Not for the first time, the PR world is reacting in different ways to new technology. The last great tech upheaval was the proliferation of social media.
As an industry, PR has been notoriously slow to adapt to new tech. We were left trailing in the SEO stakes and before then the shift to online content similarly caught us out.
Now we’re facing a constant buzz about generative AI, and it remains to be seen how the industry will evolve.
Whether you acknowledge the transformative power of AI or shun advances in technology, it’s critical we address the AI opportunity and don’t get left behind. It’s critical that we fully understand the opportunities and challenges, not least for those clients whose reputations we safeguard.
I read recently in a PRCA study that a quarter of public relations leaders reckon they’ll never use AI tools. Only 15% admit to using AI frequently or fairly frequently. These are both alarming figures.
Whilst there’s an avalanche of information about AI, it seems PR is again slow on the uptake. We might be helping journalists who are simply loving the topic and writing an endless stream of articles about AI but are we joining the dots?
To help PRs take stock, here are the immediate pros and cons for PR agencies. Yes, you could ask ChatGPT and have a comprehensive list in less than 20 seconds, but we hope this article is a bit more reflective and relevant for those grappling with AI.
Disadvantages of AI for PR Professionals
- Lack of human touch. AI might be super speedy, but it doesn’t understand nuance, it can’t write persuasively or with empathy and therefore it’s never going to beat a PR professional when it comes to crafting compelling content, getting deeply creative or building trusted relationships.
- Disinformation. As AI combs the internet it pulls out old information and simple untruths. By recirculating this information in the form of AI-written content, deliberate untruths, biases, and existing stereotypes are reinforced. In a world of fake news, where 62% of information on the internet is unreliable, we need to exercise utmost caution.
- Copyright and plagiarism. Is your shiny new generative content your work or someone else’s? Is AI generated content protected under IP law? The short answer to both questions is it’s a bit of a minefield. IP and defamation law wasn’t drafted with AI in mind. Laws are likely to be revised in coming months and years as lawyers play catch up. The EU is working on an AI Act due to be rolled out next year which could influence world-wide thinking but, for now, consider the terms and conditions of the AI platform you’re using and demonstrate caution.
- Defamation. AI generates its content from online sources and not all outputs will be accurate. AI therefore risks producing content that includes defamatory statements and potentially, a real risk to reputation. Like IP, it’s tricky territory and libel laws are set to evolve. The first global case for defamation by a chatbot involves a Mayor in Australia who is threatening to sue ChatGTP over its failure to correct disinformation after incorrectly naming him as a guilty party in a foreign bribery scandal.
- Ethical issues. The CIPR is regularly updating its resources to help the profession upskill. Its latest AI Tools and the Impact on PR Practice report looked at many aspects of AI but paid close attention to the ethical dilemma AI brings. Should we inform clients when we use AI? Does it affect how we price work? Is your AI content really your work? Can we trust it?
- Could AI steal your job? Headlines predicting job losses to AI are common and in March a report by Goldman Sachs concluded that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full time jobs. Undoubtedly, PR jobs will be among them. Junior roles are most likely to be threatened as AI begins to automate and streamline work processes involving more administrative tasks.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As we bask in productivity gains from streamlined work processes, AI will unlock more time for deeper thinking and more meaningful, high-quality consultancy.
As an industry, that gives us a rich opportunity to reposition ourselves as highly influential consultants at the heart of the business decision-making process.
The need for quality consultancy will further develop as AI becomes the new Google Search. In time, using AI is likely to become so embedded in how we work it will be as easy to ask AI to recommend something as to search online.
This colossal shift in how we gather information will transform what we know and how we act. A client’s reputation will hinge on what AI generates about them.
AI could ultimately determine brand reputation and drive loyalty. As communicators and guardians of reputation, that undoubtedly opens up further opportunity for PR.
How AI Can Expand Creativity
Creative power could be unleashed like never before. Image generation tools are paving the way for new ways to convey information. AI might not know what humans like (so it’s up to us to work out what will resonate with an audience), but it does give us the chance to expand our own creativity.
At Altitude we use AI to improve efficiency and workflow. This serves to improve ROI for clients. As an agency, we can improve morale in our teams by letting AI do the heavy lifting. Those jobs that sink time and morale, such as editing, summarising and data crunching, can often be outsourced to AI.
In conclusion, there are several immediate actions for PR agencies – and even those practitioners who have previously ignored AI.
- Acknowledge that AI is here to stay, and it will change how you work.
- Training is key, especially among more junior staff whose writing skills may need developing. The gap between human skill and AI centres on quality counsel and well considered outputs. Invest in people to deliver consistently high-quality work that simply can’t be replicated by machine learning.
- Fact check everything and question ethics, copyright, transparency with clients and disinformation.
- Start owning AI and using it to your advantage. Change brings opportunity and we can truly elevate our industry’s reputation during this period of adaptation.
Jane is a Director at Sheffield-based agency Altitude PR and its parent company Counter Context, a specialist communications business for those shaping the built environment.
Altitude launched in 2022 providing largely B2B PR consultancy. One of its key aims is to integrate PR into boardrooms as a management function.
In an incredible first year, Altitude now has clients including developers, investment companies, retailers, education establishments, attractions, local authorities, charities and renewables companies.
Prior to launching Altitude, Jane founded Leeds-based PR agency Cream. She is a qualified journalist and has also worked in several in-house roles in the charity, healthcare and FMCG sectors.