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AiThority Interview Series With Maria Loupa, Account Director at Ballou PR

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Interview With Maria Loupa, Account Director at Ballou PR_cue card

AI is no panacea — this technology can be easily manipulated to the point we won’t be able to tell the difference.

Know My Company 

Tell us about your interaction with data science, AI and other intelligent technologies in your work.

As part of my day-to-day at Ballou, I work with a range of technology companies, from blue-chip to start-ups, on B2B and B2C campaigns. This means that I get exposure to a range of cool tech and industry experts (from data scientists to Chief Algorithm Officers, and everything in between). For instance, our team uses SEMrush’s intelligent SEO tool to drive optimized content, and Ogury’s Active Insights platforms to identify app trends, to name a few, to create hundreds of stories each year.

What galvanized you to form CIPR’s #AIinPR panel?

To put this simply — sharing is caring; by sharing best practice we can all drive our respective professions forward. This panel started with this in mind — it was founded in February 2018, starting off as a blog by Stephen Waddington, to explore the impact of artificial intelligence on public relations and the wider business community, and has since grown into almost a movement of comms practitioners and academics coming together to ensure we are all prepped for what’s to come.

Furthermore, part of my role is to keep abreast of the latest market tools and trends, in order to optimize our business model, upskill the team and ultimately drive better results for our clients.

What is exactly the #AIinPR panel? What is your mission/outputs?

The panel comprises UK PR and comms professionals across industries, as well as academics, with a keen interest in propelling the industry forward by looking into upcoming trends and their impact on our profession. By undertaking three projects in 2018, and more to come in 2019, our mission is to help prep the market and equip professionals with the right tools to evolve and upskill, in anticipation of industry changes. The three projects are both theoretical and practical, looking at what’s to come but also what’s already available in the market and how PR, digital & marketing professionals can leverage them to optimize their workflow:

In addition, the panel also runs Twitter Q&As as well as relevant events around the country.

Can others get involved?

Absolutely! The more, the merrier — it would be interesting to examine this on a global level too, so we are always open to hearing fresh ideas. They can follow the conversation about #AIinPR using the hashtag on Twitter, or get updates on https://www.cipr.co.uk/AI

Which tools fit into a modern agency’s PR tech stack?

We are going through an exciting time; a range of tools are available for any budget, so it really depends on each business’ needs. A good start is having a look at some guides for our industry, offering an overview of each tool and best use cases, such as the below:

As a mentor in the tech industry, how should young marketers and digital comms professionals train themselves to work better with AI and virtual assistants?

Be curious, proactive and never stop learning. This is for sure a transitional period, a ‘fourth industrial’ revolution as it has been dubbed multiple times, not only for professions but primarily for education. Our existing systems are set to shift gradually, and there is no better way of preparing yourself to ensure you have the right bases when the time comes. From ‘weeding out’ fake news stories, to automating heavily administrative tasks, there’s a use case for AI within your business.

Test a variety of tools, and don’t be afraid to recommend new ideas to management. See what works best for you and your organization, and make a business case for it — be that a new smart CRM tool, a chatbot or a training course for your team. Coursera has some great free training courses, and even Amazon announced recently that it opened its internal Machine Learning courses to all for free. 

Would most businesses turn to AI eventually for better performance?

There is no doubt about this; what we need to appreciate though is that this won’t happen overnight. It’s a lot more likely that AI will be implemented across different parts of businesses first, and will then be unified to drive efficiencies across the spectrum.

What’s important is to set specific objectives from the start, and measurable results so you can justify ROI, and ensure you are communicating any benefits to all with the aim to educate the wider business. 

How potent is the Human-Machine intelligence for businesses and society? Who owns Machine Learning results?

Extremely — the intersect of AI and human input has infinite potential and possibilities. What we have to bear in mind is that AI can be only as good or ethical as we set it out to be, so close collaboration between industry leaders is key in order to strike the right balance for this technology.

Clarifying ownership and an ethical framework for AI and data is one of the hottest topics of the year. Many, many different organizations and industry bodies have come forward calling for regulatory bodies around the use of AI – including the European Commission and the World Economic Forum. On a more local level, University College London is working on an integrated centre for AI research, while the UK’s £1 billion AI Sector Deal has spawned the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, promoting ethical artificial intelligence and data use. To sum up – no one really knows what the ethical landscape will look like, but it’s good we’re having these conversations. My personal view is that we need representatives from government bodies, academics and tech companies in order to establish a proper framework on a global level.

Where do you see AI/Machine Learning and other smart technologies heading beyond 2020?

