IBM Vision: The Future of AI and Public Relations

I had the pleasure and privilege of attending IBM Vision 2017 as a guest of IBM Analytics. Over three days, we explored the future of analytics and artificial intelligence, from understanding where we are in the evolution of analytics to seeing the cutting edge of how AI will impact every industry. Let’s look at some of the highlights from the show.

The Frictionless World

IBM Vision kicked off with Geoff Colvin, senior editor at Fortune, and his view of the frictionless world. In short, as mobile and digital make nearly every transaction seamless, legacy companies must adapt quickly or be completely disrupted.

We see this happening in the communications and PR industry. Legacy publications find themselves more under the gun every day, with declining subscribers and decreasing advertising revenues. At the same time, generation after generation of new media pop up, from blogs to social media to video influencers and more. Every new channel reduces the friction needed for consumers to get what they want.

Machine Reading

One of the most impressive demonstrations of managing unstructured data was IBM Watson’s ability to read and interpret legal and financial regulations, then compare a company’s compliance with those regulations.

Imagine what a timesaver this will be for companies as they tackle GDPR compliance in the next year, one of the most important changing regulations in marketing and advertising.

More broadly, machine reading and interpretation of unstructured text has the potential to simplify far more than just regulatory compliance. A significant portion of everyday work in public relations is dealing with unstructured text, such as:

  • Client emails
  • Client announcements
  • Industry publications and articles
  • Coverage tracking and monitoring
  • Social media management

How much more could we accomplish every day with machines helping to crunch all the text and surfacing only the most important items for us to read?

The Data Science Shortage

Data science faces an enormous labor shortage. By some estimates there are approximately 15,000 legitimate data scientists in the entire world, and consulting firm McKinsey and Company calculates an industry need for 150,000-180,000 data scientists. IBM data scientist Dr. Kyle Weeks said 83% of managers can’t find any to hire:

Every industry will need data scientists; every company will need access to data scientists or data science tools in order to remain competitive. As a simple example, predictive analytics tell businesses what they need, when, and where. A company with excellent predictive analytics will have a significant advantage in cost reduction and customer service over a company which guesses at when demand will be highest.

Public relations will be impacted by data science in several ways.

  1. For companies without an effective data science practice, crisis communications will be an ongoing trial. Competitors will create crises simply by being better at making customers happy, constantly putting less data-savvy companies on the defensive.
  2. Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence should make public relations easier for most companies, from predicting when customer interest will be highest to identifying potential crises and mitigating them before they explode.
  3. Those PR professionals, in-house teams, and agencies which build data science capabilities quickly will have a decided advantage over those who do not, but talent will be the greatest challenge. Even entry-level data scientists (with legitimate credentials) command six-figure salaries, and the competition for talent is so great that the big tech companies are vacuuming up graduates as fast as they can hire them. To remain competitive, marketing and communications companies will need to rethink what they do and how they do it.

Rise of the Machines

Above all, IBM Vision showed us a world in which we play as important a role as our machines. At one point, a presenter showed a drag-and-drop interface to IBM Watson services called Node-RED. It’s so easy to use that I was able to launch a cloud server and build a working prototype which analyzed Tweets in less than 30 minutes.

For public relations professionals who are bold thinkers and fearless experimenters, the future is very bright. Artificial intelligence will make public relations more creative, more enjoyable, and more impactful than ever – but we have to overcome our fears of the machines and embrace them as our companions on the journey to the future.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Disclosure: IBM paid for my travel and expenses to attend IBM Vision 2017. No other form of compensation was provided, and I was not required to create content from the event.


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