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Interview with Nilüfer Turksöy ,
Associate Professor at Department of
Public Relations and Advertising
Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus

One of your most recent publications is called “The Future of Public Relations, Advertising and Journalism: How Artificial Intelligence May Transform the Communication Profession and Why Society Should Care?”. Can you summarize its main findings? How is AI going to integrate into the daily tasks of PR professionals?

In recent years, we have seen that evolving technology became one of the most prominent drivers of flexibility, change, innovation, and creativity. For public relations professionals, three key themes capture an important element of how Artificial Intelligence applications may transform the PR profession.Firstly, public relations professionals would benefit from AI-enabled systems for tasks that help them predict media trends and monitor social media. Artificial Intelligence has a self-learning capability and offers a tool that could respond autonomously to posts, queries, tweets, and other messages texted on social media.With the help of AI-powered machines, PR practitioners could receive instant alerts about an online crisis, negative word of mouth, and inaccurate or fake stories. Given negative messages spread enormously in the digital environment, these AI tools would allow public relations practitioners to respond quickly and effectively with relevant messages.Secondly, Artificial Intelligence would increasingly assist public relations practitioners, especially on some tedious, repetitive, mundane, and administration-based tasks that have less value. For example, practitioners would use Artificial Intelligence tools to schedule meetings, scan massive amounts of data, create media lists, develop coverage reports, set due dates, structure meeting notes, organize and update media lists, convert audio into text, or simply assist with repetitive day-to-day tasks.

In this way, more of the day could be spent on added-value activities or simply on doing the more strategic elements of the job like advising clients, relationship building, generating ideas, and creative writing that would touch people on an emotional level and get the media’s attention to tell that story for the targeted public.Finally, applying AI in the public relations industry would mean faster and optimized results. AI would allow PR professionals to process statistics and any kind of data much faster and would help them to make creative decisions based on data, facts, and trends, rather than relying on gut feelings. For instance, data-driven public relations campaigns could make use of AI to create new experiences that may increase brand affinity. Using these tools would mean faster, optimized results that will in turn allow PR practitioners to meet their goals faster than ever.

You are saying that it appears that the future of the communication profession would be a blend of both Artificial Intelligence technologies and human insight. In your opinion, how must PR professionals prepare for this giant leap in the profession? Which are the personal skills to be developed now?

Public relations professionals are becoming aware that Artificial Intelligence would bring a competitive advantage and would allow companies to produce services better and cheaper. To be able to offer informed, useful, and practical advice to customers, public relations practitioners must develop an adequate understanding of Artificial Intelligence. Firstly, they must familiarise themselves and learn to read statistical information. Then they should learn how to interpret the statistics to create good relations with customers and good PR campaigns. Knowing how to read statistics is one thing, but how to apply what you have read to create successful PR campaigns is another. Secondly, PR professionals need to know how to use AI tools that help them tap into their target audience’s hearts and minds. To be able to use these tools efficiently, PR professionals must take literacy classes in using AI-enabled software. For instance, Brandwatch and Talkwalker are instrumental in gathering and analysing big data. Real-time big data will offer PR practitioners the information they need to provide the current content that consumers want to see. And finally, having good research skills is extremely helpful in this industry. We already use AI-powered tools like Google Analytics and Cision to make our work more efficient and effective. Staying up to date with the latest developments is instrumental to remaining one step ahead.

It appears that the communication profession would be a blend of both AI technologies and human insight. This means that, on the one hand, AI tools would help PR professionals to assist in improving content marketing efforts, audience personalization, and in calculating audience response. On the other hand, the public relations profession requires social relations, political contacts, and feelings. Activities such as providing expert advice, generating reports and presentations, event planning, project management, and creative work are essential to public relations, and they require judgement, human intuition, reasoning, emotional intelligence, and empathy. These types of crucial skills are still hard to automate with currently available Artificial Intelligence technologies.

About society as a whole, what will be the main consequences of communication more and more supported by AI?

We hear a lot about big data, data capitalism, surveillance capitalism, and control society. Our online interactions and communications are constantly being monitored and collected by mega-corporations. For instance, only by observing our social media consumption, technology giants may distort the political opinions we form. AI-powered tools may analyse consumers’ data via large-scale deep learning algorithms and may use this data unethically by converting it into companies’ profit. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where millions of Facebook accounts were used for political purposes, show us how news may affect the market’s complex structure. Without asking for users’ permission, AI tools could monitor our online browsing activities and could gather unlimited information about our purchasing behaviour; they could manipulate users’ views of the world; they could impact our ethics, our politics, and voting behaviour. This means that those who use algorithmic machine tools may play not only with our purchasing decisions, but also with our enjoyments, desires, and fantasies.

At no time in history, have markets become so concentrated in the hands of a few digital companies. Today, Google together with Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are the top five biggest corporations that use advanced AI technologies in the world.  They rely on their economic muscles and powerful position in society. They have a common growing effect on people’s daily life; they also have a growing political influence. This raises ethical concerns about how communication professionals working for big companies shape the world via AI-powered systems, and for which purposes they use AI. Take Instagram as an example; it uses AI to show us the content it thinks we want to see the most. The AI looks at what kind of posts we have commented on or liked and who we follow and what we liked. It then uses this data to find the content that we are most likely to enjoy, keeping us in the app longer. Our mindset when it comes to social media is quite weak. If AI is programmed to maximize advertising clicks, then it can create all sorts of crises.  We, as PR practitioners, need to lead not follow AI.

AI technologies are programmed to make intelligent machines capable of solving problems better than people could. They are smart and they are getting dangerous, as they could outsmart humanity. This means that AI would be the future for all humankind. AI could mimic human intelligence and make use of big data shared by humans online. Even the late Stephen Hawking’s concern is alarming. Hawking highlighted: “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all”.

Suggested article by Nilüfer Türksoy

Türksoy, N. (2022). “The future of public relations, advertising and journalism: How artificial intelligence may transform the communication profession and why society should care?”. Turkish Review of Communication Studies, 40: 394-410.

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