From PR to IR: The challenge of digital transformation in corporate communication

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Digital transformation is not a transient situation or a mere juncture. It is a complex – multidimensional and evolutionary process, during which continuous technological development is integrated into the design and the production-provision of products and services. It does not affect the corporate function by reflection but reshapes it through a new approach that ideally starts from the core and reaches the outer layers of each corporate actor. That is why digital transformation is not just a trend, but a challenge that can become existential in defining the course, if not the survival, of corporate entities.

In this context, coronavirus acted as a digital accelerator that would leave a great legacy. Whether we re-quarantine, find the cure for the coronavirus or not, the tendency will be to remain more “digital” than in the past. Virtual and augmented reality will remain an acquis even after the COVID-19 vaccine. The “business unusual” that we lived and continue to live will become, to some extent, the new “business as usual”.

The users–customers themselves now have the expectation, if not the demand, of  further digitalization, which starts with the content and results in the interaction through a corresponding interface. That is why digital transformation leads to the reinvention of business models that manage innovation in a more holistic way.

This new condition also repositions communication issues. As the balance between digital and analogue changes, public relations are called upon to contribute to this “bridging”.

For the next period, the strategy seems to continue to arise from human cognition, which, as Plato claimed, “captures the excellence”, but the combination of data, the evaluation of issues, the understanding of problems in communication will be conducted by digital means and algorithms to a greater extent. The same will apply to the implementation of ideas as well as the transmission – promotion of corporate messages.

As society becomes more digital, public relations overcome the simple use of smart tools and enters the stage of algorithms, incorporating vital elements of artificial intelligence.

In this context, the public relations of the 4th industrial revolution are gradually being transformed. They evolve into “intelligent relations”, making communication, faster, more insightful and effective. IR collect big data easier and more meaningfully. They invest more in social listening techniques – tools and as a result have closer monitoring of the digital social trends. They expand the limits of behavioural analysis  in the digital environment and deploy the advantages of automated production and personalized content.

The more powerful ability for pattern and image recognition provides a new, more complete way that machines realise the world. The evolution of natural language processing and understanding improves the prospects for an easier and more direct communication with corporate target groups. Real-time data generates now real-time news, through an artificial but in fact tailor made process for each recipient. Data mining brings more credible predictive analysis and prompt preparation for potential crisis.

Intelligent relations are far more interactive than traditional public relations. The evolution of chatbots into Knowledge Assistants expand the opportunities for automated communication with the user. Automated responses are no longer precomposed answers but new arrangements of related data, a special content that covers adequately each request. We are therefore getting to the point where not only standardized information is managed, but knowledge as well. The new concept of the evolution of public relations into “intelligent relations” does not only create new products and services. It unleashes creativity in communication thus revealing new dynamics.

There are of course some neo-Luddites today – also in the communication sector- who are afraid of algorithms. And the truth is that digital transformation brings about inevitable and important rearrangements (economic, social, employment, etc.), which remains to be seen whether they will be equivalent to those brought by machines in the nineteenth century. Additionally there are important ethical challenges that need to be addressed.

Alas! No major evolution occurred in history without big dilemmas waiting to be answered.  

The insecurity that a tomorrow of vague limits and obscure perspectives can create, is understandable. But it seems that we must get used to uncertainties, living in a world where “unpredictable” has become more likely than ever.

Integration of the 4th industrial revolution potential and ground-breaking technologies open new horizons in the field of communication. Horizons that those who dare not explore will remain isolated spectators instead of co-shapers of the coming cosmogony, since the future of “intelligent relations” is actually already here.

Panagiotis Kakolyris

Policy Coordinator, REFRAME