-Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations (moderator)
-Matthew Lloyd, VP of corporate communications, iRobot
-Amy Sezak, SVP, corporate communications, Yelp
-Gretchen Ramsey, EVP, WE Communications
Nearly every profession will be profoundly affected by AI — and PR is no exception. In this webcast, AI and PR: Authoring the Future, WE Communications brought together a panel of industry leaders for a webcast to discuss how PR professionals can embrace AI literacy, harness AI to further the practice and serve as a voice for strategic, ethical adoption.
With the introduction and quick adoption of Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing, DALL-E and Midjourney, PR pros are beginning to understand just how powerful a tool AI can be. A recent survey, conducted by WE in partnership with USC Annenberg, found that about 60% of PR pros were incorporating ChatGPT into their work and about 20% were experimenting with Bing Chat and Google Bard.
Webcast panelists discuss how they are learning about and experimenting with AI.
“We have to put our egos to the side to embrace AI,” says Matthew Lloyd, VP of corporate communications at iRobot. He follows blog influencers, such as Allie Miller and Lex Fridman, to “consume as much content as possible and to digest how to use the tools that are available.”
“As a tech-forward agency, we are experimenting in real time and learning out loud,” adds Gretchen Ramsey, EVP at WE. Her team holds share sessions for colleagues to discuss what they have learned about AI or how they have approached a problem using AI tools.
Like Lloyd, she’s “leaning into voices that are talking about AI.” She scours Open AI and Microsoft blogs and monitors postings from academics (such as Ethan Mollick, a Wharton professor), ethicists and tech watchers.
Time to experiment
Amy Sezak, SVP of corporate communications at Yelp, says her team is approaching AI with both curiosity and caution.
“We need to embrace new technology and be experimental, but with the right level of caution because there are a lot of concerns,” she suggests. Sezak urges PR pros to experiment with tools designed for communicators, such as Jasper and WriteSonic, that offer trial subscriptions.
“Now is the time to experiment,” she emphasizes. “You learn a lot playing around with AI.” Her team, for example, has experimented with using natural language processing tools to generate headlines with SEO in mind.
Panelists agree that tech skills have long been crucial to the comms function. AI will only elevate that.
Webcast moderator Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations, shares that while survey results show that writing is still the most important skill a communicator can have, more of that writing will likely be directed at crafting effective prompts for computers.
“We've been talking about doing prompt-writing workshops,” says Sezak. “The idea of getting better at writing prompts is actually just providing the right level of context and direction.”
ChatGPT, Midjourney, Jasper and Microsoft Bing are but four of an ever-increasing bounty of AI tools with which PR pros could and should experiment.
Skills to succeed
Other must-have skills for PR pros to thrive in a world with AI were shared.
“We’ll need a better grasp on how to develop the right type of instructions to get what we want out of AI,” notes Lloyd. “AI might get us 60% of the way there, but you need to increase human intelligence and apply it to communications strategies to reach further.”
PR pros should also be developing what Ramsey called a “query-based mindset.”
“We should be thinking in conversations,” she suggests. “Not just asking a question and getting an answer, but probing and diving deeper into the conversation with AI to get sharper insights and more creative outputs.”
AI’s impact on the workplace is also not lost upon Ramsey, who expects AI to shift that environment away from repetitive tasks toward more strategic thinking.
“We have to transform the way we're working,” she points out. “We’re starting to move into a highly strategic era of partnership with the brands with whom we work. It’s going from auto-pilot to more of a copilot role in a communal environment of learning, growing and expanding.”
AI, continues Ramsey, can help PR pros “really understand how a reporter talks or what kind of things they cover to help us create a strategy around a story.”
Increased job security
The experts also feel that rather than posing a risk to PR jobs – a source of most pros’ fears – AI can actually enrich potential and increase creativity. “The speed and efficiency that AI brings to our work allows us to become more experimental with how we create content,” opines Ramsey.
“Some of these tools could not only unlock creativity, but democratize it,” adds Sezak. “Many of us are not designers. There's no way we would think about creating some of the images that we get to with prompts.”
Lloyd staunchly believes generative AI will create more job security for communications professionals.
“As an industry, we are on the front lines of understanding how to connect with people,” he offers. “There are no better strategic thinkers to help companies understand the impact on their reputations and how to manage change. This is an opportunity for us to embrace the change and advise our clients and brands on the right way to utilize these tools to better connect with people.”
“The human element of what we do will always be a very important part of our work,” assures Cook, who believes hi-tech will never replace high touch.
New tools, such as Forever Voices (a telegram chatbot that allows users to converse with AI-powered clones of public figures and celebrities), will have a tremendous impact on how comms pros can deliver results.
Cook mentions Cometrics, which uses AI to gather and package PR and advertising in an ESG framework.
“Interesting tools such as Jasper and Predis help us think holistically about how we create campaign content, from a pitch letter to social post,” says Ramsey. “These AI-enabled workspace tools will allow us to create a flow across platforms in 50 different languages and help us provide guardrails in our workflow.”
“On the visual AI front,” she continues, “we’ve been playing with Vizia, Kaiber and Hour One for content that's more educational.”
The webcast's featured speakers are (clockwise from top left) Cook, Sezak, Lloyd and Ramsey.
While the panelists all see great potential for AI-enabled tools, they readily acknowledge and understand why many practitioners remain concerned about the ethics behind the technology.
Computer-generated content can pose a challenge to PR pros charged with protecting a brand.
“We need to manage the information coming out from the systems, as well as what's going into them,” notes Lloyd. He compares the challenge of reshaping or correcting inaccuracies produced by AI to the challenges faced by Wikipedia entries a few years ago.
Another gray area is copyright.
“Within Yelp, we've had to update agreements with consultants to ensure copy is not generated by AI so we know we own that content,” reports Sezak.
Ramsey highlights three important issues around AI ethics: the need to understand how AI works, the willingness to “be the one in the room asking the ethical questions” and a plan for handling source security and privacy.
“How we're handling source issues will become a very prevalent conversation – very quickly – in our industry,” she asserts. “There’s a need to help identify when you're talking to a human and when you’re not. Some experimentation, like incognito mode, will affect privacy and how we handle our security concerns using these tools.”
There’s also the ethical question of how an agency reveals that they are using AI on a client’s behalf.
“Transparency is key,” suggests Ramsey. “It should be protocol, as well, to be transparent with our public about when we're using AI.”
Click here to watch the webcast, AI and PR: Authoring the Future, on demand.
Click here for the WE Communications/USC Annenberg study.