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The AI and
Big Data
Readiness
Report
Assessing the Public
Relations Profession’s
Preparedness for an
AI Future
2  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

About
This Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Readiness Report
provides an analysis of a global survey of public relations
practitioners and academics and video/written evidence from
senior practitioners concerning the profession’s knowledge,
skills, adoption of and attitudes towards AI, and to a lesser
extent, Big Data. Its aim is to provide an overview of current AI
understanding and preparedness, but most importantly, provide
pointers to how the profession should equip itself to exploit the
potential and guard against the possible dangers of AI.
3  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Executive
Summary
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data have become
increasingly integrated into modern working life,
sometimes without people even recognising it. The
purpose of the research outlined here is to discover
how aware and how ready the public relations
profession is for a world of work that will become
increasingly AI and Big Data infused.
The research comprises a global survey (phase one) and testimonies
(phase two) from practitioners to find out levels of skill, adoption,
knowledge and attitudes towards AI. A central objective of this work is
provide recommendations for how the profession may get itself fully up to
speed so that it can capitalise of the opportunities AI and Big Data provide
and to guard against potential dangers.
The report is structured into five areas of discussion based around the
themes of questions covered by the global survey and practitioners’
recorded/written testimonies.
(i) 
Knowledge of AI, where knowledge resides in an
organisation, feelings about AI
Significant number of practitioners have limited knowledge and feel less
confident (43.2%), and only a small number are very comfortable in using
AI (13.9%); however, practitioners are optimistic and have an eagerness to
learn. Organisationally, the data suggests that AI and Big Data knowledge
resides with IT and digital specialists, but a concerning outcome is that
31% of respondents consider ‘ownership’ is unknown or seen as irrelevant
which does not bode well for a wider understanding of the potential of AI.
(ii) 
Level of understanding and use of AI tools, systems,
programmes
Practitioners show an awareness and understanding across a range of uses
of AI tools – social media implementation tools, monitoring and analysis,
and AI enabled writing (a core skill). Other areas where AI tools are being
used include attribution software, behaviour change, crisis management,
display marketing and communication research. Surprisingly, given the
acceleration in the use of digital and AI in organisations during the COVID
19 pandemic, 52.5% said ‘no’ when asked whether they used AI tools in
their PR role.
(iii) 
Development of AI skills, most relevant skills,
how practitioners learn and rate their skills
On the job training is the most cited way practitioners have acquired skills
along with webinars and awareness building courses. Whether that training
is provided by skilled trainers is not clear. Among those who have no skills,
there is a realisation that they need training, but finding the right choice
of topic/courses remains the biggest challenge. The results show that ‘one
size does not fit all’ when preferences for types of training were sought.
These ranged from academic courses to personalised mentoring.
Asked about the most relevant AI skills, PR professionals consider
audience targeting and monitoring as important, followed by ethics,
strategy, governance and leadership. Most practitioners regard themselves
as midway in a ranking scale measuring current skill levels, but in the case
of organisational uses of AI, they rate themselves as having relatively low
understanding. This is something that will need to change if practitioners
are to have organisation-wide influence in the governance of AI and Big
Data systems.
4  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

(iv) 
How AI could help in practitioners’ roles and challenges
for the future
Two distinct types of responses are noted here: strategic and tactical.
Strategically, AI is seen as business critical, assisting in decision-making
and providing high-level insight at the most senior level. Tactically, the
most popular applications are in digital/social media and in making
processes and workflow more effective and efficient. The answers also
indicate that AI provides an opportunity for public relations to demonstrate
the value it delivers in, for example, predicting trends, formulating deep
insights and understanding audiences.
Amongst the challenges, ethics comes across as an important along with
a concern that automation and AI will lead to a loss of human nuance, so
important in building relationships.
Overall there is a keen appetite for using AI in the profession, but the main
constraint is the requisite knowledge, skill and opportunity
(v) General opinion, fears and feelings expressed about AI.
A number of clear viewpoints emerge with respondents foreseeing huge
potential and opportunities for the future. Practitioners are positive and
excited about much of the ‘drudge’ work being removed which may begin
to tackle some of the issues around over-work and the emphasis on tactical
skills such as writing and perception auditing. Time will also be released
for important strategic tasks such as building social capital, community
building and working on the foundations and development of trust. AI also
offers scalability for public relations services.
However, a number of risks and concerns emerge, particularly around
ethical challenges, including inherent bias, the shifts in power to those
with resources to harness AI, the potential for exclusion and job losses. An
underlying challenge is the lack of knowledge about what AI can and will
do and how it can be best used in public relations.
It is evident from this research that there is a small proportion of
practitioners who are well advanced, but the majority are not operating
at an optimum level. At the end of the report five recommendations
indicate how the profession can move forward in policy and practice terms
otherwise there is a danger of being left behind or absorbed into related
disciplines such as marketing or management consulting. The ambition
is to provide a guide on ‘where to start’ so that the lack of knowledge,
challenges, concerns and apprehensions amongst professionals can be
overcome and the profession can progress with confidence.
Dr Swati Virmani
Professor Anne Gregory
November 2021
The ambition is to provide a guide
on ‘where to start’ so that the lack
of knowledge, challenges,
concerns and apprehensions
amongst professionals can be
overcome and the profession can
progress with confidence.
5  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

A mixed methods approach was taken and there were two phases to the
data collection. An on-line survey (live in June and July 2021) collected
both quantitative and qualitative data via closed questions and free text.
This was followed (July and August 2021), by an invitation to provide
more detailed information, either recorded or written, in response to open
ended questions on the state of skills development, approaches to and
methods of learning and the impact of AI and Big Data on the profession.
Typeform was used to create the survey and collect data along with
Google Sheets to analyse the quantitative data from the survey. Qualitative
data from the survey and written/recorded submissions were analysed
thematically.
The survey was available globally and the CIPR acknowledges the Page
Society’s partnership in ensuring coverage in the US in particular. Special
thanks also to Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), International
Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Public Relations Institute
of South Africa (PRISA) and Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) for
their support. There were 280 usable survey returns and 10 written and
recorded submissions.
The results below are grouped into topic areas covered by the survey.
Commentary is provided at the end of each section and this also includes
data drawn from the recorded/written submissions. Demographic data is
provided at the end of the report in Appendix 1.
Methodology
Results
6  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

The first set of answers looks at the level of knowledge about AI and data,
feelings about AI and where knowledge about AI resides in organisations.
1. How do you rate your knowledge of AI as a technology?
Respondents were asked to indicate their knowledge of AI by
choosing from the list of seven options provided below:
%

I’m comfortable with what it means but I am not technical 41.5%

I’m familiar but wouldn’t confidently apply the knowledge in my
role/at work
30%

Only what I have read in newspapers, online media, films or
science fiction
11.1%

Very comfortable. I work using AI in my role 10.7%

Very comfortable. I work advising on AI builds and deployments 3.2%

I’ve no idea 2.1%

Other 1.4%
2. 
How much do you know about data and AI in terms of its
relevance to the communication profession (e.g. data, data
analysis, automation)?
“Data” “AI”
1. 
I’ve no idea 
6.1% 10%
2. 
I don’t feel it is relevant to me in my current role 1.4% 1.8%
3. 
I’m familiar with how it is being used in the
communication profession but haven’t read/
found out much about it in the role of the
communicator
15.4% 18.9%
4. 
Only what I have read in articles and the
profession guides, the AI in PR Panel has
published
7.1% 6.5%
5. 
I’m familiar with how it used in communication
and have started to explore it further in the role
of the communicator
18.6% 21.8%
6. 
I’m familiar but wouldn’t confidently apply the
knowledge in my role/at work
6.8% 10%
7. 
I’m comfortable with what it means but I am not
technical
16.4% 18.2%
8. 
Very comfortable. I work using data/ analytics (or
AI) in my role
20.7% 8.2%
9. 
Very comfortable. I work advising on data/
analytics (or AI) builds  deployments
7.1% 4.6%
10. 
Other 0.4% 0%
AI data and
knowledge
41.5%
11.1%
10.7%
30%
3.2%
2.1%
1.4%
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
6.1%
1.4%
15.4%
7.1%
18.6%
6.8%
16.4%
20.7%
7.1%
10%
1.8%
18.9%
6.5%
21.8%
10%
18.2%
8.2%
4.6%
0.4%
0%
7  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

3. 
How do you feel about AI?
(select three in the order of importance)
Selected 1st option %

Excited 38.9%

Aware of the challenges 25%

That I don’t know enough 17.1%

No feelings 9.4%

Worried about its impact 5.7%

Overwhelmed. I feel I can’t keep up 3.9%
4. 
At my organisation, I would say AI knowledge is
represented where?
First choice %

