In 2019, the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California surveyed communications professionals and asked about AI. Only 18% felt AI would be an important part of their future.
Fast forward nearly five years, and it seems like everyone is at least talking about it, if not using it daily.
Today, AI is a subject at every conference, a debate at every agency, and a conversation with every business leader.
The 2024 Relevance Report from Annenberg typically includes everything that affects the PR industry—from activism to ethics—but this year, it focuses solely on AI because it has the potential to completely upend the way we do our work, just like the internet and then social media did. And guess what? We didn’t just survive those changes; we thrived.
The PR industry has traditionally been driven by humans—by our intuition, creativity, and the ability to craft narratives that resonate with the people who work with us and buy from us. So it’s not shocking that many are afraid AI will take over their jobs. It has completely recalibrated how we work by introducing tools and technologies that not only augment but in some cases, drive intuition and creativity.
It can process far more data than we can alone, which makes it able to recognize patterns and predict trends faster and more accurately than we can. This is both an opportunity and a challenge.
How AI Will Affect Communications Strategy
The most significant contribution AI will make is how we craft data-based strategies. We’ve already talked about how it can process and analyze vast amounts of data in mere seconds, and that’s where its value lies in how you’ll create a strategy.
It can sift through social media interactions, online behaviors, and engagement patterns to deliver more nuanced and comprehensive insights. This deep understanding will allow you to craft strategies highly tailored to your audiences’ specific needs and preferences, ensuring that messages are seen and resonate.
It can help with an overall communications strategy for content, SEO, media planning, distribution, and more. It can also measure and analyze your work’s success, allowing executives to understand better how your work contributes to the business’s success.
Creativity and AI In PR
It’s no surprise I’m a huge fan of generative AI. Last year, it made my team and me much more efficient—and I’m looking forward to evolving my skills to get even more time back in my days.
But it doesn’t come without anxiety, stress, and some challenges.
Ten years ago, I was convinced it wouldn’t replace our creativity, but it has proven me wrong. Is it perfect? Of course not. In some cases, it’s laughable. But it’s getting better and better every day, so we have to think about how AI will affect creativity in communications. It could eventually redefine the essence of creativity in PR.
Creativity, of course, hinges on human intuition, the ability to empathize, and the knack for storytelling that resonates deeply with another person. However, AI has begun introducing creativity led by data-driven insights, predictive analytics, and machine learning. So now we have human intuition combined with AI’s analytic prowess, creating a new type of creativity while allowing us to hyper-personalize.
AI can analyze consumer behavior, media consumption patterns, and engagement metrics to suggest where, when, and how to disseminate content. This ensures that your creative efforts have results you can turn to every time an executive asks you for proof that the work you’re doing works.
As you think about combining your intuition with AI, Melissa Waggener Zorkin has a few ideas in the Relevance Report, “Ask it to storyboard a new project. Prompt it to write the company’s mission in the style of different movie genres. Have it rewrite your latest blog post as a Taylor Swift song.”
The goal isn’t to have something perfect that you can use—the AI isn’t there yet. Rather, it’s to open your mind to different ways you can use it to enhance your work, spark your creativity, avoid writer’s block—and then apply that thinking to your work.
AI-Driven Business Storytelling
How often have you had a really smart subject matter expert who either doesn’t have the time to work with you on content or would rather die than be put in front of a camera?
It happens a lot. A lot, a lot. And it’s super frustrating when you’re trying to do your job and stand out from the crowd and build thought leadership all on your own.
Enter digital twins.
This is both really freaking cool and a bit scary or even creepy. The gist is that, with AI, you can create someone who looks and sounds just like your subject matter experts more than willing to create content with you, be in front of a camera, or be behind a microphone—all without needing a potty break.
The tool is Synthesia, and it’s not unlike what Hollywood uses to create movies—as they did in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker after Carrie Fisher died.
The potential for this is enormous. As Stephen Lind says in the Relevance Report, “Barriers to professional quality video products, like speaking skill, camera and lighting setup, and editing know-how, are evaporated with the click of a subscription.”
There are some major issues with this, such as deepfakes or someone taking the likeness of a human being and creating videos of them without their permission (read Misbelief by Dan Ariely to learn more about this). I’ve also heard of people calling their parents, asking for money, and, because it sounds so much like them, their parents send the cash off without even thinking about it.
But as we learn how to use these tools, we’ll get smarter about them and better understand the risks and rewards of each.
