How AI Can Help PR

Public relations across Africa is evolving at a rapid pace, buoyed by the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI), which is being harnessed to offer more efficient and effective solutions in media monitoring, analysis and reporting, and real-time online conversation tracking.

This is one key finding in the first Africa PR & Communications Report, which provides comprehensive analysis of the state of the industry, its challenges, opportunities and prospects.

The research involved more than 3,000 communicators and business executives across 29 African countries including South Africa.

The report is published by BHM Research & Intelligence and says AI technology is capable of identifying and addressing negative sentiment quickly, transforming the way PR and communications professionals approach their work.

In some organisations, it is already being used to monitor online conversations in real time, a feature that is proving invaluable in the proactive management of public perception and brand reputation.

Additionally, notes the report, AI has become an effective tool in combating the propagation of false information by efficiently identifying and debunking it in record time. This ability to swiftly respond and correct misinformation is becoming a crucial aspect of PR practice.

Survey respondents predicted that AI would be the leading game-changer in PR practice over the next five to 10 years. It was closely followed by social networks (16.8%) and data science (15.5%). Other noteworthy technologies expected to affect the industry include information analysis (13.8%), the Internet of Things (12.6%), search engine optimisation (9.37%), blockchain (6.93%), and augmented reality/virtual reality (5.98%).

The advent of AI and other technologies in PR practice is generally viewed with optimism rather than trepidation. PR practitioners are welcoming these technologies, recognising the potential to enhance and streamline their work.

The study says for young professionals aspiring to thrive in the future PR space, the message is clear: honing skills in AI and other emerging technologies is a necessity to stay relevant and globally competitive.

One specific area where technology will help PR is crisis and issue management. The report says tools, if appropriately deployed, can help to monitor information outlets for potential crisis or issue triggers, communicate swiftly with internal and external stakeholders during a crisis, track and measure the impact of a crisis on an organisation’s reputation and brand, monitor human consumption and trends to help predict changes in behaviour, and forestall or mitigate crises.

It also says cultural diversity in Africa, with more than 1,500 languages, presents an intriguing challenge and opportunity for PR professionals. The ability to navigate these cultural nuances and cater to diverse audiences is key to the future of PR in Africa. Localised and culturally relevant communication strategies that understand the values and aspirations of different African societies can forge meaningful connections and build trust with target audiences.

Moreover, PR on the continent is becoming a catalyst for positive change. PR professionals are focusing on corporate social responsibility initiatives, sustainability and ethical practices. By promoting transparency, accountability and social impact, PR can significantly contribute to Africa’s development agenda and boost the reputation of organisations operating on the continent.

As companies start to focus on achieving diversity, inclusion and ESG objectives, the necessity for more than token efforts is evident. The pressures of climate change, business and governance demand a shift towards sustainable practices. The reality of neglect from past decades necessitates drastic measures to salvage the current climate.

The report says PR professionals will need to develop effective ESG strategies and become proficient in implementing them. As African countries grapple with the impact of the climate crisis, the PR industry will be instrumental in driving climate conversations and shaping narratives around Africa’s need for climate adaptation and finance.

One significant emerging opportunity for the industry is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. With the need to raise awareness among stakeholders about the trade and investment opportunities provided by the agreement, the PR and communications industry is set to become a vital medium for steering these conversations. The World Bank’s prediction that the fully implemented AfCFTA could raise incomes by 9% by 2035 and lift 50-million people out of extreme poverty provides a compelling motivation for the industry’s role in this initiative.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.