Friday, October 02, 2015

Why are PR jobs so special

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, recently predicted that within 20 years most jobs will be automated. PR commentator Tom Foremski explored the idea and came up with some controversial thoughts for PR.

“Public relations has been pulled into the modern world (complaining about the extra work of social) but not much has changed. It’s still very much a hand-crafted, artisanal business, its use of technology is a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares.

"But without a significant tech component PR is at a big disadvantage because it can’t scale, it can't grow without growing more people. This lack of technical components is also why valuations of PR firms are low compared to their revenues.

"And it makes PR firms vulnerable to competitors outside their field that can figure out and automate technologies of promotion.”

Why are PR jobs so special that some of the work won't be automated?

Well, there is nothing stopping us, we can automate. That is what this book is about. But the warning that if PR does not do it, someone else will is not a hollow statement in Tom’s article. Since he wrote it, AP Dow has started to write articles automatically - up to 3000 each quarter!

"Much of the promise of artificial intelligence is yet to be realised, but in some areas it's already proving its worth. Meet the robot journalists that one day might steal my job,"  Stephen Beckett, BBC Click TV.

"Tencent publishes word-perfect business article on inflation, complete with analysts' comments, crafted in a minute by a computer programme," He Huifeng. South China Morning Post.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Technologies of Strategic Significance to PR


The Lords’ Select Committee on Digital Skills published a report on the 'unstoppable' digital technological revolution, which suggested that 35 per cent of UK jobs are at risk of being automated over the next two decades.

A BBC Panorama programme in 2015 put it bluntly: traditionally middle-class jobs are increasingly vulnerable to technology, and this is likely to have a huge impact on the economy and society. Take Margaret Davies, for example, one of those featured in the Panorama programme. Until recently she had worked in a HMRC tax office in Wales handling tax enquiries for 26 years. Advances in technology mean that more of us are doing our taxes online, which brings big cost savings for Government, but also means that Margaret and 33 of her colleagues have been made redundant, and their office closed.

Over the next few weeks, I will be digging into my booklet 'the Automation of Public Relations' to explore areas of automation that point to the technologies of strategic significance to the PR sector.

I start with a warning. There are a lot of services being offered to the PR sector and mostly to the Digital/Social Media area that uses some interesting technologies that are os considerable value to the industry. Many are based on analysis of Big Data, some use Semantic Analysis and some are just fakes. They need to be independently authenticated. A task for the PR institutions such as PRCA, CIPR, PRSA, AMEC etc.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Media Evolution

For Public Relations, a future in which practitioners identify the nature of the 'public' or sector or stakeholder (culture) and in which the client operates is changed.

The professional in this arena now has  to:

  • Identify the sector (culture)
  • Identify the key descriptors (concepts - I will comment on concepts as part of semantics in PR in a future post) common to, and unique to the sector (culture) 
  • Identity changes and the rate of change
  • Identify the media of most significance to the culture e.g. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, digitally enabled channels (from Netflix to Twitter).
  • Develop capability to affect the culture.
  • Deliver 
  • Evaluate.
The historical nature of PR that depended on the media to provide focus on 'publics' has changed.

The extent to which people have withdrawn from reading print media is now well versed. The trend is continuing.  The Newspaper Readership Survey in 2014 shows a dynamic shift from print to digital:

All research is based on National Readership Survey (NRS) data from January 2013 to December 2014, but does not include mobile and tablet app readers.
Print (000s)Website Only (000s)Net Print + Website Total (Net - 000s)Increase with Online (%)
Financial Times15408632403+56.1
The Daily Telegraph4138750611644+181.4
The Daily Telegraph/The Sunday Telegraph4895733412229+149.8
The Guardian3993830112294+207.9
The Guardian/The Observer4544812112665+178.7
The Independent/i395740768032+103.0
The Independent/The Independent on Sunday/i436240148377+92.0
The Times45514114963+9.0
The Times/The Sunday Times66265027128+7.6
Daily Express327325095782+76.7
Daily Express/Sunday Express403924656504+61.0
Daily Mail11232859519827+76.5
Daily Mail/The Mail on Sunday13536803521571+59.4
Daily Mirror7206490712113+68.1
Daily Mirror/Sunday Mirror8515477513290+56.1
Daily Mirror/Sunday Mirror/Sunday People9010473013739+52.5
Daily Record14809842465+66.5
Daily Record/Sunday Mail (Scotland)18469542800+51.6
Daily Star34389434381+27.4
Daily Star/Daily Star Sunday39229344856+23.8
The Sun13594166215256+12.2
The Sun/The Sun on Sunday15061159316654+10.6

By mid-2015,  The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and The Independent had a larger online readership than print.

An example of the significance of the above trends would suggest that all  Press Relations practitioners should now be fully trained and equipped digital media expertise.

Meanwhile, the nature of traditional channels is changing fast as well. There is a much wider range of communication platforms in use.

A survey in the UK by Cision in 2014 showed 54% of journalists who responded couldn't carry out their work without social media (up from 43% in 2013 and 28% in 2012). Fifty-eight percent also say social media has improved their productivity (up from 54% in 2013 and 39% in 2012).