Nowhere/ Not sure/ Not relevant/ Independent practitioner 30.7%

IT/ Digital/ Analytics 27.9%
Specific business teams 10.7%

Across the whole org, including Board 9.3%

At C-Suite Level 6.8%

At Managerial Level 5.3%

All/ Mixed across client base 5%

PR Teams 4.3%

Non-Technical Teams -
38.9%
30.7%
17.1%
9.3%
10.7%
9.4%
6.8%
25%
27.9%
5.7%
5.3%
3.9%
4.3%
5%
8  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Commentary
From questions 1 to 4 above it can be seen that a very mixed picture
emerges with a significant number of practitioners having limited
knowledge, especially around the technical aspects of data and AI, but a
small number being very comfortable in using and building applications
and advising others on their use. What also is apparent is that data and
AI are elided in most people’s minds as the similar responses in question
2 indicates. One contributor to the second phase of the research stated
that there was a significant need for the demystification of AI and a clearer
explanation of its benefits to allay fears of the threat to the jobs and status
of practitioners. Another captured their own state of knowledge as being
‘scrappy’ and that appears to be a good description more generally. For
other respondents, there was a split in knowledge and interest in the ‘nuts
and bolts’ of the technology including coding and the nature of algorithms,
and uses and implications of Big Data and AI. The majority of professionals
are optimistic about the prospects offered by AI, even though they are
conscious of the challenges it poses and despite the learning that they
need to undertake.
More concerning are the answers to question 4. It appears that Big Data
and AI knowledge is firmly the province of IT and digital specialists,
but that its ‘ownership’ is not known or seen to be irrelevant for 31%
of respondents is surprising. As the CIPR’s Ethics Guide to Artificial
Intelligence in PR1
makes clear, there is a significant role for public relations
professionals to play, both in terms of being a source of knowledge
about the potential impacts on organisations and its stakeholders and on
governance issues. Encouragingly though, it does seem that in a number
of cases knowledge is embedded across the whole organisation and/
or in business teams. Phase two contributors confirmed that a working
knowledge of AI, its uses and applications needed to be embedded at
all levels in the profession right from the undergraduate entry level, up
to Board room. One respondent commented that the move to purpose-
driven organisations was seminal and that care of the organisational ‘heart
and soul’ required the input of public relations professionals not just
technology specialists.
1
See https://cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/
Policy/AI_in_PR.aspx
9  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

The second area for consideration is the level of understanding and use of
AI tools, systems and programmes.
5. 
I understand how AI - AI tools, programmes and
systems - are being utilised in the following PR and
communication areas
Yes/Aware/
Some
use or
knowledge
No Don’t
know
1. 
Data  data analysis 68.6% 20% 11.4%
2.  Copy writing 57.8% 28.6% 13.6%
3. 
Press release writing 45% 39.3% 15.7%
4. 
Media monitoring/ media
reports
80% 14.3% 5.7%
5. 
Targeting media outlets 
contacts
53.6% 32.9% 13.5%
6. 
Sentiment analysis 71.8% 19.6% 8.6%
7. 
Predicting potential issues 44.3% 36.4% 19.3%
8. 
Campaign management 42.5% 40% 17.5%
9. 
Digital media 65% 23.2% 11.8%
10. 
Social media 74.3% 15.4% 10.3%
11. 
Video Creation 36.8% 48.2% 15%
12. 
Recorded content 30.4% 55.7% 13.9%
13. 
Creative design 32.9% 50.7% 16.4%
Understanding
AI tools, systems
and programmes
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
68.6%
11.4%
13.6%
15.7%
19.3%
17.5%
11.8%
10.3%
15%
13.9%
16.4%
13.5%
8.6%
5.7%
57.8%
45%
44.3%
42.5%
65%
74.3%
36.8%
30.4%
32.9%
53.6%
71.8%
80%
20%
28.6%
39.3%
36.4%
40%
23.2%
15.4%
48.2%
55.7%
50.7%
32.9%
19.6%
14.3%
10  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Commentary
Broadly speaking, practitioners are aware of and understand a range
of uses for AI enabled tools. Unsurprisingly, media and social media
implementation tools, monitoring and analysis come top of the list, but AI
enabled writing, a core practitioner skill, is also well represented, despite
many not knowing about or using these tools. According to the recorded/
written submissions, the ‘capture’ of core skills such as this represents a
threat for the future. However, one respondent commented that skills are
not really the issue: the profession will have to figure out how to live with
AI ‘colleagues’ and integrate them into the work done.
Other areas where AI tools should be considered or are being used by
survey respondents included attribution software, behaviour change,
crisis communication/management, customer research/support, display
marketing, diversity  inclusion, ethics, event management, employee
experience, communications research, PR activism, recruitment and in
teaching. A respondent to phase two also recommends the use of AI and
Big Data in strategy development and the resolution of complex problems,
particularly in time constrained environments. A number of phase two
respondents mentioned that they were more aware and concerned about
the social impacts of AI rather than of the actual tools and skills necessary
to be practically proficient.
Other respondents were more concerned about understanding the
answers provided by AI tools given inputs and algorithms were not always
transparent. One specifically called for enhanced questioning and critical
thinking skills to spot errors and biases rather than upskilling in the use
of AI tools per se, which they saw as relatively easy to acquire. Another
phase two respondent noted that public relations professionals are more
conservative in adopting AI tools than marketing colleagues and observed
that skills in these areas were not out of the ordinary – the key issue is
understanding the ‘constraints and mechanics of these technologies’. For
example, using Google search is not difficult, but professionals need to
know how to break through the customisation of results that may apply to
any one individual. Using AI tools to automate daily routines is not hard,
but that does not take away the need to consider how best they are used
and where human intervention is required.
What emerges from these responses is again a mixed picture. When asked
if they used or did not use AI tools or programmes in their public relations
role, 43.2% of respondents to the survey said yes, 52.5% said no, with the
remaining 4.3% not knowing. Given the shift that has happened during
the Covid 19 pandemic and how organisations have taken a step change
in their use of technology, there may have been an expectation that use of
AI in public relations would have been more ubiquitous. What is apparent
is that there is a requirement for fundamental knowledge and skills
acquisition at pace. What is questionable is whether hands-on knowledge
and skills are needed, or whether it is knowledge about these technologies
and their implications, or both.
Other areas where AI tools should
be considered or are being used
by survey respondents included
attribution software, behaviour
change, crisis communication/
management, customer research/
support, display marketing,
diversity  inclusion, ethics, event
management, employee
experience, communications
research, PR activism, recruitment
and in teaching.
11  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

The third cluster of responses is about the development of AI skills, skills
considered most relevant as a PR practitioner, and how respondents
learned these skills.
6. I have developed my data and AI skills...
First choice %

On the Job 20.4%
None 15.7%

Attending Webinars 15%

Going on an awareness training course 14.3%

Reading books through leadership 13.2%

All/Others 8.9%

Listening to podcasts 5.4%

Going on a technical training course 5.3%
Training 1.8%
7. 
The respondents who said they had no data and AI skills
were asked what had prevented them from gaining them
%

Lack of skills/need for training 54.5%

Weak organisational support (with others) 15.9%

Other (cost; not aware of how it can be used in comms; lack of
time; not focused on it etc.)
13.6%

Complexity of use 6.8%

Peer learning/ coaching  mentoring 4.6%

Security concerns/trust 4.6%
20.4%
54.5%
15%
14.3%
15.9%
13.2%
13.6%
8.9%
6.8%
15.7%
5.4%
1.8%
4.6%
5.3%
4.6%
The development
of AI skills
12  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

