Will AI kill the PR agency?

Will AI kill the PR agency?

Apocalyptic predictions rarely come entirely true but many of them contain wisdom and foresight. This is the case in a new book by PR consultant Alex Warren: Spin Machines.

In his new book, Warren makes no claims for artificial intelligence (AI) replacing the PR agency entirely. Instead, he suggests that AI will mean much of public relations consultancy not only can, but certainly will, be automated.

In a compelling series of examples, the book highlights how automation is swiftly affecting sectors that previously considered themselves immune from automation on the basis that machine learning and AI cannot replace human thinking and creativity.

This is perhaps the most convincing argument of the book. But perhaps more chillingly, this insight is not only argued well but also evidenced from other equally creative industries.

“It is totally plausible that creative tasks will be automated. We already have AI capable of brainstorming with scientists using it to hypothesize scientific theories,” says Alex.

Replaceable creativity

He continues, “About 10 years ago, people thought that creativity and anything relationship based would never be replaced. This was partly because, due to a Future of Jobs survey from Oxford University, PR got it into its head that it was indestructible.”

In the book, he reflects, ‘Personally, I don’t think PR people are lying when they say they see little possibility for AI to replace them in their jobs. I do, however, think that they both overestimate the difficulty of their work and underestimate the rate at which artificial intelligence is evolving.’

“It’s also due to a perception that a bit of automation will impact factory and other blue collar jobs but not those of the middle classes, who see their work as far too complex for a machine to do. But no industry ever sees itself as replaceable,” he says.

How creative are we?

Creativity is central to marketing and PR. Client surveys regularly rank it as one of the key desirable attributes in a new agency.

In a chapter that delves into the nature of creativity, Alex cites scientific research and examples from popular culture (including the song writing of The Beatles) to describe what it is and categorise levels of creativity.

He then asks how much each type of creativity the average PR campaign actually requires. His analysis finds that much of this work is, frankly not creative with a capital ‘c’, and therefore vulnerable to automation.

Agency survival strategy

So what should a PR agency manager, executive or even PR student do in these circumstances?

Warren has some clear advice, much of it around preparing for an automated future in which superior, human PR counsel will be valued while much of the workaday tasks will be handed over to machines.

Considering marketers already have access to and use a range of tools that automate previously manual tasks, the clock is ticking on other marketing industry processes, he argues.

As costs fall for such tools their adoption is likely to grow exponentially. And if his predictions are right, it looks likely that many tasks within PR will be taken over by some form of machine learning in the years ahead.