If the survey is representative, this means a majority of UK journalists are open to a form of communication that is very different to the traditional press release.

It is a change that took less than a decade to emerge.

But these developments are but drops in the ocean. There are examples, case studies, that show how powerful the internet and notably social media, and the application of technologies can be.

So far we have seen publications, broadcasters, journalists and some PR practitioners, together with advertising agencies gently move into the digital arena.

Meanwhile, the general population is tearing into this new digital environment.

Nearly four in ten UK households bought a tablet in the last year. Mobile now accounts for 23% of digital ad spend and 56% of social media spend.

Among Britons online, smartphones are the most common internet-enabled device (1.7 per household)¹, followed by laptops (1.3) and tablets (1.2). Four in 10 (40%) households now own one tablet, one-fifth (19%) have two, while 11% own three or more. According to the IAB/PwC data, tablet-dedicated ad spend alone² grew 118% to reach £87.4 million.

Political leaders, like Jeremy Corbyn, can point to successful election campaigns driven by Twitter and Facebook.

The dynamism of the Corbyn social media presence is described by Stuart Heritage in the Guardian ( In which he describes the elements that add up to internet gold. 'All of a sudden, you can’t move for Corbyn parodies and memes. Want to see a Photoshopped picture of Corbyn as Obi-Wan Kenobi promising a new hope? Check the internet. Want to scroll through endless pictures of his face pasted onto the bodies of rippling vest models? Check the internet. Want to read a weird stream of mothers declaring their berserk lust for Corbyn, based on the fact that he reminds them of a “salty sea dog”? Check the internet, and then go and scrub your face, hands and brain with Swarfega.'

At one point, the hashtag #JezWeCan was being used once every 25 seconds on Twitter. Over on Facebook, a tentative Jeremy Corbyn victory party was being planned for the evening of 12 September in Trafalgar Square, London.

Many, many personalities, not to mention brands woul like to replicate such a movement.

The nature of communicating is outwith traditional media relations and the Corbyn example is a very noticeable case in point. 

Picture: Jeremy Corbyn as James Bond. Photograph: @sexyjezzacorbyn.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Social Impact - part of the PR Automation Series

It is time to put PR into the wider context of automation for the majority of the population.

 The Robots Are Coming by John Lanchester offers us considerable insights. It looks at the future in terms of economic activity.

 He reports on the methodologies now at play and instances Google Translate: Google Translate hasn’t got better because roomfuls of impecunious polymaths have been spending man-years copying out and cross-referencing vocabulary lists. Its improvement is a triumph of machine learning. The software matches texts in parallel languages so that its learning is a process of finding which text is statistically most likely to match the text in another language.

Translate has hoovered up gigantic quantities of parallel texts into its database. A very fertile source of these useful things, apparently, is the European Union’s set of official publications, which are translated into all Community languages. Progressively, Translate has improved.

It is still learning but learning very fast and across not one but many languages. Soon (weeks not years) it will be better than even the best humans.

 The new generation of robots are well beyond the rather comic attempts at computing and robotisation (and even word processing) of a decade ago. At the Amazon fulfilment centres’ where it makes up and dispatches its parcels, the robots are slow and marked out in orange. They can lift three thousand pounds at a time and carry an entire stack of shelves in one go. They manoeuvre around each other with surprising elegance. They are inexorable, and they aren’t going away: the labour being done by these robots is work that will never again be done by people.

 Rodney Brooks, who co-founded iRobot, noticed something else about such modern, highly automated factory floors: people are scarce, but they’re not absent. And a lot of the work they do is repetitive and mindless.

 Robert Gordon, an American economist in his paper ‘Is US Economic Growth Over?’ contrasted the impact of computing and information technology with the effect of the second industrial revolution, between 1875 and 1900 (with inventions such as electric lightbulbs and the electric power station, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, radio, recorded music and cinema). It also introduced ‘running water and indoor plumbing and women were freed from carrying tons of water each year’.

 Gordon’s view is that we coasted on the aftermaths of these inventions until about 1970, when the computer revolution allowed the economy to remain on our historic path of 2 per cent annual growth. Computers replaced human labour and thus contributed to productivity, but the bulk of these benefits came early in the Electronics Era.

 In the 1960s, mainframe computers churned out bank statements and telephone bills, reducing clerical labour. In the 1970s, memory typewriters replaced repetitive retyping by armies of legal clerks. In the 1980s, PCs with word processing were introduced, as were ATMs that replaced bank tellers and barcode scanning that replaced retail workers.

 These were real and important changes and got rid of a lot of drudgery. What happened subsequently, though, was a little different: The iPod replaced the CD Walkman; the smartphone replaced the ‘dumb’ cellphone with functions that in part replaced desktop and laptop computers, and the iPad provided further competition for the ‘traditional’ personal computers.