8. Biggest challenge to upskilling in data and AI
First choice %
1.	
It’s hard to find courses for non-technical people 26.4%
2.	
I’m not sure what course I should do 20%
3.	
I’m not sure what I need to know 19.3%
4.	
I don’t know how to adapt my current PR practice
 processes
9.3%
5.	
I don’t know where to find information relevant to
my role
6.8%
6.	
It’s difficult to keep up with the requirements 5%
7.	
I find it difficult to find/ secure funding for AI training 4.3%
8.	
I don’t foresee a skills gap 3.6%
9.	
No Response 2.8%
10.	
I feel AI is a long way off, so not relevant to me now 2.5%
9. AI skills believed to be most relevant as a PR practitioner
First choice %
1.	
Targeting audiences more effectively 14.3%
2.	
Monitoring skills (media  social media) 11.1%
3.	
Communication (supporting to communicate more effectively) 9.3%
4.	
Strategy and business planning 8.6%
5.	
In-depth statistics 7.5%
6.	
Ethics 7.1%
7.	
Data  AI leadership skills 5.7%
8.	
Data Science 5%
9.	
Governance, compliance  policy 5%
10.	
Statistical awareness 4.6%
11.	
Workflow management 4.6%
12.	
General data literacy (numeracy/math) 4.6%
13.	
Machine learning 3.9%
14.	
Problem solving 2.5%
15.	
Creative skills 2.1%
16.	
General tech skills 1.9%
17.	
Others/ Don’t know/ Impossible to answer/ What is AI 1.5%
18.	
Computer science 0.7%
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
26.4%
14.3%
11.1%
9.3%
8.6%
7.5%
7.1%
5.7%
5%
5%
4.6%
4.6%
4.6%
3.9%
2.5%
2.1%
1.9%
1.5%
0.7%
20%
19.3%
9.3%
6.8%
5%
4.3%
3.6%
2.8%
2.5%
13  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

10. 
I rate my current skills as (rating scale is 0-10, with 0 having
no understanding or practical application, 5 is average, with
10 being regularly part of your role)
Rating
Scale % % % % %
0 2.5 3.9 7.1 5.7 8.9
1 2.5 5.7 5 6.8 8.6
2 6.4 5.7 6.1 9.6 11.8
3 7.9 11.1 12.1 11.4 15.7
4 10 11.1 11.4 12.9 9.6
5 21.4 19.6 17.9 18.2 18.2
6 13.9 13.2 12.1 14.3 6.1
7 14.3 12.5 11.8 8.9 7.9
8 13.2 11.4 11.1 8.9 8.6
9 5 3.2 3.2 1.4 2.1
10 2.9 2.5 2.1 1.8 2.5
0 5 10 15 20 25
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1 4.5%

Data Skills

Knowledge  Awareness on AI within PR role/function

Knowledge  Awareness on AI within the advisory role of PR

Practical application of AI within PR function, including tools

Practical application of AI within your org/client, including builds 
deployments and bought-in systems  services
No understanding – 0
Regular use – 10
2.5%
2.5%
6.4%
10%
13.9%
14.3%
13.2%
5%
2.9%
21.4%
7.9%
3.9%
5.7%
5.7%
11.1%
13.2%
12.5%
11.4%
3.2%
2.5%
19.6%
11.1%
7.1%
5%
6.1%
11.4%
12.1%
11.8%
11.1%
3.2%
2.1%
17.9%
12.1%
5.7%
6.8%
9.6%
12.9%
14.3%
8.9%
8.9%
1.4%
1.8%
18.2%
11.4%
8.9%
8.6%
11.8%
9.6%
6.1%
7.9%
8.6%
2.1%
2.5%
18.2%
15.7%
14  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Commentary
On the job training, followed by webinars and awareness building courses
are popular ways in which practitioners have acquired their skills. For those
who have no skills, there is a question about them not knowing what they
don’t know, but also a clear sense that they need training. The responses
to question 7 above confirm this view was borne out in the recorded/
written submissions. There is still widespread ignorance about AI and Big
Data and a sense that people don’t know where to start: the elephant is
big and unknown. There are huge numbers of courses available, on and
off-line, but making the right choice of topic and at the right level remains
a major challenge.
The recorded and written respondents were asked to explain their
approach to and methods of learning and again a variety were listed.
More advanced practitioners were keen to be able to experiment and
learn from other professions, disciplines and academic literature. Others
wanted structured, academically sound, iterative approaches informed
by working case studies while some preferred online and/or self-learning
or bite-sized 1 or 2 hour sessions in non-technical language (time
commitment, expense, and also the capacity to learn different ‘scientific’
skills were concerns). Some wanted a mix of courses, but also mentoring
and reverse mentoring by digital natives or online companions, learning
sets and networks of learning. This is particularly the case for more senior
staff who were not digitally savvy. What comes from this is that approaches
to learning are individually contingent on issues such as available time,
comfort with technology, learning styles, seniority, nature of role, and
existing levels of skill.
However, there was significant agreement that a ‘conversation’ on training
needs was required and that a variety of routes be provided from the
highly structured, to the more ‘pick and mix’. There was frustration voiced
about the number of self-styled experts and expensive courses for more
advanced AI which added little practical value for practitioners because
they were not specific enough for PR, were too broad or shallow, and were
aimed more at developers rather than users. Disappointment was also
expressed about the lack of collaboration between PR colleagues from
different organisations who face AI challenges. The impossibility of any
one individual being fully up to date on all AI developments, particularly
in relation to channels, surfaced the need for a strategic and team
approach to professional development in AI as well as the need for closer
collaboration with IT colleagues.
The responses to question 9 above show that audience targeting and
monitoring are seen to be the most relevant skills, which may indicate a
more tactical orientation, but ethics, strategy, governance and leadership
also feature relatively prominently suggesting strategic implications too.
Turning to how skilled practitioners are currently, most regard themselves
as midway in the ranking scale, with a skew towards less understanding,
particularly on organisational uses of AI. However, it is also apparent that
there are a considerable number who regard themselves as highly skilled,
although it should be borne in mind that this is a self-assessment with no
benchmark against which respondents could measure themselves. This is
representative of what appears to be a recognisable three-way split in the
profession, with a) some having significant knowledge and skills at a high
level and filling an advisory role in strategy, technical development, and
implementation, b) others fulfilling technical and implementation roles and
various levels of capability, and c) the ‘left behinds’ who are yet to become
skilled. This split was confirmed in the recorded/written submissions.
There are huge numbers of
courses available, on and off-line,
but making the right choice of
topic and at the right level
remains a major challenge.
There was frustration voiced
about the number of self-styled
experts and expensive courses for
more advanced AI which added
little practical value for
practitioners because they were
not specific enough for PR, were
too broad or shallow, and were
aimed more at developers rather
than users.
15  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

The next part of the research looked at how practitioners felt AI could help
in their current role and at the challenges for the future.
11. 
How do you think AI tools  programmes can help
in PR role?
First choice %
All 13.2%
Providing insights to business/organisation executives
recommending business adaptions and changes
12.9%
Digital media, including social media 12.1%
Managing workflow more efficiently, including process-driven
elements such as time sheets, reporting and monitoring
8.2%
Utilising owned  third-party data for insights 6.1%
Campaign management, including insights  campaign
deployment
5.7%
Horizon scanning 5.7%
Crisis communications 5.4%
Copywriting through automated content (internal/ external) 5.4%
Evidence to persuade or influence others 5%
Stakeholder engagement  management 4.3%
Media relations management 3.9%
Creatives for campaigns  other creative work 3.2%
Identifying ambassadors  influencers 3.2%
Risk management 2.5%
Project/programme management 1.8%
Team management/team working 1.4%
12. 
When it comes to implementing AI across an enterprise,
what do you believe is the top challenge for PR
professionals?
Responses %
Lack of awareness around the tools 31.8%

Require more knowledge/ training 29.3%

Ethical considerations 18.2%

Unsure of how the tools will alter the practice PR 12.5%

Not part of my role 5%

Other (budget, cost, AI isn’t developed enough yet,
it’s not a magic bullet!)
3.2%
AI now and in
the future
0 3 6 9 12 15
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
13.2%
12.9%
12.1%
8.2%
6.1%
5.7%
5.7%
5.4%
5.4%
5%
4.3%
3.9%
3.2%
3.2%
2.5%
1.8%
1.4%
31.8%
29.3%
18.2%
12.5%
3.2%
5%
16  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Commentary
Practitioners’ views on how AI can help them in their current role range
from the business critical to the highly tactical. At the strategic level, AI
can assist in decision-making in organisations and offer high-level insight.
At the tactical level, help in the area of digital/social media constitutes
the most popular applications. However, the use of AI in making public
relations processes and management (workflow) more effective and
efficient is notable: AI as a business assistant and partner in work is a
notion that came through in the recorded/written submissions too. Also
of note is the number of people who see AI being useful in all the options
offered. This supports the overall impression taken from this research that
there is a keen appetite for using AI infused tools, systems, and processes
but the major constraint holding people back is the knowledge, skill and
opportunity to indulge this appetite. This proposition is clearly supported
in question 12 where lack of awareness and knowledge/training are
identified as the major challenges facing public relations professionals.
Ethics also comes across as a major concern and signposts the fact that
knowledge and skills training in tool use is not the only requirement.
The recorded/written responses provided further detail on the potential
impact of AI and Big Data on the profession. The rich responses indicated
that it could help in providing evidence for the value it delivers, both for
itself and as a support for other parts of the organisation. Deep insights,
predicting and understanding audience and their trends were a part of
this, as well as removing some of the more mundane tasks so that more
focus could be put on the strategic. Some caution was raised about AI
taking over a number of the skills-based tasks such as writing, where
one respondent noted that the humanising elements of tonality and
nuance would be a regrettable loss. Another surmised there could be
less credence given to creativity and novel combinations of ideas and
more emphasis on curation. One respondent noted that the acquisition
of AI skills in and of themselves would not enhance professional identity.
However, a lack of these skills may diminish it. Another respondent flagged
the potential dangers of becoming obsessed with AI metrics and data
and the profession losing the ability to think strategically and creatively.
They warned against bland and empty content “carefully honed for
algorithms, not for curious minds”. Again, the challenge concerning the
lack of knowledge about AI, its potential and the dangers at all levels in the
profession was flagged and resonates with an earlier report from the CIPR’s
AIinPR Panel, ‘The Effects of AI on the professions’2
which indicates that
practitioners are “sleepwalking into AI”.
Some caution was raised
about AI taking over a
number of the skills-based
tasks such as writing, where
one respondent noted that
the humanising elements of
tonality and nuance would
be a regrettable loss.
2

