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The Bots are Coming… The PR & Communications Revolution

In 2013 Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, developed software to help him (and his newspaper) get earthquake reports out as fast as possible (and ahead of the competition).

In 2013 Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, developed software to help him (and his newspaper) get earthquake reports out as fast as possible (and ahead of the competition).

His work resulted in ‘The Quakebot’: an automated way to turn notifications of earthquakes (over a 3.0 magnitude) from the US Geological Survey into copy, complete with map and headline, for the Los Angeles Times’ content management system. An earthquake below 6.0, and the report goes to the copy edit desk for approval; above 6.0 and it goes live on the Los Angeles Times website – without review.

‘All very interesting’, you say, ‘But what has this got to do with marketing?’ Well, there has been an increasing number of articles about how the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics will render a large part of the global workforce obsolete and without employment. For a long time those working in the ‘knowledge economy’, such as journalists, public relations, bankers et al, have considered themselves immune to such ‘industrial revolutions’ – but as ‘The Quakebot’ demonstrates, it isn’t just blue collar jobs which are at risk from automation.

Public Relations & Journalism: Change in Action

PR and journalism are particularly ripe for automation – oddly enough, for exactly the reason that you would think they would be protected: value. Because journalism is a high-value, high-pay industry, it has been seen as a worthwhile investment in automated systems in order to release cost benefits over the long term.

For example, North Carolina based company Wordsmith will, for $1,000 a month, generate unlimited ‘natural language generation’ (NLG) articles, at a rate of 200 x 200 word articles in 0.5 seconds. You read that right. Two hundred articles. In half a second. For $1,000 a month.

Other examples include

    • The Associated Press (AP) has been using automation to ‘write’ earnings stories for some time,
    • Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait has recently announced that the news organisation is creating a team tasked with determining how automation can be used throughout the company, and
    • in January 2015, AP’s assistant business editor Philana Patterson said: “Automation has freed up valuable reporting time and reduced the amount of data-processing type work [staff] had been doing. Once you set up automation, and go through a rigorous testing process, you reduce the prospect of errors. In fact, we have far fewer errors than we did when we were writing earnings reports manually.”

And this drive towards automation isn’t just confined to the communications side of financial services – financial institutions themselves are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence and robotics. JPMorgan chief information officer, Dana Deasy, explains: “Anything where you have back-office operations and humans kind of moving information from point A to point B that’s not automated is ripe for that.”

Examples of this is action include

    • JPMorgan adopting a learning machine, called COIN, which is interpreting financial deals – work which previously took lawyers and loan officers 350,000 hours a year;
    • Robo-Advisors are shaking up the investment management industry.

So what does this mean for marketing and other service-based businesses and professionals?

Faced with such a radical technology revolution, communications professionals now need to take a long, hard look at the real value of what we offer. Bu Lo, co-founder and CEO of online investment manager FutureAdvisor, points out that technology will also continue freeing up human financial advisors from mundane tasks “so that they can focus on providing uniquely human value, like coaching and mentoring”.

In my view, the same is true for communications professionals as well. While success is often measured by output, much of our value is derived from our expert knowledge and traditional ‘front-office’ skills such as emotional intelligence, conflict-resolution, co-operation and collaboration as AI can’t yet compete in these areas.

At MD Consulting, we focus on creating value through our extensive experience and knowledge of the FinTech space, our large network of industry and media contacts and by collaboration. Our membership of the Global FinTech PR Network is an example of collaboration that benefits our clients: we have first hand access to global expertise in the FinTech space that can help keep up to speed with industry trends globally, which enables us advise our clients with more authority and where appropriate we work with our global colleagues on specific projects. So while it does appear that many communications outputs can be automated, the value from having an experience human on your team cannot be under-estimated. The Bots haven’t quite taken over yet!

Author: ContentBot Alice Thomas

If you would like to read more of Alice’s blogs you can find them here.

If you need (human) help creating or implementing a PR and communications strategy, contact MD Consulting. Or take a look at our video here.


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