Ruchika Jha
Corporate Communications and PR

The new era of real-time PR: How creativity, crisis, and AI are shaping the future

Karan Bhandari, MD - integrated media strategy, Weber Shandwick India, discusses PR's tech evolution, AI Sandbox, content discovery, and more.

The public relations (PR) industry has radically moved online from its traditional business model as it now encompasses digital and social together, along with mobile.

As per a 2023 report by the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI), the Indian PR industry’s flagship trade association, the industry will grow at an annual growth rate of 11% by 2027.

Karan Bhandari, managing director - integrated media strategy, Weber Shandwick India, shares that he and his team at the agency do not view the PR business as online or offline.

One does not wait for two weeks for a PR story to come out, and at the same time, gratification has also become almost instantaneous for both clients and the rest of the audience.

The professionals are seamlessly interweaving themselves between the online and offline worlds without deliberate thought.

“Digital, social, and offline channels are living and breathing the PR business. Different stakeholders and subject matter experts leverage these mediums. The outcomes are now far more instantaneous. One does not wait for two weeks for a PR story to come out, and at the same time, gratification has also become almost instantaneous for both clients and the rest of the audience,” he says.

PR towards tech

The PR industry has fully embraced technology, adopting it in ways that are core to the business, including tools for measurement, AI, and beyond.

Bhandari says that the industry has tool stacks that are sometimes built by acquiring a license or created in-house by an agency. Weber Shandwick has rolled out such a stack called AI Sandbox, which is a closed-loop sandbox using ChatGPT-4.

It has many applets built in that are integrated into the business of PR. He explains, “Using this tool, one does not have to go through 80 pages of documents. The key to using this tool is prompt engineering. If you know prompt engineering and can have a good conversation with ChatGPT, what would otherwise be a three-day job ends up being a half-day job.”

The agency launched and has been using the AI Sandbox since the second half of 2023, with different pilots rolled out in various markets. Bhandari says the India market was also a part of the APAC regions where the first version of this tool was rolled out in small pockets to understand use cases.

The threat is for agencies who look at selling AI as an end product.

The agency has now unveiled two different versions of AI Sandbox - one purely from an analytics point of view and the other from a content generation point of view.

Today, the rise of AI has made clients become self-reliant in their PR strategies. Speaking about how agencies are navigating the same, Bhandari believes that a PR agency does not sell tools, nor is it a service provider. It is a consulting firm.

“What I am by virtue is a collected acumen of a variety of skill sets to advise clients into what we think is the most effective way of communicating. If those skill sets and brains are padded with AI, it is a very natural augmentation of what we already do, and that is not a threat but a great opportunity. The threat is for agencies who look at selling AI as an end product,” he states.

At the end of the day, do not project AI only as a tool to solve a particular task but rather as a set of arrays that one has to work with. It can only happen when brands have the right people for it.

Crisis

Nowadays, a single negative incident can quickly escalate and go viral.  Amidst an erratically evolving PR landscape, the rapid advancement of technology and the increasing influence of social media have intensified the demand for real-time crisis management.

We have set up models that help us understand the volume and velocity of a crisis.

Additionally, the pressure to stay transparent and trustworthy in a time of widespread misinformation is a big challenge.

Talking about what a crisis is like in 2024, Bhandari says that a crisis in the PR industry is now an everyday scenario as its frequency has increased. Everybody is online all the time. Therefore, the frequency of news propagation has increased, and as it increases, the likelihood of negative news will also potentially increase, as the laws of mathematics indicate.

He believes that crises are going to stay, and PR is wrapped around it at any point in time from a corporate client's point of view. “We have set up models that help us understand the volume and velocity of a crisis. A change in volume and velocity beyond the ordinary helps us address potential issues sooner before they escalate into an unmanageable crisis,” says Bhandari.

He explains that PR agencies are now constantly monitoring crises in various ways. For clients where technology can play a significant role, they have implemented labs and processes based on AI-trained data.

This allows them not only to mitigate crises but potentially to nip them in the bud. Moreover, the focus should be on picking up the phone, having the right chat with the right person, and addressing the crisis.

“Sometimes crises emerge at the ground or factory level, and these are hyper-local. If you can identify the crisis at the right time and nip it in the bud, it can be resolved at the hyper-local stage before it escalates to a city, state, or national level,” he asserts.

Anticipating PR trends

Bhandari is certain that there will be more creativity in the field of PR in the coming years. In order to have a more campaign-oriented approach and infuse creativity to transform seemingly mundane tasks into extraordinary achievements for clients, this trend is set to spread widely among PR agencies and clients in the future.

AI will change the way PR discovers, consumes, and produces content.

He also reiterates that "AI will change the way PR discovers, consumes, and produces content." He exemplified it by saying how Google will change the way it gives search results as the paid results have gone to the bottom and the AI-generated content is at the top.

“We can create great static and video content, and voiceovers, and easily post them on social media.”

Bhandari also looks forward to how agencies will consume content, as it is expected to change and evolve further.

“Between more creative work on one side and the way we discover, produce, and consume content, there is going to be a significant evolution in the next couple of years. I think that makes a very potent mix, which I want to wait and watch,” he says.

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