Available at https://cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/
Policy/AI_in_PR_/AI_in_PR_guides.aspx
17  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Finally, the research gathered data in phases 1 and 2 on three general
questions to which free form answers could be provided. To give a more
visceral flavour of the range of opinions and strength of feeling coming
from the survey results, word clouds of the responses are presented here.
Q1. What is your general view of AI in PR?
Q2. How will it change the PR profession?
Q3. What are your hopes and fears about AI?
Three Questions
useful
hype
ideas
unsure
great opportunities
ethics
exciting
exciting area positive way
great aid exceptional opportunities
huge opportunities
creates opportunities
big things
awareness gap
new norm
ethics issues
important tools
untapped resources
indispensable tools
potential
great potential
opportunities
challenge
effectiveness
good step
infancy
exciting application
limited knowledge
careful consideration
greater awareness
competitive advantage
essential tools
adequate contextualisation
positive development
creative lead
necessary evil
ethics implications
lack
threat
expensive
powerful tools
general knowledge
risk
early stage
games changer
limited ability
ethics guidelines
early day
untapped area
cost
jobs loss
efficiency
critical thinking
opportunities
new way
insight
unclear
dull task
risk
data
creativity
data savvy
time management
automate
unsure
streamline
new skills
reduce size
better insight
collaboration
ethical decision
huge transformation
greater insight
biggest challenge
lower value work
expert knowledge competitive easier understanding
reshape team structure size of workforce
drive efficiency
higher value
human role
extra power different way
targeted engagement
strategic management
strategic effectiveness
effective communications
elevate discipline
human creativity
mundane activities strategic planning
strategic skills set
repetitive task
improved efficiency
new learning
big data
strategic approach
strategic thinking
relationship management
undue influence
powerful tools
positive change specialised agency
incorrect use
efficiency lack of diversity
higher accuracy
transparency
creativity task lack of control
intrusive methods
useful tools
unfair algorithm
privacy concerns
human relations
less opportunities
strategic value
practice transformation
less creativity
misuse of data
much dependence
human skills effectiveness
lack of knowledge
none
fear better insight
misuse of technology
limited resources
betterment of strategy
data manipulation
loss of relationship
reputational damage
enhance professionalism
unsure cheap alternative
fear of misuse better data
limited knowledge
job loss bias lack of empathy
smarter work
ethical concerns
lack of budget
time management
increase efficiency
18  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Commentary
There are some clear themes that come through from these three
questions. Many positives are envisaged with most respondents seeing
huge potential and opportunities for the profession. Overall, there is
excitement about AI and data and a view that much of the menial work can
be removed. AI offers scalability of PR services and will help tackle some
of the issues around overwork on tasks such as writing and perception
auditing. Insight will come to the fore and AI will help ensure that the
efficiency, effectiveness, and evaluated contribution of the profession
can be enhanced. Also in prospect are the tools and time for new skills
to develop in, for example, in social capital, relationship and community
building to generate trust. As one respondent put it, “I feel empowered
but curious at the same time because I can’t visualise, yet, how AI will
impact” in their case, consulting service provision. Another respondent
also welcomed AI empowered tools but expressed some anxiety on
mitigating the mistakes that were bound to happen when introducing AI
tools and systems.
On the downside, many also see risks, an uncertain future, concerns about
job losses, and ethical challenges, including over cultural bias, equality
and diversity. Integration of all the communicative disciplines was seen as
inevitable and close working with IT colleagues positively encouraged. The
view was that the profession has much to learn from these colleagues on
service design and ways of working. There was some concern expressed
on the human rights implications of data ownership, both of the inequity
of power this gave to those with resources to collect and analyse data
and issues around its use and the biases inherent in collection and
analysis systems. The challenge underlying all these concerns is the lack
of knowledge about what AI can and will do and how the technologies
can be fruitfully incorporated to support public relations professionals,
not supplant them. The need for guidance, training and leadership from
professional associations was clear.
Many positives are envisaged
with most respondents seeing
huge potential and opportunities
for the profession.
19  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

The conclusions that can be drawn from this research are relatively
obvious and point to a plan of action, which is provided as a set of
recommendations.
The answer to the central question which is ‘how ready is the public
relations profession for the AI/Big Data age?’ is that it is not as ready as it
should be. There are a proportion of practitioners who are well advanced
in understanding, design, deployment and use at a strategic level, but the
majority are at best operating competently at a tactical level and at worst
have yet to begin the journey. The good news is that there is significant
appetite to embrace these new technologies with their potential and
opportunity-creating prospects being recognised and welcomed. The
real issue is where to start and that applies either to the journey itself or in
finding a way through the many pathways and roles that AI and Big Data
opens up. Alongside this are a number of cautions, mainly around ethics
and the possible threats to traditional tasks coupled with uncertainty
about the shape and remit of the human element of public relations work
into the future.
In September 2021, the UK Government published its National AI
Strategy3
in which it notes a step change in progress is required if the UK
is to capitalise on the opportunities for AI innovation and leadership. The
conclusion of this report is that there is a similar requirement in the public
relations profession. If that is to happen, the following recommendations
are made to the profession:
1.	AI and the fundamental structural change it will bring needs to become
a part of a strategic conversation in the profession. The profession is
re-shaping and this needs to be by design, not by default. In mapping a
way forwards, the profession can build on three previous #AIinPR Panel
Reports: Humans still needed4
, The Effects of AI on the Professions5
and
the Ethics Guide to AI in PR6
.
2.	That a pathways map is developed which plots the options that
practitioners can take to secure various levels of competency in the
strategic and tactical uses and governance of AI and Big Data.
3.	That the current CIPR guides and resources on AI and Big Data are
updated, made widely available to all members and publicised so that
there is a basic, membership-wide understanding of what these
concepts and technologies entail, their benefits, pitfalls and common
uses.
4.	That there are a number of focused events/initiatives driven centrally
and via the regional groups to educate and inform members
systematically on the topics mentioned above.
5.	That becoming a knowledgeable and competent practitioner in AI
is prioritised and incentivised so that the future of the profession is
secured.
The authors would like to thank #AIinPR Panel members for their assistance
in developing, issuing and publicising the survey and recorded/written
research instruments, in particular Kerry Sheehan, Andrew Bruce Smith
and Martin Waxman. Thank you too to the Page Society who have been
brilliant partners in this research and to PRSK, PRISA, PRIA and IABC for
spreading the word.
Dr Swati Virmani
Professor Anne Gregory
November 2021
3
See https://www.gov.uk/government/
publications/national-ai-strategy
4

See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/
Policy/AI_in_PR_/Consultations_.aspx
5

See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/
Policy/AI_in_PR_/AI_in_PR_guides.aspx
6
See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/
Policy/AI_in_PR.aspx
Conclusions and
recommendations
20  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Work location/status
No. of
Responses
55.7% In-house at an organisation, business or brand
28.9% As an independent practitioner/ your own company
15.4% At a PR agency
Geographic distribution
No. of
Responses
50% Europe
24% North America
10% Africa
7% Asia
5% Australia/ Oceania
2% Middle East
2% South America
Gender distribution
No. of
Responses
60.3% Female/ Woman
39.3% Male
0.4% Prefer not to say
Age distribution
No. of
Responses
33.6% 45-54
27.1% 35-44
16.8% 55-64
14.6% 25-34
4.3% 65  over
3.6% 18-24
Appendix 1
Demographic Details
of survey Respondents
21  CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report

