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AI, Smart Machines and the Communications Discipline

Mon, 11/19/2018

Deploying AI technology alongside communications professionals can help you amplify, rather than replace, the empathy that makes successful communications work.

Rashed Haq, Global Lead for AI and Group Vice President, Publicis.Sapient

When external industry or geopolitical events impact the organization in dramatic ways, communications executives are expected to respond with lightning speed. But fast turnaround, with stories that are clear, informative and trusted, grows increasingly challenging as the public becomes more demanding. And no executive wants to be the center of an embarrassing Tweet-storm from a story that leaves a seemingly innocuous, but critical stone, unturned.

It’s a daunting task and one where technology can help. By mining mountains of raw data (in near to real time), smart machines are pinpointing that single piece of insight needed to create an informed story (whether it’s a mundane earnings release or important response to a game-changing event). While AI in communications is relatively new, early-adopters are proving its ability to help resource-constrained organizations appear as if they have an army of researchers at their disposal.

If you feel bombarded by information, content, and endless decision-making challenges, AI is something to consider. But new skills will need to be acquired (see below).

How do you think AI will impact the communications and marketing workforce in the next 5 years?

How Can You Cut Through the AI Hype?

Garnering new skills around an emerging technology that is generating a lot of noise makes it difficult to know where to begin. But, as AI and smart machine technologies mature and ‘lessons learned’ are applied to early missteps and failures, its capabilities will soon become mainstream. While marketing and communications teams still have lessons to learn, many AI proofs-of concepts are moving into deployment. Bloomberg, for example, uses smart machines to automatically generate data-driven stories about where a sector is headed (by deriving insights from an industry's collective earnings releases and product announcements). Many PR departments are using Google's Radar to automate press release writing. Marketing's use of listening devices (to monitor trends and social sentiment) have been in place for years.

How Should You Launch Your AI Journey?

Pure AI examples include smart advisors, which promise to help executives see information beyond their natural limitations and their inherent blind spots. Smart advisors will help executives mine data to consider alternative decision paths -- and to provide greater insight into the implications of those decisions. Today, these types of capabilities are not available off-the-shelf, rather they need to be built by data scientists and technologists that keenly understand your industry and situation.

Pragmatic AI examples are more task oriented (and more available from commercial vendors). For example in regulatory compliance, AI-enabled virtual assistants ingest manuals, textbooks, or case law in a particular domain -- to quickly educate executives about a sector's regulatory state. This same tool might audit a sales proposal against your client's purchasing policies and external constraints to help avoid any surprises later on that could delay an important sale.

What to do Next?

When it comes to AI, the biggest challenge marketing teams face will be calming fears about job replacement from more automation. When constructing your internal communications plan, it's important to show how the deployment of smart machines alongside your marketing team will help you amplify, not replace, the human touch that make great communications work. For example

1. Make Your CIO an Ally

Your organization's most senior technology executive has crafted a vision (or even detailed plans) about AI's current and future enterprise role. Develop some use cases around pure and pragmatic AI that align with your own communications strategy and priorities. Share them with your CIO to get some definition around your own proofs-of-concept, then develop a communications plan about how emerging technologies build business advantage, not just for marketing and communications, but for the whole organization. AI is not another just another emerging trend, rather a general purpose technology that will transform every business, including your fiercest competitors.

2. Research the vendors

Study the emerging vendors in your space to get ideas. For example, AI enabled solutions from Remesh help executives conduct large-scale qualitative research faster, cheaper and with greater statistical accuracy than traditional approaches. Conversational language providers such as Narrative Science use data science and analytics to draft fact-based stories about a company or industry. combines AI, analytics and natural language processing to quickly reveal which sales techniques are proving to be the most effective. Use your IT organization to help you sort out and evaluate the many AI vendors that are emerging in the marketing, sales and communications disciplines.

3. Maintain Perspective

American artist and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, “While one machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men, no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” As extraordinary as smart machines are, like any technology, they offer business leaders an extra set of capabilities and tools to make more informed decisions. But, machines didn't come up with Choice Hotel's successful "Bada Book Bada Boom" campaign, nor did they come up with the Ice Bucket Challenge, one of the most successful viral moments in marketing history.

Data science, AI, and smart machines can play a leading roles in developing strategy and bringing precision to execution, but they are still limited when it comes to crafting the creative risks many marketers are willing to take, that later create business history.

This article is originally a part of our guide, Powered by AI: Communications and Marketing in the Algorithm Age -- MSL and Publicis.Sapient's global study of 1800+ client-side marketing and communications leaders confirms that communicators are embracing Artificial Intelligence with a surprising level of confidence and optimism.


Rashed Haq
Over the last 20 years, Rashed has helped companies transform and create sustained competitive advantage, through innovative applications of AI, dynamic optimization, advanced analytics and data engineering. Prior to joining Sapient, Rashed did research in theoretical physics at the Los Alamos National Lab and the Institute for Theoretical Science. His seminal paper on electromagnetically induced transparency led to the emerging cloaking technologies.


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