-Jonathan Adashek, SVP, marketing and communications, CCO, IBM
-Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn
-Lisa Gibby, deputy EVP and CCO, Nestlé
-Karen Kahn, corporate VP, CCO, Intel
-Amanda Russo, director of comms, CCI (Crypto Council for Innovation)
-Tyler Spalding, global head of social innovation, PayPal
-Karmesh Vaswani, EVP, global head, consumer, retail and logistics, Infosys
-Moderator: Steve Barrett, VP, editorial director, PRWeek
There are points in history when a major innovation enters the equation and it fundamentally changes society. We are at one of those points right now, as AI is radically impacting every aspect of our lives.
That, of course, includes business. And that, of course, very much includes communications.
AI was a major focus at the recently convened World Economic Forum in Davos. Its impact — present and future — on the broader business world and, specifically, the comms function took center stage as top leaders convened for this very special roundtable, hosted by Ruder Finn in partnership with PRWeek.
Transforming the function
Moving the business needle. Demonstrating value to the C-suite. These are both longstanding goals for communications — objectives with which AI can greatly assist in many ways.
“AI will allow us to provide a lot more personalized content as we engage with people to break through the noise of all the different channels, conversations and everything going on,” shares IBM’s Jonathan Adashek, the recipient last December of the inaugural David Finn Award, presented by Ruder Finn and PRWeek.
AI can also help “transform what we do in terms of reskilling people,” adds Intel’s Karen Kahn. It’s important for “people to be more open to experimentation.”
For Nestlé’s Lisa Gibby, the message is simple: “We should be leveraging it, we should be using it and not be afraid of it. For an organization that's been around 150 years, that's very traditional, this is a new day for us and it opens the door to so many possibilities, working faster, working better.”
And this is very much a long game, as the journey with AI is just beginning.
“We can’t envision what AI will do in two years from now,” points out Infosys’ Karmesh Vaswani. “We just have to be prepared for the art of possibility where human creativity will come into play, covering different facets of competencies, engineering, arts, science, sculpting.”
(Clockwise from top left) Adashek, Bloomgarden, Gibby and Kahn
Regulating the industry
Of course, anything that serves as a major disruption comes with significant challenges. With AI, one of those is the difficulty in regulating a technology when there’s such uncertainty around where it’s headed.
“How do we make sure we're promoting innovation, protecting innovation and making sure [a country] is a home of innovation?” asks Amanda Russo of CCI (Crypto Council for Innovation). Public and private organizations need to “embrace the technology for its benefits, but also try to protect people from some of the challenges or obstacles that might be there.”
With challenge, of course, comes opportunity, observes PayPal’s Tyler Spalding.
“All stakeholders could talk about how the responsible deployment of AI is creating value,” he suggests. Working to build trust among consumers, institutions, the business community and the public sector “is a great way to position the company as a proactive collaborator.”
The digital stack in India, for example, is not just a government-led initiative, reports Vaswani. “It is a healthy dialogue between private enterprises and the government — and communications plays a big role in adapting to the aspirations of both.”
The truth is “this technology is so revolutionary that if the government doesn't get behind it, their economy is going to suffer,” asserts Adashek. “Public-private partnerships are essential to getting the right regulation in place, getting this technology properly deployed, getting people skilled to not just be able to use it, but also work in organizations that have it.”
When working with governments, private enterprises well-versed in the technology need “to explain things in a way that's digestible, that is showcasing how their constituents could benefit from this,” continues Russo. “As communicators, we're going to have to figure out what are the pros and cons, what are the sound bites so people can better grab and go.”
Navigating other pitfalls
Beyond regulation challenges, there are numerous other landmines to be avoided when it comes to AI. One area of concern is the polarization within society.
“We live in such silos,” opines Ruder Finn’s Kathy Bloomgarden. “We're just reinforcing that with the way information is absorbed and received.”
It’s up to comms to “find the right balance of pushing this message of trust, safety, security, how tools such as AI can help solve some of those issues more quickly,” notes Spalding. “We also need to be careful about not disclosing all of the secret recipe and not putting a bigger target on facts and the companies that we support.”
PR pros have to ensure that “the company's platforms and messages are easily accessible,” adds Russo. In addition, it’s important to have other trusted platforms such as TikTok that can share the company message with different audiences.
“You need to identify those in advance so you can get those [messages] to them quickly,” she advises.
(Clockwise from top left) Russo, Spalding and Vaswani
As AI changes the day-to-day job of communicators, PR teams are looking to add people with a propensity to learn, notes Adashek. “You must be willing to sit down and learn how to use the technology and understand what's going on.”
As technology continues to evolve, “it's going to be the people who know how to work with the tools and technologies and leverage them in powerful ways that are going to come in and take the jobs of the people who don’t,” underscores Spalding. “That propensity to learn, that hunger and curiosity and the willingness to roll up your sleeves and start playing around is really important.”
What Russo is looking for are “new ideas, fresh perspectives to problem-solve.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to shifting employee mindsets,” explains Bloomgarden. “The younger generations are more adept and flexible and eager to learn.” Junior-, mid- and senior-level employees require “different kinds of encouragement, different kinds of materials that you're sharing, different kinds of continuous contact with people.”
2023 was the year of AI experimentation. That will continue this year, though 2024 is set to be the year where the knowledge gleaned from that experimentation begins being put into action more broadly.
“People are still trying to figure out how to use AI, how to deploy it, where to deploy it,” says Adashek. “That's a big reason why we're focused on helping people understand the use cases and how it would impact their business.”
“It's up to [communicators] to talk about the use cases and opportunities with government leaders to make sure that this works for everybody,” notes Russo. “It’s about the opportunities and how we can actually add value.”
Technology is a key driver for all stakeholders. “If you really want to generate growth and prosperity, the only way to do it is through technological innovation, through partnerships, through showing these use cases,” adds Bloomgarden.
It’s critical all community groups be brought on board during this technological transition.
“That's incumbent upon business leaders in partnership with political and civil-society leaders to say we can't leave anyone behind,” concludes Spalding. “We certainly can't allow this technology to exacerbate our divides.”