Which sector do you work in?
No. of
Responses
65% Private Sector
21% Public Sector
10% Not for Profit/ Charity/ Voluntary
4% All/ Multiple/ No Specific
Role
No. of
Responses
26% Senior manager/ director
16% Team lead/ manager
14% C-level officer or equivalent
14% Employee
13% Self-employed
9% Academic
4% Member of the board or advisor
4% PR Student
How long have you worked in PR Profession?
No. of
Responses
3% PR Student
8% 0-2 years
8% 3-5 years
12% 5-10 years
15% 10-15 years
54% 15 years +
Amongst 15 years+ experience, how many are –
No. of
Responses
54% Females
45.4% Males
0.6% Prefer not to say
Chartered Institute of Public Relations
+44 (0)20 7631 6900
@CIPR_Global
cipr.co.uk

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CIPR AI and Big Data Readiness Report

  • 1. The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Assessing the Public Relations Profession’s Preparedness for an AI Future
  • 2. 2 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report About This Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Readiness Report provides an analysis of a global survey of public relations practitioners and academics and video/written evidence from senior practitioners concerning the profession’s knowledge, skills, adoption of and attitudes towards AI, and to a lesser extent, Big Data. Its aim is to provide an overview of current AI understanding and preparedness, but most importantly, provide pointers to how the profession should equip itself to exploit the potential and guard against the possible dangers of AI.
  • 3. 3 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Executive Summary Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data have become increasingly integrated into modern working life, sometimes without people even recognising it. The purpose of the research outlined here is to discover how aware and how ready the public relations profession is for a world of work that will become increasingly AI and Big Data infused. The research comprises a global survey (phase one) and testimonies (phase two) from practitioners to find out levels of skill, adoption, knowledge and attitudes towards AI. A central objective of this work is provide recommendations for how the profession may get itself fully up to speed so that it can capitalise of the opportunities AI and Big Data provide and to guard against potential dangers. The report is structured into five areas of discussion based around the themes of questions covered by the global survey and practitioners’ recorded/written testimonies. (i) Knowledge of AI, where knowledge resides in an organisation, feelings about AI Significant number of practitioners have limited knowledge and feel less confident (43.2%), and only a small number are very comfortable in using AI (13.9%); however, practitioners are optimistic and have an eagerness to learn. Organisationally, the data suggests that AI and Big Data knowledge resides with IT and digital specialists, but a concerning outcome is that 31% of respondents consider ‘ownership’ is unknown or seen as irrelevant which does not bode well for a wider understanding of the potential of AI. (ii) Level of understanding and use of AI tools, systems, programmes Practitioners show an awareness and understanding across a range of uses of AI tools – social media implementation tools, monitoring and analysis, and AI enabled writing (a core skill). Other areas where AI tools are being used include attribution software, behaviour change, crisis management, display marketing and communication research. Surprisingly, given the acceleration in the use of digital and AI in organisations during the COVID 19 pandemic, 52.5% said ‘no’ when asked whether they used AI tools in their PR role. (iii) Development of AI skills, most relevant skills, how practitioners learn and rate their skills On the job training is the most cited way practitioners have acquired skills along with webinars and awareness building courses. Whether that training is provided by skilled trainers is not clear. Among those who have no skills, there is a realisation that they need training, but finding the right choice of topic/courses remains the biggest challenge. The results show that ‘one size does not fit all’ when preferences for types of training were sought. These ranged from academic courses to personalised mentoring. Asked about the most relevant AI skills, PR professionals consider audience targeting and monitoring as important, followed by ethics, strategy, governance and leadership. Most practitioners regard themselves as midway in a ranking scale measuring current skill levels, but in the case of organisational uses of AI, they rate themselves as having relatively low understanding. This is something that will need to change if practitioners are to have organisation-wide influence in the governance of AI and Big Data systems.
  • 4. 4 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report (iv) How AI could help in practitioners’ roles and challenges for the future Two distinct types of responses are noted here: strategic and tactical. Strategically, AI is seen as business critical, assisting in decision-making and providing high-level insight at the most senior level. Tactically, the most popular applications are in digital/social media and in making processes and workflow more effective and efficient. The answers also indicate that AI provides an opportunity for public relations to demonstrate the value it delivers in, for example, predicting trends, formulating deep insights and understanding audiences. Amongst the challenges, ethics comes across as an important along with a concern that automation and AI will lead to a loss of human nuance, so important in building relationships. Overall there is a keen appetite for using AI in the profession, but the main constraint is the requisite knowledge, skill and opportunity (v) General opinion, fears and feelings expressed about AI. A number of clear viewpoints emerge with respondents foreseeing huge potential and opportunities for the future. Practitioners are positive and excited about much of the ‘drudge’ work being removed which may begin to tackle some of the issues around over-work and the emphasis on tactical skills such as writing and perception auditing. Time will also be released for important strategic tasks such as building social capital, community building and working on the foundations and development of trust. AI also offers scalability for public relations services. However, a number of risks and concerns emerge, particularly around ethical challenges, including inherent bias, the shifts in power to those with resources to harness AI, the potential for exclusion and job losses. An underlying challenge is the lack of knowledge about what AI can and will do and how it can be best used in public relations. It is evident from this research that there is a small proportion of practitioners who are well advanced, but the majority are not operating at an optimum level. At the end of the report five recommendations indicate how the profession can move forward in policy and practice terms otherwise there is a danger of being left behind or absorbed into related disciplines such as marketing or management consulting. The ambition is to provide a guide on ‘where to start’ so that the lack of knowledge, challenges, concerns and apprehensions amongst professionals can be overcome and the profession can progress with confidence. Dr Swati Virmani Professor Anne Gregory November 2021 The ambition is to provide a guide on ‘where to start’ so that the lack of knowledge, challenges, concerns and apprehensions amongst professionals can be overcome and the profession can progress with confidence.
  • 5. 5 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report A mixed methods approach was taken and there were two phases to the data collection. An on-line survey (live in June and July 2021) collected both quantitative and qualitative data via closed questions and free text. This was followed (July and August 2021), by an invitation to provide more detailed information, either recorded or written, in response to open ended questions on the state of skills development, approaches to and methods of learning and the impact of AI and Big Data on the profession. Typeform was used to create the survey and collect data along with Google Sheets to analyse the quantitative data from the survey. Qualitative data from the survey and written/recorded submissions were analysed thematically. The survey was available globally and the CIPR acknowledges the Page Society’s partnership in ensuring coverage in the US in particular. Special thanks also to Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Public Relations Institute of South Africa (PRISA) and Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) for their support. There were 280 usable survey returns and 10 written and recorded submissions. The results below are grouped into topic areas covered by the survey. Commentary is provided at the end of each section and this also includes data drawn from the recorded/written submissions. Demographic data is provided at the end of the report in Appendix 1. Methodology Results
  • 6. 6 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report The first set of answers looks at the level of knowledge about AI and data, feelings about AI and where knowledge about AI resides in organisations. 1. How do you rate your knowledge of AI as a technology? Respondents were asked to indicate their knowledge of AI by choosing from the list of seven options provided below: % I’m comfortable with what it means but I am not technical 41.5% I’m familiar but wouldn’t confidently apply the knowledge in my role/at work 30% Only what I have read in newspapers, online media, films or science fiction 11.1% Very comfortable. I work using AI in my role 10.7% Very comfortable. I work advising on AI builds and deployments 3.2% I’ve no idea 2.1% Other 1.4% 2. How much do you know about data and AI in terms of its relevance to the communication profession (e.g. data, data analysis, automation)? “Data” “AI” 1. I’ve no idea 6.1% 10% 2. I don’t feel it is relevant to me in my current role 1.4% 1.8% 3. I’m familiar with how it is being used in the communication profession but haven’t read/ found out much about it in the role of the communicator 15.4% 18.9% 4. Only what I have read in articles and the profession guides, the AI in PR Panel has published 7.1% 6.5% 5. I’m familiar with how it used in communication and have started to explore it further in the role of the communicator 18.6% 21.8% 6. I’m familiar but wouldn’t confidently apply the knowledge in my role/at work 6.8% 10% 7. I’m comfortable with what it means but I am not technical 16.4% 18.2% 8. Very comfortable. I work using data/ analytics (or AI) in my role 20.7% 8.2% 9. Very comfortable. I work advising on data/ analytics (or AI) builds deployments 7.1% 4.6% 10. Other 0.4% 0% AI data and knowledge 41.5% 11.1% 10.7% 30% 3.2% 2.1% 1.4% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1% 1.4% 15.4% 7.1% 18.6% 6.8% 16.4% 20.7% 7.1% 10% 1.8% 18.9% 6.5% 21.8% 10% 18.2% 8.2% 4.6% 0.4% 0%
