The most significant change in PR so far in the 21st century is undoubtedly the online revolution. As Emma Drake, founder of Henbe said so eloquently in the conclusion to Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practice, ‘The use of technology has enabled us to understand our publics better, to understand how they think and feel about development in their area and to monitor conversations online. This in turn has helped inform better and more robust PR programmes. And while further automation and artificial intelligence will continue to aid the speed and effectiveness of the analysis and interpretation of data, the application of the information including unique idea generation for communication campaigns affecting social issues (such as housing) continues to require a human touch, for now at least.’
The significant change to communications brought about by online and mobile technology cannot be underestimated. PR strategy, tactics, resources and evaluation all continue to change in the face of the digital revolution. The traditional models of communication such as the four models of communication (press agentry, public information, two-way asymmetrical and two-way) espoused by Grunig and Hunt in Excellence in PR and Communication Management will require updating to fit twenty-first century communications.
As automation takes on an increasing role, many of aspects of property PR including research, targeting, communications tactics, dissemination of information, monitoring, analysis and evaluation will be carried out with input from AI. But what about the role of the property PR practitioners themselves?
In 2018, the CIPR launched a crowdsourced literature review to explore the impact of AI based on the assumption that, ‘Software will increasingly be used to create content; content marketing will be driven by algorithms; bots will manage public enquiries; and decisions of channels and tactics will increasingly be automated, driven in real time by public responses and behaviours’.
The report concluded that copywriting, strategic planning and social media are all likely to be impacted by AI. Although positive about the usefulness of AI, the report states that AI can be detrimental: ‘We need humans to think creatively and abstractly about problems to devise new and innovative strategies, test out different approaches and look to the future. Parts of what we do – or in some cases entire tasks – are or will be automated and will benefit from AI. Regardless of the tasks and skills that can be automated or benefit from AI, human intervention in editing, sensitivity, emotional intelligence, applying good judgement and ethics will always be needed… Education, experiential learning and continuous development of these very human traits that are valued in our profession.’
There remains a human element to writing news stories and other content which is currently beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced AI systems. But apparently this will not necessarily remain the case. The report states that currently, as much as 12% of PR has been replaced by AI, primarily in the context of evaluation, data processing, programming and curation. It states that the figure is likely to rise to 36% by 2023, taking in various functions, from stakeholder analysis to reputation monitoring.
Clearly PR professionals must keep on their toes to fully understand both the benefits and pitfalls of AI, to accept the inevitable changes and to use them to the benefit of our work.
In parallel to – and mostly driven by – the online revolution, the practice of media relations is changing beyond all recognition. As Jamie Jago, Head of Residential PR at Savills says in the book, ‘Social media and the digital world have changed everything in terms of spreading messages, profiles, stories and crises. It used to take three weeks for a story to land; now its minutes, and you can see it tripping across the world in hours. You have to be on the ball and ready to react any time of the day…and night.’
As with many forms of communication, online capabilities create opportunities for media relations to operate as a two-way, symmetrical tactic as opposed to an information-only tactic – an opportunity that good PRs have benefitted from for years. Podcasts, webinars, blogs, vlogs, discussions on Twitter all enable extended dialogue which was previously beyond the capabilities of traditional media relations.
Although always important since the syndicated tapes of the 1980s, video is particularly effective online. It has been predicted that video will account for over 80% of all internet traffic by 2021, partly as a result of live video streaming apps.
Private messaging apps now outperform the major social media networks in terms of active users: an estimated 1bn people use WhatsApp. Business are increasingly delivering bespoke content this way, with carefully targeted newsletters, videos, information and offers.
The introduction and subsequent chapters of Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practicedescribe the changing world of the property media.
Promoting Property: insight, experience and best practice can be purchased from Routledge, Amazon and all main booksellers and provides lots more food for thought on property and PR.