There’s something quite unnerving about them. First of all, they’re everywhere. You never know what they’re thinking or what they’re capable of. They can’t be trusted, they’re different, and of most concern, they’re taking our jobs. What’s next? Will they want voting rights and equal pay, too? Could one become the next US President, paving the way for others of their kind?
That’s right, I’m talking about robots.
Robots are, arguably, taking over the world and every aspect of our lives. From Roomba robot vacuum cleaners to automated reception desks and factory lines, it’s clear that an increasing number of labour-intensive or repetitive tasks are being replaced by robotic or automation technologies for cost-effectiveness, sustainability, and efficiency.
What’s fascinating to me is how this will affect the communications industry. Already, we’re seeing various ‘repetitive’ forms of communication start to become automated – just look at automated call centres or customer service desks, the shift from in-person ticket purchases to online sales, or the concerning rise of robo-journalism. Each of these, in some form, has removed face-to-face communications or even one-to-one phone call communications and replaced them with human-to-robot interactivity.
Many would claim this is the beginning of the end for communications professionals, whether you’re in advertising, PR, media, or even market research. Surely, we’ll eventually reach the stage when any one of these services and capabilities could be turned on or off and dialled up or down at the flick of a switch. While I’m certain this scenario will come to life to a certain degree and in many ways already has, I’m also certain there are communications skills and capabilities that will never be replaced. It is these areas where industry professionals need to flex and grow their capabilities to survive the inevitable digital disruption around the corner.
In all communications fields, there are set formulas and algorithms for success. Most successful communications campaigns are based on tried and tested theory, combined with reliable research and data to ensure an optimal outcome. The extra ingredient humans add to making comms campaigns successful is the art of being wrong, illogical, unreasonable – i.e. Thinking outside the box.
We can all remember a campaign that seemed perfect on paper and followed all the rules, but undeniably flopped when it went live. Why does this happen, and why do some of the most successful campaigns go against all norms? Because of the people behind them. Being genuinely creative or innovative in strategic communications means using textbook theories as background music while linking crazy ideas with business goals. Fortunately, this is something no algorithm could replicate, and will distinguish humans from robots for years to come.
Ever had that moment traveling overseas when you suddenly realise you’ve said something ‘Australian’? That moment when everyone’s giving you that look and their eyes then start shifting nervously hoping you’ll either translate what you just said into ‘normal English’ or move onto a new topic.
Sure, there are few phrases and perhaps even levels or types of humour that robots will undoubtedly learn to replicate in the coming years, but being embedded in the culture of your community, country, sports club, workplace, or school is a unique mix of feelings, knowledge, habits, and understandings that robots cannot duplicate.
When developing communications strategies that will effectively change behaviours or mindsets, being able to relate to a certain way of thinking or believing, via understanding the culture of a group of people, is priceless.
Anyone who’s worked in or with comms professionals knows they have a deep sense of pride for their work. In this industry, it’s that same pride that drives advertising teams to start with an idea and workshop it 100 times over before landing on a final product. It’s the same pride that pushes PR professionals to tweak 20-page messaging documents word-by-word to ensure their clients look and sound relevant, no matter what’s being said around them.
Where robots will complete a task as they’re wired to, humans will complete a task and then push further to see what more can be done. Where robots will aim to be good enough to reach a set goal, comms professionals will see ‘enough’ as the starting point to wow-ing their clients and reaching the pat on the back they’ll only give themselves once their clients’ goals are exceeded.
It may seem trivial, but whether we like it or not, the communications industry is ripe for disruption and automation and the use of robotics will be just the tip of the iceberg. Comms professionals who start recognising and embracing the strengths of being human will not only win the war against robots, but most likely become best positioned to use these technologies to their advantage.
Mylan Vu is the country manager for Hotwire Australia