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Is PR about to die ‘again’? The robots are coming!

Posted by Chris King on 9th October 2015

Gartner’s ‘Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2016 and Beyond has been getting a lot of headlines in the tech press this week and also stimulated a bit of a reaction on the UKTJPR Facebook group.

This year’s predictions “look at the digital future, at an algorithmic and smart machine-driven world where people and machines must define harmonious relationships.” Doesn’t it sound lovely!

There are 10 predictions in all, but the one that has been getting a lot of attention (perhaps because it has an impact on journalists) is Gartner’s view that writers will soon be replaced. By 2018, 20% of all business content, one in five of the documents you read, will be authored by a machine.

New technologies that can proactively assemble and deliver information through automated composition engines are going to drive a trend from human- to machine-generated business content. Data-based and analytical information can be turned into natural language writing using these emerging tools. Gartner claims business content, such as shareholder reports, legal documents, market reports, press releases, articles and white papers, are all candidates for automated writing tools.

When I first read this, my initial reaction was definitely something akin to… “20% in 2-3 years… are you having a laugh?” Then I thought about it some more and thought it’s maybe not so completely preposterous.

I guess we’re already seeing elements of automation creeping into the more everyday and superficial areas of the job e.g. SEO-optimisation options some of the wire services offer. It’s only a tiny step further to start automating more of the mundane aspects of content production.

In the legal field I’ve been working with a client whose technology is geared to helping law firms automate their precedents and legal contracts. In this industry there’s a clear business case for automation as the current way of doing things is so grossly inefficient and systematic.

True PR and content marketing is very different though. Irrespective of what HubSpot might have you believe, good, engaging content isn’t formulaic. It may sound cliché but PR people are skilled storytellers. Machine generated content might become a crude tool for “getting found” but the crux will be whether anyone will actually choose to read it.

I can’t see creative content that challenges the audience, moves prospects along the sales funnel and keeps them coming back for more, becoming entirely automated in my lifetime. It is going to take a monumental shift in machine intelligence before the robots get the remaining 80% and R2-D2 wins the Man Booker Prize.

In our industry we’re used to hearing ‘PR is dead’ but this won’t have me rushing to the job centre anytime soon!

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.