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Leveraging Emerging Technology for the PR Industry

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Vaibhav Suri, Senior Vice President, Yatra Online Headquartered in Gurugram, Yatra is one of India’s leading online travel platform providing information, pricing, availability, and booking facility for domestic & international air travel, hotel bookings, holiday packages, and many more.

Welcome to the exciting age of information – a time when your message can be transmitted, understood, misunderstood, loved, hated, and lost in less than time than it took you to read this sentence. Managing this flow of information and ensuring that it finds the right path to the right destination is an ever-growing challenge. For those in the media industry, and particularly the public relations industry, this poses a strategic challenge to accomplishing their goals. After all, it is only by effectively managing information can individuals and organizations build successful relationships with their customers, partners, groups, and stakeholders.

Public Relations agents often have to deal with situations that can make or break their client’s brand and ultimately lead to a loss of public interest, or worse, a loss of trust in the brand. Technology has made many previously time consuming and complex tasks much easier and cheaper to accomplish, making it all the more critical to plan more carefully since it is much harder to reverse actions in the digital world.

Now it is possible to interact with the audience in real time, sharing the same message across multiple channels at remarkable speeds. But every day, organizations and individuals face serious problems that can lead to the misrepresentation of their brand and create distrust amongst their audience and agitating a polarized audience. This means that a single mistake can undo a brand just as quickly if they do not understand the power of the technology they wield.

Digital Fluency in Marketing/PR
In the early 2000s, brand managers weren’t able to engage with their audiences as easily as they can today. With new digitally enabled communication channels like social media and emails, the nature of communication has changed. Digital media has become the default channel for communications for many demographics over the last 10 years and this trend is only growing. Under this changing scenario, companies have invested considerable time and effort transforming their skills and capabilities in order to leverage the benefits of this new channel.

However, despite the significant investments in digitally transforming the enterprise, the human leadership has fallen behind. According to the Salesforce Digital Transformation Survey, 69 percent of people within an organization don’t quite understand the concept of digital transformation itself, with 52 percent saying that they have little or no overlap with this process. This is an alarming realization as technology becomes an essential aspect of any business role. From a strategic perspective, this isn’t just a matter for the CIO/CEO, but also the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), as over 30 percent of the CMO’s budget is now being devoted to technology solutions, as reported by Gartner.

The CMO Insights on the Journey to Digital Agility 2017 report shows that only 17 percent of marketers have full digital fluency. The challenge here lies in understanding the idea of ‘digital fluency’, which is the ability to have a holistic understanding of digital technologies and knowing how to deploy them to achieve business outcomes. It entails the ability of a marketing executive to not only intuitively understand the right tool for the right job, but also understand the underlying implications of how these tools impact their strategy.

Modern marketing & PR organizations need to be equipped with people who possess this ability to think digitally. Digital fluency goes beyond the simple understanding of what email is or how social media works and be aware of how and why these tools can be used to impact the marketplace. This allows
marketers to develop strategies that are informed by the digital reality of the marketplace. Digital fluency in this respect is a fundamental business value just as much as knowing the local language of your homeland. Today’s marketers live online and they need to be digitally fluent.

Emerging Technologies
Only when businesses have a solid conceptual understanding of technology they can generate internal innovation, not having to rely on specialized consultants to convince them what to do. Take the rise of two major technology terms – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Often times treated as interchangeable concepts by the business world. However, AI is a wider concept that entails the creation of autonomous machines, while ML is the use of AI towards specific databased self-learning. The differences while minor are significant when it comes to business applications.

" There is no doubt that the future of the PR industry is bound to see an increase in the way technologies impact brand’s efficiency and reach"

In order to build mutually beneficial relationships, the PR industry can now turn AI for a more targeted outreach, while ML can help perform routine tasks, thereby allowing PR agents to focus on other aspects of business. AI tools like ML can allow brands to be more connected to the seemingly infinite pool of market data, helping them process vast quantities of information to help develop creative solutions for different use cases. AI tools can also be leveraged to make the most of customer data and help consumers engage with the brand more efficiently. AI technology also has the potential to soon replace human intervention in the many areas of PR by,

•Writing data-driven stories
•Creating media lists
•Helping in crisis management
•Transcribing audio & video
•Predicting media trends
•Monitoring social media

In fact, McKinsey & Company estimated that around 45 percent of paid activities could be replaced with technologies that are currently under development and will become the new normal in the next few years.

Application of Emerging Technologies
Andrew Heyward, visiting fellow at MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines, along with his colleagues is studying Artificial Intelligence solutions to PR issues. Some of the applications of AI & ML in PR include the following areas:

1. Faster & More Accurate Social Listening: Algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data, using deep-learning technology, and can improve upon earlier insights as they are fed more data.

2. Determining Share of Conversation: Twitter conversations fed into the Lab’s deep learning network produced lists of topic-filtered tweets, which determined share of conversation on different topics ranging from healthcare to foreign policy. While algorithms cannot determine the true intent of the conversation, based on the accounts users follow, they can distinguish between sarcasm and genuine support for an issue.

3. Finding a Common Thread between Polarized Groups: Many organizations and businesses are built on polarization, with specific interests and political leanings. Heyward’s laboratory mines insights from the language overlap between polarized bubbles. The technology is focused on connecting users and individuals across barriers

4. Crisis Management: Heyward’s group use this technology to track rumours. The tool showed the volume of tweets that propagated a rumour and predicted the rumour’s truthfulness from the moment it started to the time it was verified by a reputed source like a news agency.

Similarly,the application of other technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) poses some amazing possibilities for PR. AR is already a reality with companies engaging with their audience using AR apps. They are a way for the consumer to understand how the brand works and engage with it. Increasingly, firms will be able to enable people to have a depth of experience with their brand.

Creating the right content will become critical to building the brand and engaging with the audience. It will also become a platform to connect with those that are not within the same target group. The AR app will become a platform that adds value to a consumer’s life and allows them access to new, engaging, informative, and entertaining content, bring them closer to the brand.

Rethinking PR
The PR industry is increasingly relying on AI tools like AR to give depth to brand experiences and further drive engagement with the brand. This will provide more meaningful, value-driven experiences for the consumer and help organizations better control how their brand is represented. There is no doubt that the future of the PR industry is bound to see an increase in the way technologies impact brand’s efficiency and reach. For organizations this can range from devising new use-cases for voice-based searches to designing completely new ways of communicating their brand stories.

This is why leveraging today’s technology isn’t enough. There is a critical paradigm shift that is primed to take place in the PR/Brand marketing space, and it will be led by technology innovations. The PR industry as a whole has to look to the future, to the emerging arenas of media to truly understand how they will adapt going forward. For those who do, the future is filled with possibilities but for those who don’t, they will share the same fate as Blockbuster Video did in the face of Netflix. Which one do you want to be?