The AI revolution is coming

What skills does the PR industry need to win the robot race?

About the author

Rosie Hamilton prepared this article as part of a CIPR Professional PR Diploma assignment while studying with PR Academy.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Rosie Hamilton
Rosie Hamilton

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here. It’s surprising we can’t hear the ground shaking as an army of robots kicks down the doors of PR agencies around the land. As an industry we should be ready for the revolution. But as well as widespread competency within the profession, evidence points to limited knowledge of AI, a low understanding of AI skills and fear about job losses. So what’s the solution? And what skills do PR practitioners need to compensate for the fact that many core PR skills are being automated?

As PR practitioners we spend hours perfecting content and using narrative techniques to bring a brand story to life. No two days are ever the same because we can be writing a speech one day and campaign material the next; so we need to be agile as well as innovative.

Such is the self-belief in our craft that we believe it unlikely that AI-generated content will ever be as good as ours.

Some commentators such as Mark Weiner have even claimed that our mix of creativity, empathy and strategy is unique. But the problem with that attitude is that it doesn’t account for the future capabilities of AI. As Roy Amara, Past President of Institute of the Future says ‘We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run’.

Surveys like the The AI and Big Data Readiness Report provide some insightful statistics on the industry’s skills, attitudes and knowledge of AI. 43% admit to having limited knowledge about AI and 31% consider ‘ownership’ of AI as unknown. Few respondents are working with AI at optimum level and the overall impression is that there is an urgent need for more AI knowledge and skills right across the profession. Even more surprising is that 54% said they had no data and AI skills because they had no need of them. I just don’t get it.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Let’s start with the positives. As Heather Yaxley has pointed out, AI will free up our time and make our lives easier because the more mundane tasks in PR can be AI-generated. An Office for National Statistics Report in the UK identified 27 per cent of public relations jobs which can be automated. These include tasks such as content creation, evaluation, social media management, measurement and research. This frees up time for PR practitioners to tackle the more rewarding aspects of the role. Might this be the time when the industry takes up that long-coveted seat in boardrooms across the country? As Gregory and Willis have commented, few in the C-suite have any formal communications training.

The new AI communications landscape is a game changer for consultants who know how to optimise AI tools and ways to avoid any pitfalls.

AI could make us more efficient too. Data analysis – not my cup of tea at the best of times – could be speedier and more accurate if it were done by AI. There are clear advantages to using AI generated platforms that can do media monitoring and sentiment analysis, both important factors in reputational management. Turning to the bad and ugly, we need to get over the fear associated with AI. That it will cause job losses, or that machine-generated content will become the dominant force. As McGeady observes ‘This whole AI conundrum is about the collaboration of human and machine, not the supersedence of one over the other’.

But the real elephant in the room is ethics. There are many benefits that AI is bringing to society as the Government’s new policy paper on AI highlights, but we should be concerned about its potential for generating harmful language and content. Without an element of humanity, there are all kinds of scenarios in which AI could cause problems, particularly around the use of data. Enter stage left the PR consultant, fully equipped to advise clients on ethical communications and a set of guidelines to which their client can adhere.

The way ahead

If the PR industry doesn’t take ownership of AI then who will? It’s a big responsibility but if it it’s left entirely in the hands of IT and data specialists where does that leave us? We can hardly be seen as a source of expertise if we have to have an IT expert in the room to hold our hand. This supports an argument for cross-industry collaboration with PR taking charge of ethics, language and content generation. This would at least be a starting point and a way for us to avoid becoming irrelevant.

In many ways this situation presents parallels with how the PR industry had to adapt to the onslaught of social media in the early noughties. AI is no different in terms of the strength of its impact and yet we seem to be sleepwalking towards it.

A good starting point for the CIPR would be to create a tailored programme of AI training courses. An AI dedicated conference would be another way to get the momentum going. Examples of good practice could be used to explain the capabilities of AI tools and the time- saving benefits they offer. And with 21.2 million podcast listeners in the UK, there’s also an opportunity for CIPR to launch its own AI-focused podcast. There is ample expertise within the industry and this would be an excellent way for time-poor PR practitioners to absorb knowledge when they are on the go. This training could even open up different career pathways as an alternative to the traditional PR agency route as well as giving practitioners confidence to navigate their way through AI.

Competency and capability

As an industry we should be moving towards what Macnamara describes as a transition from competency to capabilities. Whereas competency focuses on what practitioners undertake on a day to day basis, the capability approach is more attuned to a fast moving technological environment. This would enable practitioners to look at the potential to achieve competencies even if they do not actually exist at the present time. To keep up to speed with the AI revolution, ongoing learning will be a necessity if the PR industry is to remain at the top of its game.

It’s worth remembering that AI is still at an early stage. So this is the right time for the PR industry to take a look at itself in the mirror. A lot can be achieved with the right amount of hard work and training. But we have to start by being honest.


  • CIPR (2021) The AI and Big Data Readiness Report
  • Graham Gibbs (1988) A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods
  • Anne Gregory and Paul Willis (2013) Strategic Public Relations Leadership
  • Anne Gregory (2019) Artificial Intelligence: The ethical risks and challenges of AI
  • Lester, S. (1995). Beyond knowledge and competence towards a framework for professional education. Capability, 1(3), 44–52.
  • Jim Macnamara, Ansgar Zerfass, Ana Adi, May O. Lwin, (2018) Capabilities of PR professionals for key activities lag: Asia- Pacific study shows theory and practice gaps
  • Rachel Royall and Kevin Ruck (2020) Automation and artificial intelligence: The reinvention of practice
  • UK Government (July 2022) Establishing a pro-innovation approach to regulating AI approach-to-regulating-ai
  • Jean Valin (2018) Humans still needed: an analysis of skills and tools in public relations
  • Mark Weiner (2021) Artificial Intelligence: Don’t believe the hype. PR Week
  • Heather Yaxley (2018) What is PR? The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit: An essential guide to successful strategic relations practice (CIPR)