In Conversation: Taazima Kala (General Manager, Hotwire)

BW TechZone caught up with Taazima Kala, General Manager and Lead Consultant at Hotwire, one of Botswana's leading PR firms, to talk about the role AI is playing in the PR industry.

According to the Africa PR report, artificial intelligence is the leading technology that will change how PR professionals do their job. With regards to now, how are AI tools being used in the industry?

Like any other industry, it would be foolish not to explore what the rapid development of AI tools means for the PR sector, and the Africa PR & Communications Report (APCR) acknowledges this. “Digital and social media, and other types of technology like AI and machine learning, have extensively and positively disrupted the PR industry on the continent. This is largely due to the shift from offline to online consumption of information. PR practitioners are now expected to align with global trends in the management and communication of information,” the Report notes.  There is certainly a lot of debate and even mixed feelings about AI for PR. 

A recent Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) AI Panel undertook an analysis of the tool market and they found approximately 6,000 tools, and yet very few AI applications were being sold or used in the PR sector/market. Then November 2022 came and, with it, the release of ChatGPT by OpenAI. Since then, we have seen a plethora of applications that claim to mimic human behaviour and tackle many PR practitioner skills.

Interestingly, a 2018 report by Jean Valin published by the CIPR AI Panel explored the impact of AI on jobs in PR. It found that 12% of a PR practitioner’s skills could be complemented and/or replaced by AI, with a prediction that this could rise to 38% by 2023.

AI tools are being used in many ways, including but not limited to:

  • Content generation (text and image): tools to generate content in response to prompts; this also works for images. It is a little useful for a first draft of text, but the factual accuracy and technical relevance beyond this is not very strong yet in my view, especially in lacking cultural and local nuances.
  • Editing and summarisation: this is very helpful for making sense of a large document and distilling it into summaries, press releases and presentations, reports, minutes and/or transcripts. AI and bots in meetings to develop minutes and summaries are very popular. 
  • Evaluation and modelling: measurement and evaluation using ChatGPT to evaluate media content or map out and role play stakeholder engagement scenarios is being embraced. Again, the cultural nuances are not perfectly spot on, so this is used with caution or only to an extent. 

That being said, AI can be used to help us work smarter, though with responsible use as paramount, with considerations made for copyright and privacy issues, as well as guarding against misinformation. In my view, it can never 100% replace PR human expertise and skill, as would struggle with the important empathy, humour, trust and relationship building necessary to good PR. 

How we use AI and how the technology evolves is key. "There is no longer a choice; the PR industry must evolve and continue to evolve with the technology to both better understand it and make use of it," says Steve Shepperson-Smith, CIPR President. 

What AI tools are you and your team currently using in your work?

We’re cautiously exploring AI in PR right now and ensuring we’re mindful to embrace it responsibly and ethically. ChatGPT is occasionally helpful for basic copywriting, summaries and reports, while bots such as Fireflies and Otter are good for meeting summaries and minutes. Creative suits are enhancing their offerings for graphic design, which we’ve looked at but do not make use of at present. 

The quality of technology and its relevance will no doubt grow with time. Right now, ensuring the nuances of culture, tonality, and the corporate cultures of the clients we work with is key. Each has its own unique style and considerations we are always mindful of, as well as privacy and security considerations. Consideration and transparency are key here. 

Is there concern in the PR about the potential of AI tools to replace some jobs?

I do not think this is a worry in terms of wholly replacing PR practitioners, for we by nature are always evolving as an industry and as experts. AI may well never master the necessary nuances, tonalities, and ability to deliver relevance in empathy, humour, trust and relationship building. What we may find is tasks such as copywriting or drafting press releases may, in being automated, release time for other processes and efforts. So once again, we keep evolving, as we should. 

What do you think is the future of AI tools in the African PR industry?

The heartbeat of PR in Africa is incredibly strong – the Africa PR & Communications Report (APCR) is testament to this and further reveals the depth of knowledge, innovation and creative thinking across the continent. The future of AI tools in the African PR industry is as strong as it is anywhere else in the world. We have seen the tremendous impact of technology on other industries, from mobile money to healthcare and even education – why not PR? Should the cultural, geographic and linguistic considerations lacking in 

AI tools at present being developed and honed further by people on the continent, solving for these risks and even others. In this case, informed, responsibly used and strategically deployed, we may well see AI help accelerate the growth of PR on the continent. Once again, how we use it is the key, and is what will set apart ethical practitioners from others.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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