  • 7. 7 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report 3. How do you feel about AI? (select three in the order of importance) Selected 1st option % Excited 38.9% Aware of the challenges 25% That I don’t know enough 17.1% No feelings 9.4% Worried about its impact 5.7% Overwhelmed. I feel I can’t keep up 3.9% 4. At my organisation, I would say AI knowledge is represented where? First choice % Nowhere/ Not sure/ Not relevant/ Independent practitioner 30.7% IT/ Digital/ Analytics 27.9% Specific business teams 10.7% Across the whole org, including Board 9.3% At C-Suite Level 6.8% At Managerial Level 5.3% All/ Mixed across client base 5% PR Teams 4.3% Non-Technical Teams - 38.9% 30.7% 17.1% 9.3% 10.7% 9.4% 6.8% 25% 27.9% 5.7% 5.3% 3.9% 4.3% 5%
  • 8. 8 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Commentary From questions 1 to 4 above it can be seen that a very mixed picture emerges with a significant number of practitioners having limited knowledge, especially around the technical aspects of data and AI, but a small number being very comfortable in using and building applications and advising others on their use. What also is apparent is that data and AI are elided in most people’s minds as the similar responses in question 2 indicates. One contributor to the second phase of the research stated that there was a significant need for the demystification of AI and a clearer explanation of its benefits to allay fears of the threat to the jobs and status of practitioners. Another captured their own state of knowledge as being ‘scrappy’ and that appears to be a good description more generally. For other respondents, there was a split in knowledge and interest in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the technology including coding and the nature of algorithms, and uses and implications of Big Data and AI. The majority of professionals are optimistic about the prospects offered by AI, even though they are conscious of the challenges it poses and despite the learning that they need to undertake. More concerning are the answers to question 4. It appears that Big Data and AI knowledge is firmly the province of IT and digital specialists, but that its ‘ownership’ is not known or seen to be irrelevant for 31% of respondents is surprising. As the CIPR’s Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in PR1 makes clear, there is a significant role for public relations professionals to play, both in terms of being a source of knowledge about the potential impacts on organisations and its stakeholders and on governance issues. Encouragingly though, it does seem that in a number of cases knowledge is embedded across the whole organisation and/ or in business teams. Phase two contributors confirmed that a working knowledge of AI, its uses and applications needed to be embedded at all levels in the profession right from the undergraduate entry level, up to Board room. One respondent commented that the move to purpose- driven organisations was seminal and that care of the organisational ‘heart and soul’ required the input of public relations professionals not just technology specialists. 1 See https://cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/ Policy/AI_in_PR.aspx
  • 9. 9 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report The second area for consideration is the level of understanding and use of AI tools, systems and programmes. 5. I understand how AI - AI tools, programmes and systems - are being utilised in the following PR and communication areas Yes/Aware/ Some use or knowledge No Don’t know 1. Data data analysis 68.6% 20% 11.4% 2. Copy writing 57.8% 28.6% 13.6% 3. Press release writing 45% 39.3% 15.7% 4. Media monitoring/ media reports 80% 14.3% 5.7% 5. Targeting media outlets contacts 53.6% 32.9% 13.5% 6. Sentiment analysis 71.8% 19.6% 8.6% 7. Predicting potential issues 44.3% 36.4% 19.3% 8. Campaign management 42.5% 40% 17.5% 9. Digital media 65% 23.2% 11.8% 10. Social media 74.3% 15.4% 10.3% 11. Video Creation 36.8% 48.2% 15% 12. Recorded content 30.4% 55.7% 13.9% 13. Creative design 32.9% 50.7% 16.4% Understanding AI tools, systems and programmes 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 68.6% 11.4% 13.6% 15.7% 19.3% 17.5% 11.8% 10.3% 15% 13.9% 16.4% 13.5% 8.6% 5.7% 57.8% 45% 44.3% 42.5% 65% 74.3% 36.8% 30.4% 32.9% 53.6% 71.8% 80% 20% 28.6% 39.3% 36.4% 40% 23.2% 15.4% 48.2% 55.7% 50.7% 32.9% 19.6% 14.3%
  • 10. 10 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Commentary Broadly speaking, practitioners are aware of and understand a range of uses for AI enabled tools. Unsurprisingly, media and social media implementation tools, monitoring and analysis come top of the list, but AI enabled writing, a core practitioner skill, is also well represented, despite many not knowing about or using these tools. According to the recorded/ written submissions, the ‘capture’ of core skills such as this represents a threat for the future. However, one respondent commented that skills are not really the issue: the profession will have to figure out how to live with AI ‘colleagues’ and integrate them into the work done. Other areas where AI tools should be considered or are being used by survey respondents included attribution software, behaviour change, crisis communication/management, customer research/support, display marketing, diversity inclusion, ethics, event management, employee experience, communications research, PR activism, recruitment and in teaching. A respondent to phase two also recommends the use of AI and Big Data in strategy development and the resolution of complex problems, particularly in time constrained environments. A number of phase two respondents mentioned that they were more aware and concerned about the social impacts of AI rather than of the actual tools and skills necessary to be practically proficient. Other respondents were more concerned about understanding the answers provided by AI tools given inputs and algorithms were not always transparent. One specifically called for enhanced questioning and critical thinking skills to spot errors and biases rather than upskilling in the use of AI tools per se, which they saw as relatively easy to acquire. Another phase two respondent noted that public relations professionals are more conservative in adopting AI tools than marketing colleagues and observed that skills in these areas were not out of the ordinary – the key issue is understanding the ‘constraints and mechanics of these technologies’. For example, using Google search is not difficult, but professionals need to know how to break through the customisation of results that may apply to any one individual. Using AI tools to automate daily routines is not hard, but that does not take away the need to consider how best they are used and where human intervention is required. What emerges from these responses is again a mixed picture. When asked if they used or did not use AI tools or programmes in their public relations role, 43.2% of respondents to the survey said yes, 52.5% said no, with the remaining 4.3% not knowing. Given the shift that has happened during the Covid 19 pandemic and how organisations have taken a step change in their use of technology, there may have been an expectation that use of AI in public relations would have been more ubiquitous. What is apparent is that there is a requirement for fundamental knowledge and skills acquisition at pace. What is questionable is whether hands-on knowledge and skills are needed, or whether it is knowledge about these technologies and their implications, or both. Other areas where AI tools should be considered or are being used by survey respondents included attribution software, behaviour change, crisis communication/ management, customer research/ support, display marketing, diversity inclusion, ethics, event management, employee experience, communications research, PR activism, recruitment and in teaching.
  • 11. 11 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report The third cluster of responses is about the development of AI skills, skills considered most relevant as a PR practitioner, and how respondents learned these skills. 6. I have developed my data and AI skills... First choice % On the Job 20.4% None 15.7% Attending Webinars 15% Going on an awareness training course 14.3% Reading books through leadership 13.2% All/Others 8.9% Listening to podcasts 5.4% Going on a technical training course 5.3% Training 1.8% 7. The respondents who said they had no data and AI skills were asked what had prevented them from gaining them % Lack of skills/need for training 54.5% Weak organisational support (with others) 15.9% Other (cost; not aware of how it can be used in comms; lack of time; not focused on it etc.) 13.6% Complexity of use 6.8% Peer learning/ coaching mentoring 4.6% Security concerns/trust 4.6% 20.4% 54.5% 15% 14.3% 15.9% 13.2% 13.6% 8.9% 6.8% 15.7% 5.4% 1.8% 4.6% 5.3% 4.6% The development of AI skills
  • 12. 12 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report 8. Biggest challenge to upskilling in data and AI First choice % 1. It’s hard to find courses for non-technical people 26.4% 2. I’m not sure what course I should do 20% 3. I’m not sure what I need to know 19.3% 4. I don’t know how to adapt my current PR practice processes 9.3% 5. I don’t know where to find information relevant to my role 6.8% 6. It’s difficult to keep up with the requirements 5% 7. I find it difficult to find/ secure funding for AI training 4.3% 8. I don’t foresee a skills gap 3.6% 9. No Response 2.8% 10. I feel AI is a long way off, so not relevant to me now 2.5% 9. AI skills believed to be most relevant as a PR practitioner First choice % 1. Targeting audiences more effectively 14.3% 2. Monitoring skills (media social media) 11.1% 3. Communication (supporting to communicate more effectively) 9.3% 4. Strategy and business planning 8.6% 5. In-depth statistics 7.5% 6. Ethics 7.1% 7. Data AI leadership skills 5.7% 8. Data Science 5% 9. Governance, compliance policy 5% 10. Statistical awareness 4.6% 11. Workflow management 4.6% 12. General data literacy (numeracy/math) 4.6% 13. Machine learning 3.9% 14. Problem solving 2.5% 15. Creative skills 2.1% 16. General tech skills 1.9% 17. Others/ Don’t know/ Impossible to answer/ What is AI 1.5% 18. Computer science 0.7% 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 26.4% 14.3% 11.1% 9.3% 8.6% 7.5% 7.1% 5.7% 5% 5% 4.6% 4.6% 4.6% 3.9% 2.5% 2.1% 1.9% 1.5% 0.7% 20% 19.3% 9.3% 6.8% 5% 4.3% 3.6% 2.8% 2.5%
