blog first published on CIPR’s Influence magazine here.[:]

NIU Technologies partners with Ballou PR France & Germany to announce its entry into Europe

NIU Technologies, the world number one in „smart scooter“ manufacturing, has chosen Ballou PR France and Germany for its corporate and consumer communications in both markets to support the company as it enters the European market.

Since March, Ballou PR has worked with NIU on a structured consumer and corporate PR campaign, which has led to strong coverage results in national, tech, lifestyle, business and automotive media. Within the first 12 weeks of the collaboration, Ballou PR secured 64 pieces of coverage and organised 20 test drives. Coverage appeared in publications such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bild Zeitung, Forbes, FrenchWeb and WIRED.

NIU is the world’s leading „smart scooter“ brand with more than 240,000 vehicles sold since its launch in June 2015. The Chinese manufacturer partners with leading brands like Bosch, LG, Panasonic and Samsung.

Takeaways from the Valley

Cédric, Ela and I made a recent visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and we were left with one very strong impression. In the US, the technology community doesn’t whine, it just focuses on getting things done.

This was evident at the StrictlyVC Insiders event, where speakers Zander Lurie (CEO of SurveyMonkey) and Marc Andreessen (partner at a16z) didn’t once complain about competition. Instead, they talked about the opportunities they saw, and were open about mistakes they made and how they struggled to overcome them. This discussion was driven by moderator, Connie Loizos who, crucially, didn’t ask pointless questions.

So we return to Europe with renewed conviction that these pointless discussions must be stopped. The Europe vs. U.S. question is a tired one, and it always inevitably leads to a list of what we’ve got vs. what they’ve got and why we’re behind in Europe, resulting in a defeatist attitude. The question itself is the problem. The European technology ecosystem must stop comparing itself to the U.S., and rather, focus on sharing information that allows us all to be better at what we’re doing. Essentially, more talk about what people are doing effectively and what there is to learn from it, less whining about the competition.

In some cases, this is already happening. Project A’s Portfolio Day was full of useful discussions, including a top-notch talk from co-founder Florian Heinemann, titled “Trends in & Challenges in Digital Marketing.” There was also a presentation on “Cross-Channel B2B, How We Did It”, which focused on what they were doing right and what they’d learned, in a manner that both inspired and helped others.

Furthermore, the U.S. tech community isn’t complaining about issues like gender equality. They are taking action, data-driven action, working hand-in-hand with public institutions to find out what works and what doesn’t – they are not complaining in public forums about the injustices.

In short, we can change the dialogue – that’s what we do. So let’s make sure the content we turn out is driving this change, let’s make sure we’re talking about what can be done, what should be done – sharing our successes and failures. We have a great deal of influence, let’s use it for the good of the ecosystem.

Cédric, Ela and I made a recent visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and we were left with one very strong impression. In the US, the technology community doesn’t whine, it just focuses on getting things done.

This was evident at the StrictlyVC Insiders event, where speakers Zander Lurie (CEO of SurveyMonkey) and Marc Andreessen (partner at a16z) didn’t once complain about competition. Instead, they talked about the opportunities they saw, and were open about mistakes they made and how they struggled to overcome them. This discussion was driven by moderator, Connie Loizos who, crucially, didn’t ask pointless questions.

So we return to Europe with renewed conviction that these pointless discussions must be stopped. The Europe vs. U.S. question is a tired one, and it always inevitably leads to a list of what we’ve got vs. what they’ve got and why we’re behind in Europe, resulting in a defeatist attitude. The question itself is the problem. The European technology ecosystem must stop comparing itself to the U.S., and rather, focus on sharing information that allows us all to be better at what we’re doing. Essentially, more talk about what people are doing effectively and what there is to learn from it, less whining about the competition.

In some cases, this is already happening. Project A’s Portfolio Day was full of useful discussions, including a top-notch talk from co-founder Florian Heinemann, titled “Trends in & Challenges in Digital Marketing.” There was also a presentation on “Cross-Channel B2B, How We Did It”, which focused on what they were doing right and what they’d learned, in a manner that both inspired and helped others.

Furthermore, the U.S. tech community isn’t complaining about issues like gender equality. They are taking action, data-driven action, working hand-in-hand with public institutions to find out what works and what doesn’t – they are not complaining in public forums about the injustices.

In short, we can change the dialogue – that’s what we do. So let’s make sure the content we turn out is driving this change, let’s make sure we’re talking about what can be done, what should be done – sharing our successes and failures. We have a great deal of influence, let’s use it for the good of the ecosystem.

