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Be Kind and Rewind or Netflix and Chill: Five Key AI Considerations for PR & Comms Professionals

AI is here, and it's most likely here to stay. Similar to how the automobile, airplane, internet, smartphones, and streaming media have evolved our world in the past century, so too will generative AI permanently transform aspects of our business and personal lives. What exactly generative AI will mean for the future of the PR and communications industry is impossible to predict with certainty, but remember what John Antioco, the CEO of Blockbuster, said in 2000 when he had the chance to buy Netflix for just $50 million. None of us want to be an example like that in a blog post two decades later.

What this certainly underlines, though, is that both benefits and risks are involved with the introduction of generative AI broadly. How will we employ it specifically within our organizations, and how can we best understand, mitigate, and capitalize on this technology? With that in mind, here are five salient risks that I see facing PR and communications professionals today:

AI comes for your job: This is always a threat as technology evolves, regardless of your job or industry. But the risk isn't that a physical or virtual "robot" will fully replace us. The greater risk comes when we fail to adapt and seize the opportunity to mobilize AI technology in our favor. In our industry, clients often demand empathy, nuanced understanding, and the unique, customizable service that only a human — at least for now — can provide. So long as people are on the receiving end of communications, people will always have a role in delivering exceptional PR and communications solutions. We cannot let the threat of replacement goad us into ignoring what is very likely a transformative technology for our industry.

The commoditization of communication: Clients see how effective certain communication tools like Twitter or TikTok can be and become convinced that a higher volume of less personalized content is preferable to building more significant and nuanced long-form content. Along those lines, some clients will see that generative AI tools like ChatGPT can spit out paragraphs of content in seconds and believe that writers are no longer necessary. We must show them why the human touch — the human perspective — is essential in optimal communication with other humans. Every PR and communications professional should feel obligated to educate clients and stakeholders that effective communication cannot rely on content from generative AI alone.

Information privacy and security: Currently, no standards exist (nor is there a clear regulatory body) around what happens to the data and information entered into a generative AI tool like ChatGPT. An increasing number of PR and communications professionals are amassing experience assisting clients in data integrity and privacy reputational crises resulting from lax information security controls. The good news is that lots of interested parties are working on this issue. Governments are investigating how to regulate the technology, and even its creators are publicly promoting the need for guardrails. Internal and external engineers are working on creating proprietary tools to ensure data remains private. In the meantime, we must continue treating any data or content fed into non-proprietary/open AI tools as if we are posting it to a public website.

Accuracy and accountability issues: Generative AI may not be human, but it can have quite the imagination. You don't want to be an attorney who submits an AI-written brief that relies heavily on case law conjured out of thin air. By its very nature, this technology will learn, refine, and become more reliable, but it's not there yet. These tools have the potential to help us push through writer's block or quickly assemble a first draft, but we must understand that we are still in the "trust but verify" stage.

Getting left behind or going too far: Sure, AI can seem like a threat to some people's jobs, but this isn't the only category of risk involved with the emergence of new technology. There's also the danger of falling behind because you hesitated too long as competitors savvily deploy the technology. So, while most of the risks outlined above call for caution, deliberation, and skepticism, the real trick is finding the sweet spot between that caution and replacing all our team members with AI-driven bots tomorrow.

That's been the story of technology forever. The people and organizations who refuse to anticipate and adapt have fallen by the wayside. Michael Lewis's "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" illustrated how the revolutionary and strategic use of data and analytics could allow baseball teams with a distinct resource disadvantage to compete and thrive.

Generative AI offers anyone with the willingness and the curiosity to utilize it similar competitive advantages. Deployed correctly in support of talented PR and communications professionals, it is a significant force multiplier. If you have ever wished you could "clone" your top performers, you can now get at least partially there. It is a powerful tool for quickly researching issues or "getting smart" on topics relevant to clients. And it can act as an additional always-on set of eyes and ears to augment the expertise and experience of a human practitioner. These are all game-changers, especially in a tight market for the best talent, and understanding the risks and benefits involved helps us take those early steps with clarity.

I'm old enough to remember when PR professionals derided social media as a fad of "kids posting pictures of their breakfast," and suffice it to say that the folks who stuck with that perspective probably aren't leaders in our industry today. So, while you need not wantonly add "AI" to your company's legal name tomorrow to stay ahead of the competition, this is a pivotal time for our industry. Now is the time to choose. Will you be a Blockbuster, ignoring or laughing in the face of potentially disruptive new technology, or Netflix, iterating on that potentially disruptive technology to evolve its value proposition and gain an advantage?

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