Why the PR industry needs to step up and make AI feel welcome (Part 1)

Sarah Lee
0 minutes

I got into PR because I wanted to make news.  I wanted to be the one setting the agenda, not reporting it.  I love knowing that I have brought a story to life and seeing it being a positive force for good. 

All, of course, if predicated by the fact that I use PR for good not evil. 

I have seen the impact that PR can have on a company - accelerating growth, being an agent for change, creating opportunities.  I have never lost the buzz of seeing one of my stories appear in print, online or on telly.  

When I entered the industry a quarter of a century ago - it was in a state of shock.  The writing seemed to be on the wall for print and journalism was dead. If ‘video killed the radio star’, the internet had set newspapers on fire and all we could do was watch them burn.

Well that didn’t happen.

You can’t destroy news.  We can’t live without it.  News finds a way.  

New commercial models appeared.  Some dead wood was lost. The way we consume news changed forever.  And all the while PR just kept its head down and did what it has always done.  Made news.

Our lives did not really change much in PR.  We kept writing press releases, sending them to news desks and cutting coverage.  Email replaced fax. Databases replaced printed directories. Algorithms replaced scissors, glue and the ruler.

The process of making news remained the same.  Until now.  Until AI became mainstream.  Now all bets are off and PR must change and change quickly if we are to maintain our place in society as a conduit for news.

Newspapers have had to move fast over the last 25 years to keep pace with technological and social change.  Now we need to wake up and smell the coffee or we will become irrelevant.  

Writing press releases has always been formulaic - who, what, where, when, why and how - and now AI can churn out press releases in the blink of an eye.  This is not the future, this is now.  Try it.

So what is the point of PR professionals?  How many PR agencies are going to shut their doors over the next couple of years?  We all know that PR is the first budget to be cut.  How long before PR is brought entirely inhouse and absorbed into marketing?

Pandora’s box is open and AI is not going away and clearly will only get better. So where does that leave us?  Frankly, we either embrace it, absorb it into our work or we lose control.  And control of AI is the single most important objective for the communications industry and for us individually as PR professionals. We must step up.

This is not about defending our jobs or clinging onto an idealised vision of the glory days of smoke filled newsrooms, liquid lunches and ‘hold the front page’. This is about fake news, deep fakes, spam and mistakes.

The quality of AI writing is extraordinary.  Ask ChatGPT to write a press release and it will do that.  It will look perfect.  Until you look closely.  Then you see that your one sentence instruction - write a press release launching a widget - has been creatively embellished.  Everything in that press release is made up fiction.

Nature abhors a vacuum and it turns out AI abhors a vacuum too. If we don’t provide the information the software needs, it will randomly find facts and figures. It will search the internet for the detail needed to complete the task.

We have already seen what happens when journalists don’t check the robot’s work.  I’m sure it won’t be long before a stressed out PR turns to AI to research and write their press release. If that press release is not fact checked thoroughly and subject to scrutiny it will enter the public domain.

The robots are here and they will take over. Everything changed on 30 November 2022 when ChatGPT launched.  We awoke to a new world.

Our job as PRs - one we have been training for all our lives - is to control AI.  We either embrace it and use it to elevate our work or it will replace us.  And not only will we be out of work but more importantly we will have failed to protect the integrity of the media and the stories we tell.

We know how to do this - we have the skills - we know how to position and to influence behaviour.  We have to define the role of AI in PR, shape its development and make it work for us.

We must work hand in hand with the media to ensure that information coming from governments, business, organisations and individuals is fact checked.  We have always been a trusted source for the media.  Whether agency, freelance or inhouse - journalists take our calls and our stories. Our role will be crucial in the coming years as AI becomes as normal as the calculator is for maths.

What AI needs is clear instruction and guidance for it to deliver anything of value. And the output has to be carefully checked.  We have a huge responsibility as PR people to engage and manage the evolution of AI at this critical time.  If we don’t act now, it will be too late. 

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