 

DLDsummer: How to stay human in a digitized World

 

The human being in the digital world. This was one of the main themes discussed during the DLDsummer conference last week, a popular German event aimed at a wide range of technology businesses and media professionals. But what is really impacting the digitalisation of the business world in Germany? Here are three key takeaways from key speakers and workshops during the conference:

 

  • Be prepared to put yourself out of your comfort zone

At the HVB start-up breakfast, founders such as Julia Romer at Coolar Refrigerators and Mareile Wolwer at KARLA, the digital data collection of livestock in agriculture, shared some useful tips for other businesses in the agriculture and renewable energy space. First of all, be authentic when you present your startup idea i.e. don’t mention how excited you are to be on stage as this should be a given (or a flat out lie if you hate doing presentations). Also, boost your confidence by putting yourself out of your comfort zone and learn from the experience.

 

  • Do not be afraid to be human

According to Joe Kaeser, president at Siemens, one of the greatest challenges of digitalisation is having to communicate to employees whether or not they will still be of use to the company after this transformation in order to avoid social uprisings. This is an issue which Ashoka, the global network of social entrepreneurs, is also tackling at the moment. In fact, six  new German employees at Ashoka were introduced on stage to explain their social work at DLDsummer, some working more or less full-time on their projects ranging from modernising the educational system in the Western world to training former victims of war to be therapists and integrators for refugees.

Ashoka also hosted a DIY workshop together with Change.org on how to create an online campaign which explained the basic objectives of a campaign and the human element behind it. It included a motivating story about how an old woman from the countryside took on the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) which highlights the possibilities within a democratic society in the online world.

 

  • The smartphone is revolutionising the digital world

A talk by Tom Goodwin from Havas media, outlined the new way of consuming media and how individuals are being targeted by advertising. There was also a short workshop on how to stalk bank accounts just by using IP and cookies. This shows the most human side of all: Careless digital consumption and being completely unaware of the true digital game-changer. As the event organisers summarised at the end of the event, the smartphone – connecting, changing and digitalising human beings all over the world in a business or private way as we speak.

PR for startups – How to work together with an agency

PR should be about telling the truth – plain and simple.  To the media, to the client, in general. With this post, we would like to give the dear reader a brief introduction to PR, so that you feel equipped with knowledge and therefore can purchase good service – if necessary.

We have put together 5 short tips for quick readers on how a company should work together with a PR agency.

 

  • Most startups should not be spending money on a PR agency, and can do most of the work themselves. Here is our guide.

 

  • Approach agencies at least 2 months before your launch to that you can chose wisely and onboard them properly. The selection process can take up to a month, given everyone’s busy schedules.  And you don’t want an agency that has time to come see you right that minute. Enthusiasm is a must, but too much spare time is a warning.

 

  • Hiring an agency is a lot of work: You need to invest time and money in the beginning. We work best with sufficient data and surveys, opinion pieces and to place you on stage of great events. Are you ready to do all that?

 

  • Share what is on your mind and what is going on. The truth hurts sometimes, but makes it easier for everyone to find a way.

 

  • A CEO as the first line of contact for the agency becomes nearly always a bottleneck of information for the PR agency. Hire someone internally or make sure, you have enough time to spend with the agency.

 

 

An initial Brief is essential

Startups should absolutely give a brief to their prospective agencies of what they want and expect.  Why?  First, it saves them time and gives the agencies the same information needed for the outlined goals.  Second, it forces startups to think through the challenges they will face, and to clearly articulate them and their KPIs.  It’s a dangerous advice to say you don’t need any of that.

We call it a brief and we ask for the complete details of the business problems, a prospective client is facing as well as their expectations.  This keeps the company from wasting time, telling the same story over and over again to many agencies and we are able to start in on our questions straight away, have a creative and progressive conversation.  In addition, we can quickly think of similar situations, that we have had in the past with other clients and talk you through how we have handled it as well as the overall outcome.

We are convinced that in fifty percent of the cases, the outlined business problem cannot be solved by PR. We will say so and tell the prospective client to invest in marketing or online advertising rather than PR. PR is for building a brand, not increase sales. Final point: a great agency puts a lot of time and research into a proposal – we neither want to waste your time nor ours, so making sure that a prospect is as qualified as possible is in both party’s best interests.

 

3-6 Month Commitment

Hire an agency, which has lots of expertise in your field of business. Always ask for things that could go wrong – that also shows, that they have gathered a lt of experience and can think of crisis communication.