AI In Crisis Management
In a crisis, the work is almost always reactive. Sure, you can craft a crisis plan and be ready for anything the world throws at you, but you’re still reacting once the crisis hits. Teams scramble to craft messages, frame responses, and mitigate damage when the crisis hits.
What if AI senses the tremors AND understands the seismic patterns well enough that we can be proactive and all emotion is removed from our work before the crisis hits?
Sounds like a pretty dreamy job to me.
Burghardt Tenderich says in the Relevance Report, “The real potential lies in predictive analytics, a facet of machine learning that can forecast potential crises by analyzing previous trends, media cycles, and real-time data. By doing so, predictive analytics can offer an accurate risk assessment on what logically might occur, and devise a proactive strategy, arming communications teams with the data necessary to formulate countermeasures and even prevent a crisis before it happens.”
Take the This Is Us and Crockpot example. If you’re way behind and don’t know how Jack dies in that series, please scroll to the section below because I’m about to ruin it for you.
When the house burned down because the Crockpot malfunctioned, the Newell Brands comms team was unprepared for the onslaught of people overreacting to a TV character dying and throwing out their Crockpots.
Imagine if they’d had AI working on it back then. Before the episode had ended, an algorithm would have alerted them to what people were about to do, it would have drafted an optimal response, and even sketched out a media strategy. All while they were still crying over Jack’s death.
This is how AI can help you in a crisis.
SEO and AI In PR
If you’ve been hanging out with me for at least a year, the conversation about the implications on SEO isn’t new to you. We must focus on creating content that has expertise, experience, authority, and trust—or E-E-A-T.
As Google works hard to keep up with AI, it has launched search generative experience, which is going to change not just the search results you get, but how it serves your content to your audiences.
In the early days of the internet, our focus was on content that resonated with emerging search engines. There was a lot of keyword stuffing and content scraping as marketers worked to figure out how to get their content shown first.
Then there was the rise of advanced SEO tactics, such as voice search, backlinks from higher domain authority sites than your own, featured snippets, content hubs, and more.
Now we’re moving into artificial intelligence optimization, or AIO, which requires a dual focus on humans and machines. More like SEO, AIO is about disseminating messages AND ensuring they effectively communicate with AI systems.
This implies that you must grasp how AI works and delivers content while retaining your ability to E-E-A-T your content.
Mastering AIO should be on the top of your “to master” list this year.
Ethical Considerations of AI in PR
This all provides great opportunities for us this year, but there are also some massive ethical issues.
The biggest risk is bias because the systems were created by humans, which inherently are biased. Even as you work to craft your own version of generative AI, I have GiniGPT for instance, the biases you have will come out in what the AI produces. This can result in unfair or discriminatory outcomes and unintentional consequences.
And, as we talked about above, it can certainly be used for evil with deepfakes, cyberattacks, and surveillance.
These are not reasons to shy away from using AI, but to be aware that what you’re putting in can be used against you.
The responsibility to ensure AI is ethical does not lie solely on the shoulders of the creators. You are also responsible for it.
Penelope Sosa says in the Relevance Report, “This demands collaborative efforts that bring together diverse industries, academic researchers, and civil society organizations. This collaboration fosters knowledge sharing, problem-solving, and the co-creation of solutions to address the multifaceted challenges posed by AI.”
In other words, you are responsible for ensuring that the way you use AI is ethical—and that you demand it of others, too.
Preparing for an AI-Driven Future In PR
About 10 years ago, I had a conversation with the then-CEO of Narrative Science. I was nervous about what his company offered in terms of news reporting and I wasn’t shy about letting him know.
He was kind and walked me through his technology, which was used to report on things that humans just didn’t have the time do. Things such as Little League baseball games, high school basketball games, and Fortune 501 and below earnings reports.
At the time, I thought, “OK, I’m OK with robots doing that, as long as they don’t eventually take my job.”
As we debated the issue online, Chris Penn said something I’ll never forget. He essentially said that, eventually, the role of the communicator will not be unlike a conductor. You’ll have a bunch of robots doing different jobs, and your job will be to ensure you’re getting what you need out of them, ethically and responsibly.
Well, here we are.
The future of your role with AI is to learn it, use it, and get the most out of it. You are the conductor of your AI symphony.
By the end of 2024, you should be comfortable using it, know how to prompt it to get what you need from it, and be creative in demonstrating its value. Plus, you’ll get time back in your day as it makes you more efficient. And you can fill that time with whatever you like!