My personal view is that there is quite advanced AI out there, but it will not be rolled out ‘officially’ until the market is ready. The same applies for AR and VR – much like the Google Glass experiment going south, tech companies will really need to educate the market by communicating benefits of new technologies, and being transparent about ethical implications.

The Only Way is Ethics – we will see a lot more leaders taking a stance around socio-political issues, and we’ll see an emergence of CPR (Corporate Political Responsibility) as part of communications strategies. Especially following quite a few big tech scandals this year, consumers are waking up to the value of their data and the potential bias in news, and now demand transparency. 

Recommended: Innovate For Success: Use AI To Monetize Your Data

The Good, Bad and Ugly about AI that you have heard or predict —
  • The Good: We’ve seen some great applications of AI in medicine and healthcare. Although AI innovation has been progressing across many fields — even wildlife preservation, healthcare always gets people’s attention – another significant step is observing progress towards Artificial Superintelligence (A.S.I.), especially when it comes to gaming, like we’ve seen with Dota in 2018.
  • The Bad: We read time and time again that banks and legal teams will be hit the hardest in terms of automation — no time like the present to grasp the opportunity and upskill!
  • The Ugly: AI can get down and dirty without an ethical framework in place – we’ve seen AI exhibiting race and gender bias, as well as a much controversial use of algorithms this year by tech giants.

The Crystal Gaze

What AI start-ups and labs are you keenly following?

Google DeepMind, IBM, Hazy, Diffblue — and a lot of smaller players in the field. Interestingly, London has topped a list of European cities developing AI, so there is lots to choose from for sure! What’s more, there are currently 13 universities in the capital offering AI-related degrees producing some interesting work, so the wider booming UK AI scene is one to watch for sure. 

As a comms and PR Tech leader, how long do you think it will take the industry to adopt AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for AI technology markets?

It’s going to be a slow-burner for the comms industry for sure — we have to remember that this is an industry that historically has taken time to evolve and mature, and some ’old bad habits’ are still practiced even by large agencies.

However, we’ll see a lot more knowledge-sharing and efforts to change the comms and media landscape as we know it — PR practitioners will be forced to evolve either way, as journalists have been ‘playing’ with the technology for years to tackle some of the challenges they’re facing in terms of limited resources and time. The Associated Press, for instance, has been using AI and algorithms for four years to help journalists to find and break news faster.

Read Also: Why It’s Important To Take Control Of Your Data In Today’s Marketing

Meanwhile, China has introduced an AI news anchor, and we’ve seen a BBC Click presenter ‘speaking’ many languages – while this can help reach a much larger audience, democratizing news for all, it begs the question of how we’ll be able to tell what’s real news and what is not. AI is no panacea – this technology can be easily manipulated to the point we won’t be able to tell the difference, so we should really look into algorithms to tackle those issues before they become widespread.

In terms of markets I see emerging, there’s definitely great ‘hidden’ talent across Europe – in Greece and Estonia for instance. Although China keeps dominating the news it seems that we are a lot more keen to share advances in new tech — in fact, new data released today by the AI Index, a project to track the advancement of Artificial Intelligence, shows a trend of Europe releasing more papers than either the US or China. 

What’s your smartest life hack, or work-related productivity hack?

On a personal level, I use a host of apps and hacks. From AI-based language-learning apps, like Lingvist and Babbel, to SEMrush’s SEO writing assistant. doc.ai for personal health insights, Apple’s Siri for quick admin on the go (voice search, notes etc.) and Netflix’s Machine Learning — we all use AI and not even realize.

On a professional level, on top of the tools on the #AIinPR stack, I would also say Jottr, which helps discover content relevant to my preferences, and Ground to verify truly ‘news’ news. Propel is also a neat platform to track and optimize the performance of your PR campaigns.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Konstantinos Daskalakis, MIT Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I very much empathize with his pragmatic views around the implementation of AI, ‘AI is coming, but has not arrived yet’.

Thank you, Maria! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.

Maria is a well-rounded PR professional with a background in both corporate and consumer communications, a focus on integrated PR campaigns and a passion for digital projects. Ex-CIPR London Committee; MCIPR; #AIinPR project Contributing author PRStack prstack.co.

Ballou was founded in 2002, and now has more than 50 consultants and offices in Paris, London, Berlin. Its growing network of experts works with high-growth and high-value tech companies, in the Corporate, B2B and B2C PR. Its multidisciplinary teams are experts in advising on external relations and reputation, allowing clients to focus on their business.

Ballou offers a full range of communications services including media relations, developer relations and analyst relations, crisis and corporate communications, media training, valuation-raising programmes, conferences and awards programmes – as well as digital marketing including social media, SEO, CSR and branding. As well as covering the whole of Europe, Ballou works with partner agencies across the USA, SE Asia and Australia.

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