And yes:  In most cases starting from nothing to getting coverage takes quite some time – depending on how silent you have been before, how established your business is and how many far more well-known competitors are out there.  Journalists are naturally quite skeptical, and they won’t write about you without sending your story through a filter, determining if you are something new – or just one amongst all the others. Frankly: Your launch may not be of interest for any news outlet. Sorry – and it is the PR agency’s job to tell you so. But if you have good data or a surprising story to tell – you probably will end up in the media. The agency’s job is to find that angle and as kfor the data.

Oh and PR is people’s business to a certain extend. Be sure your agency is well connected.

 

Communication is Key

Communication is our daily business.  Of course, if you only want someone to blindly execute, you do not really want to communicate much with them, hence a PR agency is more expensive than hiring an additional PR Manager.

But the real value PR people offer is, to be your ear to the market and media. To be honest and curious. To be thought-provoking. If you limit us to short reportings or a rushed call a month with a half-heartedly press release and no data, you will simply not get the most out of the relationship and you potentially great press work. The secret is: Keep the agency in the loop of how you naturally communicate, make them a part of your company-body. Hire an agency that is known to be a good listener, an efficient and independent co-worker, but also knows when to shout for attention, when they feel misinformed or left behind.

So we spend a great deal of time in on-boarding, investing in the relationship.  But yes, we also limit the amount of reporting we do – we want to spend our time getting results, and after the initial orientation, we focus on being as efficient as possible.

How do you execute the perfect news hijack?

News hijacking should be an integral part of every PR’s tool-kit. It’s not uncommon for a company’s news pipeline to dry up from time to time – perhaps there are no upcoming product launches, or maybe the latest funding announcement has been delayed. Either way, no news can result in a decrease in coverage and less visibility for the client.

Whilst there are plenty of other tactics available to us, wouldn’t it be great if there was a quicker way of securing high-profile, high-quality media coverage? This is where news hijacking comes in handy. By definition, news hijacking (also known as rapid response or issues jump) is an effective PR tactic which involves monitoring for breaking news stories that provide a suitable news hook for relevant response commentary from a company.

And this is what we did for our client, Nexmo – a cloud communications platform company – and achieved some grade A coverage as a result.

 

What did we see?

In January, WhatsApp broke the news that it was going to scrap subscriptions fees and connect directly with businesses via its messaging platforms. As an agency, we tracked this news story on the Forbes website and identified the opportunity to carry out a ‘news hijack’ with the intention of generating quality coverage for Nexmo in response to immediate news agenda.

 

What did we do?

When performing a news hijack, there is a structured approach which we like to follow:

  1. Flag the news to the client and suggest why the news is relevant to them and our recommendation for an appropriate response. We also request the client shares with us their specific views on the news story
  2. Whilst we wait for the client to respond with their context based views, we scour the web for all media which has already covered the story and also pull together a list of targets we think will cover the story. It’s worth noting that those who have already covered it may follow the story and write about it again in the future whilst the trade media will more than likely cover the story in the days from when it breaks in the national media.
  3. Upon receiving content from the client we then draft a comment and always send this back to the client for approval within 30 minutes.
  4. Once the client approves the comment, thanks to our preparations we are able to simply hit send and distribute the comment to our identified media.

In this instance, we had received the content, drafted a comment and prepared full media pitching materials and sent a comment back to the client for approval before 1130am. The final approval came from the client at 1pm and we were able to send it to our identified contacts in the national, IT and mobile industry media immediately.

 

What did we achieve?

We achieved three excellent pieces of coverage as a result of the WhatsApp news hijacking activity. This included articles in two tier one IT and tech trade publications – Real Business and Computer Business Review . We also achieved an interview opportunity on a specialist technology show on Resonance FM (300,000 listeners), a radio station covering London and South East England.

As a result of this activity, we established Nexmo’s reputation as an expert commentator on all things mobile. In fact, just a couple of weeks later, CBR re-used the WhatsApp comment to inform part of a different article and approached us for comment from Nexmo on a piece about Samsung mobile ad-blockers.

 

What did the client say?

The client was delighted with our sharp response to the morning’s breaking news and with the quality and variety of the coverage we secured by pitching out their comment. It proved we could react quickly to a potential media opportunity and place our client in the position of industry expert.

Adrian Richardson, our contact at Nexmo, said: “Just wanted to take a moment and recognise the fantastic work your team has been doing over the last couple of weeks. From the proactive work with WhatsApp to the consistently high quality writing to the ideation and placement of creative contributed articles, everyone on the teams seems to be firing on all cylinders.”

News hijacking can be a quick way of generating extra coverage, but executing a news jack effectively requires skill, proactivity and a keen eye for relevant news headlines. There’s no point in trying to take over a news story with a comment that provides no additional insight. And hey, if it means building relations with a journalist who could value your reliable input at a later date – then it must be worth the effort.