AI & VR dominate discussions at Praxis 2017

18 Sep,2017

Image taken from a Facebook post by On Purpose Consulting


By Rahul Chandawarkar


When Guillaume Herbette, Global CEO, MSLGroup spoke passionately about how augmented intelligence, virtual reality and artificial intelligence were slated to become part and parcel of the public relations world in the not-too-distant future, he sure had several practitioners in the audience chewing their finger nails in anxiety at Praxis 2017, the premier national PR conference in India held in Jaipur on September 15 and 16.


A sentiment which was clearly visible when Herbette’s post-talk interviewer asked him nervously: “If what you say is true, what will happen to all of us?!” The unruffled Herbette simply said: “We need to relearn and accept this reality. Artificial Intelligence is the next big revolution waiting to happen. We better get ready for it now. ”



Key Takeaways:

1) Artificial Intelligence is the next technological revolution. The Indian PR industry must embrace it.

2) Video experts, computer engineers and social scientists will be part of future PR teams.

3) Trust, faith and integrity must remain the cornerstone of every PR firm.

4) There was no single brand in the world which enjoyed complete trust.

5) PR managers needed to possess the combined abilities of lobbying, media relations and storytelling.

Not just Herbette, but many of the international speakers who spoke at the event this year touched upon the topic of artificial intelligence and the advent of high-end technology in the world of public relations. To a large extent, Praxis 6 will be remembered for throwing the spotlight on emerging technologies like AI in a very big way.


Herbette in his interesting presentation termed the digital revolution as the first technological revolution and explained how digital influencers had replaced traditional mainstream journalists as third party endorsers. He also shared a statistic on how people are spending as much as 45 minutes every day on the internet. “The capabilities and importance of these digital influencers in communications and marketing is exploding,” Herbette said.


Speaking about artificial intelligence (AI), Herbette explained how PR companies would need to embrace this technology very soon. “AI best combines the best of science of technology with storytelling. It will change the way we work,” Herbette said. According to him, the AI business is expected to grow by 300 per cent worldwide in 2017-18 and create business worth $ 1.2 trillion in the coming year. “Most of this business will go to companies who use AI, Big Data and the Internet extensively,” Herbette said.


Earlier in the day, Jose Manuel Guardado, chairman, Global Alliance speaking on the topic of ‘Challenges to the PR Profession’ also touched upon the topic of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. “The rise of automated communication and sharing experiences with the use of virtual reality is fast gaining ground,” Jose said. According to Jose, PR managers today would need to improve their technological, strategic planning, written communication and social media skills rapidly to stay in the game.


The technological thread was also visible in Ketchum Global CEO, Rob Flaherty’s talk on ‘What it takes to be a fearless and fast communicator’ on Day One. Highlighting the importance of social media and how it had become a game changer, Flaherty said: “Today, our friends send us news on social media faster than the television. We do not have to find the news. News is finding us.” Driving home his point further, Rob shared a statistic which stated that 60 per cent of all Facebook stories in India in 2017 were in Hindi and not English.


According to the Ketchum boss, PR managers will need to embrace high-end technology. “We would need to hire video experts, computer engineers and social scientists on our teams,” Flaherty said.


Abhijit Bhaduri, the author of ‘Digital Tsunami’, who spoke on Day One also spoke on how present-day jobs were being shaped by technology and human longevity. According to the digital guru, retaining one’s job in a fast changing technological world was becoming a challenge. “Professionals, including PR practitioners would need to develop skill sets on their own. An ‘open talent economy’ is emerging and professionals would need to be ready to freelance with three different clients every day,” Bhaduri said. Bhaduri also pointed out that new jobs like drone engineers and robotics analysts would be created to meet demand.


However, it was not all tech-talk at Praxis 2017. The spotlight was also turned on virtues like trust, faith and integrity which were also highlighted in depth by global PR CEOs like John Saunders and Fred Cook. Saunders, Global CEO, Fleishman-Hillard  in his ‘Staying true to the calling of communications’ topic shared the story of how he had to move the courts to clear his own name and integrity in his client, singer Van Morrison’s infamous ‘love-child’ case of 2009.


Saunders stressed the need for PR companies to be brutally honest and truthful. In his post-talk interview with Ipshita Sen of Adfactors PR, Saunders said, “PR companies need to know when to draw the line. It is imperative that we say, ‘we cannot do this!’ when we feel that our ethics and integrity are being compromised.” Saunders  said.


Similarly Fred Cook, Global CEO, Golin shared findings of Golin’s extensive survey on the ‘trust deficit’ prevalent for various brand categories across 13 markets, 13,000 people and four continents. The survey was not encouraging. There was no single brand in the world which enjoyed complete trust, he said.


However, according to Cook, Indians were more loyal to their brands than the western counterparts. “According to our detailed survey, the State Bank of India among banks and the Honda car among automobiles were the favourite brands for Indians in the two categories,” Cook said.


Besides the five keynote addresses, there were six power panel discussions at Praxis this year. Discussing the topic of hiring, senior corporate communication managers spelt out the various challenges facing them in picking the right  candidate. Sonia Huria of Viacom 18 said that potential PR managers needed to possess the combined abilities of lobbying, media relations and storytelling, while Nitin Thakur of Max India said that he preferred to pick sharp talent from B-schools provided they had a positive attitude and an aptitude to learn. While Shaily Vaswani of  VFS Global felt that the PR industry needed good storytellers.


Similarly, in the panel discussions on taking healthcare closer to patients, Aparna Thomas of Sanofi pointed out there were an estimated 65 million people in India who are afflicted with diabetes and only fifty per cent of them knew about their ailment. According to Thomas it was important to use celebrities to endorse and popularise their products.


Creativity was another focus area which was very well represented at the conference this year. On the first evening, the vivacious Romanian, Gabriela Lungu, founder, WINGS Creative Leadership Lab explained the urgent need for creating a culture of creativity within every PR organisation.


According to Lungu, it was important to make creativity a business priority. “Setting clear and specific creative objectives is as important as setting up financial goals and any other business goal,” the acclaimed creative guru said.


This creative thread was under the spotlight on the concluding evening too, when Margaret Key of Burson Marsteller and Darren Burns of Weber Shandwick shared some excellent creative campaigns conceived and executed in Asia.


The Samsung film involving a mother and her autistic son, who refused to make  eye contact, until he was taught to shoot profile photos using the mobile phone was particularly touching.


On Day One, in the first of the power panels, founder-CEOs of independent agencies Quik Relations (PK Khurana), PRHub (Xavier Prabhu), Media Mantra (Pooja Pathak) and Commune (Ruby Sinha) spoke about the value add they are able to bring to the profession despite their respective size of operations.


The two-day conference ended with the Fulcrum awards with metals presented to individuals and agencies.


Rahul Chandawarkar is a former editor who chucked the daily grind for an all-new life as a columnist, communications consultant and sportsman based in Colva in South Goa. Chandawarkar covered Praxis 2017 proceedings for MxMIndia


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