  • 13. 13 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report 10. I rate my current skills as (rating scale is 0-10, with 0 having no understanding or practical application, 5 is average, with 10 being regularly part of your role) Rating Scale % % % % % 0 2.5 3.9 7.1 5.7 8.9 1 2.5 5.7 5 6.8 8.6 2 6.4 5.7 6.1 9.6 11.8 3 7.9 11.1 12.1 11.4 15.7 4 10 11.1 11.4 12.9 9.6 5 21.4 19.6 17.9 18.2 18.2 6 13.9 13.2 12.1 14.3 6.1 7 14.3 12.5 11.8 8.9 7.9 8 13.2 11.4 11.1 8.9 8.6 9 5 3.2 3.2 1.4 2.1 10 2.9 2.5 2.1 1.8 2.5 0 5 10 15 20 25 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 4.5% Data Skills Knowledge Awareness on AI within PR role/function Knowledge Awareness on AI within the advisory role of PR Practical application of AI within PR function, including tools Practical application of AI within your org/client, including builds deployments and bought-in systems services No understanding – 0 Regular use – 10 2.5% 2.5% 6.4% 10% 13.9% 14.3% 13.2% 5% 2.9% 21.4% 7.9% 3.9% 5.7% 5.7% 11.1% 13.2% 12.5% 11.4% 3.2% 2.5% 19.6% 11.1% 7.1% 5% 6.1% 11.4% 12.1% 11.8% 11.1% 3.2% 2.1% 17.9% 12.1% 5.7% 6.8% 9.6% 12.9% 14.3% 8.9% 8.9% 1.4% 1.8% 18.2% 11.4% 8.9% 8.6% 11.8% 9.6% 6.1% 7.9% 8.6% 2.1% 2.5% 18.2% 15.7%
  • 14. 14 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Commentary On the job training, followed by webinars and awareness building courses are popular ways in which practitioners have acquired their skills. For those who have no skills, there is a question about them not knowing what they don’t know, but also a clear sense that they need training. The responses to question 7 above confirm this view was borne out in the recorded/ written submissions. There is still widespread ignorance about AI and Big Data and a sense that people don’t know where to start: the elephant is big and unknown. There are huge numbers of courses available, on and off-line, but making the right choice of topic and at the right level remains a major challenge. The recorded and written respondents were asked to explain their approach to and methods of learning and again a variety were listed. More advanced practitioners were keen to be able to experiment and learn from other professions, disciplines and academic literature. Others wanted structured, academically sound, iterative approaches informed by working case studies while some preferred online and/or self-learning or bite-sized 1 or 2 hour sessions in non-technical language (time commitment, expense, and also the capacity to learn different ‘scientific’ skills were concerns). Some wanted a mix of courses, but also mentoring and reverse mentoring by digital natives or online companions, learning sets and networks of learning. This is particularly the case for more senior staff who were not digitally savvy. What comes from this is that approaches to learning are individually contingent on issues such as available time, comfort with technology, learning styles, seniority, nature of role, and existing levels of skill. However, there was significant agreement that a ‘conversation’ on training needs was required and that a variety of routes be provided from the highly structured, to the more ‘pick and mix’. There was frustration voiced about the number of self-styled experts and expensive courses for more advanced AI which added little practical value for practitioners because they were not specific enough for PR, were too broad or shallow, and were aimed more at developers rather than users. Disappointment was also expressed about the lack of collaboration between PR colleagues from different organisations who face AI challenges. The impossibility of any one individual being fully up to date on all AI developments, particularly in relation to channels, surfaced the need for a strategic and team approach to professional development in AI as well as the need for closer collaboration with IT colleagues. The responses to question 9 above show that audience targeting and monitoring are seen to be the most relevant skills, which may indicate a more tactical orientation, but ethics, strategy, governance and leadership also feature relatively prominently suggesting strategic implications too. Turning to how skilled practitioners are currently, most regard themselves as midway in the ranking scale, with a skew towards less understanding, particularly on organisational uses of AI. However, it is also apparent that there are a considerable number who regard themselves as highly skilled, although it should be borne in mind that this is a self-assessment with no benchmark against which respondents could measure themselves. This is representative of what appears to be a recognisable three-way split in the profession, with a) some having significant knowledge and skills at a high level and filling an advisory role in strategy, technical development, and implementation, b) others fulfilling technical and implementation roles and various levels of capability, and c) the ‘left behinds’ who are yet to become skilled. This split was confirmed in the recorded/written submissions. There are huge numbers of courses available, on and off-line, but making the right choice of topic and at the right level remains a major challenge. There was frustration voiced about the number of self-styled experts and expensive courses for more advanced AI which added little practical value for practitioners because they were not specific enough for PR, were too broad or shallow, and were aimed more at developers rather than users.
  • 15. 15 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report The next part of the research looked at how practitioners felt AI could help in their current role and at the challenges for the future. 11. How do you think AI tools programmes can help in PR role? First choice % All 13.2% Providing insights to business/organisation executives recommending business adaptions and changes 12.9% Digital media, including social media 12.1% Managing workflow more efficiently, including process-driven elements such as time sheets, reporting and monitoring 8.2% Utilising owned third-party data for insights 6.1% Campaign management, including insights campaign deployment 5.7% Horizon scanning 5.7% Crisis communications 5.4% Copywriting through automated content (internal/ external) 5.4% Evidence to persuade or influence others 5% Stakeholder engagement management 4.3% Media relations management 3.9% Creatives for campaigns other creative work 3.2% Identifying ambassadors influencers 3.2% Risk management 2.5% Project/programme management 1.8% Team management/team working 1.4% 12. When it comes to implementing AI across an enterprise, what do you believe is the top challenge for PR professionals? Responses % Lack of awareness around the tools 31.8% Require more knowledge/ training 29.3% Ethical considerations 18.2% Unsure of how the tools will alter the practice PR 12.5% Not part of my role 5% Other (budget, cost, AI isn’t developed enough yet, it’s not a magic bullet!) 3.2% AI now and in the future 0 3 6 9 12 15 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 13.2% 12.9% 12.1% 8.2% 6.1% 5.7% 5.7% 5.4% 5.4% 5% 4.3% 3.9% 3.2% 3.2% 2.5% 1.8% 1.4% 31.8% 29.3% 18.2% 12.5% 3.2% 5%
  • 16. 16 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Commentary Practitioners’ views on how AI can help them in their current role range from the business critical to the highly tactical. At the strategic level, AI can assist in decision-making in organisations and offer high-level insight. At the tactical level, help in the area of digital/social media constitutes the most popular applications. However, the use of AI in making public relations processes and management (workflow) more effective and efficient is notable: AI as a business assistant and partner in work is a notion that came through in the recorded/written submissions too. Also of note is the number of people who see AI being useful in all the options offered. This supports the overall impression taken from this research that there is a keen appetite for using AI infused tools, systems, and processes but the major constraint holding people back is the knowledge, skill and opportunity to indulge this appetite. This proposition is clearly supported in question 12 where lack of awareness and knowledge/training are identified as the major challenges facing public relations professionals. Ethics also comes across as a major concern and signposts the fact that knowledge and skills training in tool use is not the only requirement. The recorded/written responses provided further detail on the potential impact of AI and Big Data on the profession. The rich responses indicated that it could help in providing evidence for the value it delivers, both for itself and as a support for other parts of the organisation. Deep insights, predicting and understanding audience and their trends were a part of this, as well as removing some of the more mundane tasks so that more focus could be put on the strategic. Some caution was raised about AI taking over a number of the skills-based tasks such as writing, where one respondent noted that the humanising elements of tonality and nuance would be a regrettable loss. Another surmised there could be less credence given to creativity and novel combinations of ideas and more emphasis on curation. One respondent noted that the acquisition of AI skills in and of themselves would not enhance professional identity. However, a lack of these skills may diminish it. Another respondent flagged the potential dangers of becoming obsessed with AI metrics and data and the profession losing the ability to think strategically and creatively. They warned against bland and empty content “carefully honed for algorithms, not for curious minds”. Again, the challenge concerning the lack of knowledge about AI, its potential and the dangers at all levels in the profession was flagged and resonates with an earlier report from the CIPR’s AIinPR Panel, ‘The Effects of AI on the professions’2 which indicates that practitioners are “sleepwalking into AI”. Some caution was raised about AI taking over a number of the skills-based tasks such as writing, where one respondent noted that the humanising elements of tonality and nuance would be a regrettable loss. 2 Available at https://cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/ Policy/AI_in_PR_/AI_in_PR_guides.aspx