These innovations were enthusiastically adopted, but they provided new opportunities for consumption on the job and in leisure hours rather than a continuation of the historical tradition of replacing human labour with machines. In other words, most of the real productivity benefits of the computing revolution happened a few decades ago.

 The impact is already with us. ‘Our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’ (Keynes) is a form of progress that makes jobs go away through the sheer speed of its impact. As Lanchester puts it: ‘Just to be clear: the disappearance of work happens to individuals, not to entire economies. A job lost in one place is replaced by a new job, which may be somewhere else. In 1810, agriculture employed 90 per cent of the American workforce. A hundred years later, the figure was about 30 per cent (today it’s less than 2 per cent). That might sound like a recipe for chaotic disruption and endemic unemployment, but the US economy managed the transition fine, thanks in large part to the effect of the technologies mentioned by Robert Gordon (plus the railways).

So, by extension and analogy, maybe we don’t need to fear technological unemployment this time either. But maybe we do! A thorough, considered and disconcerting study of that possibility was undertaken by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, in ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?’

They came up with the likely impact of technological change on a range of 702 occupations, from podiatrists to tour guides, animal trainers to personal finance advisers, etc. It ranks them, from 1 (you’ll be fine) to 702 (best start re-writing the CV). The evolution is clear: human-to-human interaction and judgment is in demand, routine tasks are not.

Some of the judgments seem odd: is it really the case that choreographers come in at 13, ahead of physicians and surgeons at 15, and a long way ahead of, say, anthropologists and archaeologists at 39, not to mention writers at 123 and editors at 140? Frey and Osborne’s conclusion is stark. In the next two decades, 47 per cent of employment is ‘in the high-risk category’, meaning it is ‘potentially automatable’.

 Meantime productivity has gone up steadily (except for the 2008 recession year). The amount of work done per worker has gone up, but pay hasn’t. This means that the proceeds of increased profitability are accruing to capital rather than to labour. The culprit is not clear, but Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, persuasively, that the force to blame is increased automation.

 For a complete​ article, please go to:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A development that could 'do' Public Relations automatically

Deep Mind is the 13th single by the Japanese band Buono and it is also the name of a Google subsidiary based in London using techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general‑purpose learning algorithms.

Two years ago, IBM demonstrated a computer chip that was inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the brain. These chips provide the building blocks for computers that can emulate and extend the brain’s ability to respond to biological sensors and analyse vast amounts of data from many sources at once.

However, these chips require a very different kind of programming model from the one used in computers today – which is still derived from FORTRAN, a programming language developed in the 1950s for ENIAC, the first electronic general-purpose computer - the software is on its way.

DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman gave a rare insight into the work he and his team are doing within Google during a machine learning conference in London in 2015. He leads research at the company.

Google DeepMind is an artificial intelligence division within Google that created after Google bought Oxford University spinout, DeepMind, in January 2014.

The division, which employs around 140 researchers at its lab in a new building at Kings Cross, London, is on a mission to solve general intelligence and make machines capable of learning things for themselves.

Suleyman explains:

'These are systems that learn automatically. They’re not pre-programmed, they’re not handcrafted features. We try to provide a large-a-set of raw information to our algorithms as possible so that the systems themselves can learn the very best representations to use those for action or classification or predictions.'

'The systems we design are inherently general. This means that the very same system should be able to operate across a wide range of tasks.'

 'AI has largely been about pre-programming tools for specific tasks: in these kinds of systems, the intelligence of the system lies mostly in the smart human who programmed all of the intelligence into the smart system and subsequently these are of course rigid and brittle and don’t really handle novelty very well or adapt to new settings and our fundamentally very limited as a result.'

'We characterise AGI as systems and tools that are flexible and adaptive and that learn.'

‘We use the reinforcement learning architecture that is largely a design approach to characterise the way we develop our systems. This begins with an agent which has a goal or policy that governs the way it interacts with some environment. This environment could be a small physics domain, it could be a trading environment, it could be a real world robotics environment or it could be an Atari environment.The agent says it wants to take actions in this environment and it gets feedback from the environment in the form of observations and it uses these observations to update its policy of behaviour or its model of the world.’

What he is explaining is common among humans. We are programmed to learn, and we focus our learning based on a reward system at our mother’s breast.

In PR, we did not really notice the application of Deep Mind. We are impressed with the capability of Google to find images from search instructions described in English in ‘Google Images’. It is just one example of the application of Deep Mind automation.

Automation is already at work in helping practitioners. What is not well established is the nature and benefit of these developments in day to day PR work.

Such developments have not been introduced especially for PR practice. It is right we know about such developments and use it, and it is important that the PR industry can recognise the real thing and the scams.

Also, there is a good case for the industry to seek out developments that will enhance practice (and increase productivity and competitive edge).

Furthermore, the PR industry also need to be driving and rewarding useful development to aid practitioners.

These considerations are important for the PR sector and if it were to take them further could be a significant exemplar for the UK government's initiative, the: ‘Digital Transformation Plan’, 2015. It is an initiative that will set out the actions the government will take to support the adoption of digital technologies across the UK economy including, one hopes, Public Relations.