Since it’s a highly social, creative endeavor where the inputs and outcomes aren’t easily quantifiable, the risk of public relations jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence is among the lowest of all careers, according to Kai-Fu Lee, former president of Google China who includes this chart in his New York Times Best Seller AI Superpowers.
That’s not to say intelligent machines won’t inherit aspects of PR jobs such as news media monitoring, building media lists and generating clip reports. Those tasks are likely to be automated at some point. But media relations, special events and crisis management are safe, because one of the things artificial intelligence requires is a concrete objective, and reputation management is a broad goal.
But preparing yourself for a successful, future-proof career in PR requires a knowledge of stakeholder relations and earned media. In a world where everyone’s a generalist, employers want specialists with useful skills like the ability to analyze and make sense of data, as well as those who are collaborative and have a strong desire to learn.
- Useful, Rather than Interesting – Jonny wants critical thinkers who can synthesize and interpret complex information. He wants people who can tell him what something means and what he should do about it.
- Language & Math People – If you went into PR because you thought you wouldn’t have to deal with numbers, I have some bad news for you. Jonny wants grads with solid research capabilities, data technology skills and advanced analytics capabilities. He’s looking for candidates who can write Boolean and create algorithms.
- PR Before Coding Skills – Jonny says he teach people to code. What’s harder is teaching public relations. He doesn’t want to explain earned versus paid media. So all things being equal, he’s going to favor someone who’s chosen public relations as their major in college over someone from another discipline.
Keep in mind that these job skills are what employers want today. But if you’re still in college and wondering what skills to develop, people skills are always going to be valuable. “While AI has far surpassed humans at narrow tasks that can be optimized based on data, it remains stubbornly unable to interact naturally with people,” says Lee.
My guess is social media communications will be heavily marginalized as well. By people skills, that means live, interpersonal communications in real time, and the ability to extrapolate accurate meaning from those interactions. You want a high level of social and emotional intelligence.
So while number crunching matters today, the risk of optimization-based skills being replaced by AI are high, while the risk of creative and strategic skills being replaced are low.
Mundane public relations skills like data entry and using automated, online tools are likely to become obsolete. But the good news is that the core task of managing relationships between organizations and their stakeholders remains impervious to automation for the foreseeable future.
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