  • 17. 17 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Finally, the research gathered data in phases 1 and 2 on three general questions to which free form answers could be provided. To give a more visceral flavour of the range of opinions and strength of feeling coming from the survey results, word clouds of the responses are presented here. Q1. What is your general view of AI in PR? Q2. How will it change the PR profession? Q3. What are your hopes and fears about AI? Three Questions useful hype ideas unsure great opportunities ethics exciting exciting area positive way great aid exceptional opportunities huge opportunities creates opportunities big things awareness gap new norm ethics issues important tools untapped resources indispensable tools potential great potential opportunities challenge effectiveness good step infancy exciting application limited knowledge careful consideration greater awareness competitive advantage essential tools adequate contextualisation positive development creative lead necessary evil ethics implications lack threat expensive powerful tools general knowledge risk early stage games changer limited ability ethics guidelines early day untapped area cost jobs loss efficiency critical thinking opportunities new way insight unclear dull task risk data creativity data savvy time management automate unsure streamline new skills reduce size better insight collaboration ethical decision huge transformation greater insight biggest challenge lower value work expert knowledge competitive easier understanding reshape team structure size of workforce drive efficiency higher value human role extra power different way targeted engagement strategic management strategic effectiveness effective communications elevate discipline human creativity mundane activities strategic planning strategic skills set repetitive task improved efficiency new learning big data strategic approach strategic thinking relationship management undue influence powerful tools positive change specialised agency incorrect use efficiency lack of diversity higher accuracy transparency creativity task lack of control intrusive methods useful tools unfair algorithm privacy concerns human relations less opportunities strategic value practice transformation less creativity misuse of data much dependence human skills effectiveness lack of knowledge none fear better insight misuse of technology limited resources betterment of strategy data manipulation loss of relationship reputational damage enhance professionalism unsure cheap alternative fear of misuse better data limited knowledge job loss bias lack of empathy smarter work ethical concerns lack of budget time management increase efficiency
  • 18. 18 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Commentary There are some clear themes that come through from these three questions. Many positives are envisaged with most respondents seeing huge potential and opportunities for the profession. Overall, there is excitement about AI and data and a view that much of the menial work can be removed. AI offers scalability of PR services and will help tackle some of the issues around overwork on tasks such as writing and perception auditing. Insight will come to the fore and AI will help ensure that the efficiency, effectiveness, and evaluated contribution of the profession can be enhanced. Also in prospect are the tools and time for new skills to develop in, for example, in social capital, relationship and community building to generate trust. As one respondent put it, “I feel empowered but curious at the same time because I can’t visualise, yet, how AI will impact” in their case, consulting service provision. Another respondent also welcomed AI empowered tools but expressed some anxiety on mitigating the mistakes that were bound to happen when introducing AI tools and systems. On the downside, many also see risks, an uncertain future, concerns about job losses, and ethical challenges, including over cultural bias, equality and diversity. Integration of all the communicative disciplines was seen as inevitable and close working with IT colleagues positively encouraged. The view was that the profession has much to learn from these colleagues on service design and ways of working. There was some concern expressed on the human rights implications of data ownership, both of the inequity of power this gave to those with resources to collect and analyse data and issues around its use and the biases inherent in collection and analysis systems. The challenge underlying all these concerns is the lack of knowledge about what AI can and will do and how the technologies can be fruitfully incorporated to support public relations professionals, not supplant them. The need for guidance, training and leadership from professional associations was clear. Many positives are envisaged with most respondents seeing huge potential and opportunities for the profession.
  • 19. 19 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report The conclusions that can be drawn from this research are relatively obvious and point to a plan of action, which is provided as a set of recommendations. The answer to the central question which is ‘how ready is the public relations profession for the AI/Big Data age?’ is that it is not as ready as it should be. There are a proportion of practitioners who are well advanced in understanding, design, deployment and use at a strategic level, but the majority are at best operating competently at a tactical level and at worst have yet to begin the journey. The good news is that there is significant appetite to embrace these new technologies with their potential and opportunity-creating prospects being recognised and welcomed. The real issue is where to start and that applies either to the journey itself or in finding a way through the many pathways and roles that AI and Big Data opens up. Alongside this are a number of cautions, mainly around ethics and the possible threats to traditional tasks coupled with uncertainty about the shape and remit of the human element of public relations work into the future. In September 2021, the UK Government published its National AI Strategy3 in which it notes a step change in progress is required if the UK is to capitalise on the opportunities for AI innovation and leadership. The conclusion of this report is that there is a similar requirement in the public relations profession. If that is to happen, the following recommendations are made to the profession: 1. AI and the fundamental structural change it will bring needs to become a part of a strategic conversation in the profession. The profession is re-shaping and this needs to be by design, not by default. In mapping a way forwards, the profession can build on three previous #AIinPR Panel Reports: Humans still needed4 , The Effects of AI on the Professions5 and the Ethics Guide to AI in PR6 . 2. That a pathways map is developed which plots the options that practitioners can take to secure various levels of competency in the strategic and tactical uses and governance of AI and Big Data. 3. That the current CIPR guides and resources on AI and Big Data are updated, made widely available to all members and publicised so that there is a basic, membership-wide understanding of what these concepts and technologies entail, their benefits, pitfalls and common uses. 4. That there are a number of focused events/initiatives driven centrally and via the regional groups to educate and inform members systematically on the topics mentioned above. 5. That becoming a knowledgeable and competent practitioner in AI is prioritised and incentivised so that the future of the profession is secured. The authors would like to thank #AIinPR Panel members for their assistance in developing, issuing and publicising the survey and recorded/written research instruments, in particular Kerry Sheehan, Andrew Bruce Smith and Martin Waxman. Thank you too to the Page Society who have been brilliant partners in this research and to PRSK, PRISA, PRIA and IABC for spreading the word. Dr Swati Virmani Professor Anne Gregory November 2021 3 See https://www.gov.uk/government/ publications/national-ai-strategy 4 See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/ Policy/AI_in_PR_/Consultations_.aspx 5 See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/ Policy/AI_in_PR_/AI_in_PR_guides.aspx 6 See https://www.cipr.co.uk/CIPR/Our_work/ Policy/AI_in_PR.aspx Conclusions and recommendations
  • 20. 20 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Work location/status No. of Responses 55.7% In-house at an organisation, business or brand 28.9% As an independent practitioner/ your own company 15.4% At a PR agency Geographic distribution No. of Responses 50% Europe 24% North America 10% Africa 7% Asia 5% Australia/ Oceania 2% Middle East 2% South America Gender distribution No. of Responses 60.3% Female/ Woman 39.3% Male 0.4% Prefer not to say Age distribution No. of Responses 33.6% 45-54 27.1% 35-44 16.8% 55-64 14.6% 25-34 4.3% 65 over 3.6% 18-24 Appendix 1 Demographic Details of survey Respondents
  • 21. 21 CIPR / The AI and Big Data Readiness Report Which sector do you work in? No. of Responses 65% Private Sector 21% Public Sector 10% Not for Profit/ Charity/ Voluntary 4% All/ Multiple/ No Specific Role No. of Responses 26% Senior manager/ director 16% Team lead/ manager 14% C-level officer or equivalent 14% Employee 13% Self-employed 9% Academic 4% Member of the board or advisor 4% PR Student How long have you worked in PR Profession? No. of Responses 3% PR Student 8% 0-2 years 8% 3-5 years 12% 5-10 years 15% 10-15 years 54% 15 years + Amongst 15 years+ experience, how many are – No. of Responses 54% Females 45.4% Males 0.6% Prefer not to say
  • 22. Chartered Institute of Public Relations +44 (0)20 7631 6900 @CIPR_Global cipr.co.uk