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Latest industry views and advice

December 6

In the current debate about AI and public relations, it could be useful to view it through a slightly different lens.

In a recent media article, Monica Ali – author of the novel Brick Lane – decided to “experiment” with new AI technology by pasting in the first paragraph of her latest novel to a tool called Laika. The results, she said, gave her no cause to lose sleep “secure in the knowledge that the bots are about as smart as [a] monkey with an iPhone”.

Conscious that this conclusion was perhaps not definitive, she asked ChatGPT to “write a story in the style of Monica Ali”. The result of that was something far less than imitative. After further, more detailed prompts – including a request to write a sex scene – ChatGPT demurred because it was “not within my capacity to generate inappropriate or explicit content”.

So far, so frustrating – and not exactly a brave new world for creative writing.

But other points she made resonated with the current tussle in public relations and marketing about AI. She said:

  • “The problem is not a shortage of books, it’s a shortage of readers.”
  • “More and more books pumped out in a shorter timeframe…sounds like a hot mess in which it will become increasingly difficult to sift the signal from the noise.”
  • “We read to connect with human experience, human instincts and emotions…only a human author can bring their intentions to meet our own.”
  • “I envisage a future in which ‘natural’ writers, those who don’t use AI, will become distinct from those who do.”

While public relations and marketing communications are patently not about writing novels, Ali’s insights about AI are – I believe – relevant to the work of communications professionals and the companies hiring them.

To find a parallel with each of her points, companies and brands’ competition for scarce “readers” (a.k.a, a limited audience, especially in B2B sectors), the need to stand out from the “noise”, to create a “human” connection and be “distinct” – each vital to successful communications and brand building – are potentially at risk from AI.

PR and marketing professionals can use AI – but should they? 

And among all the discussion about which AI tools public relations and marketing people can use and how to use them, there seems to be less discussion about whether they should use them. This isn’t an attack of Luddism; rather, genuine concern about what organisations can lose by trusting that AI has all the answers to their PR and marketing challenges – and that people are now relegated to providers of AI prompts.

In 2023’s headlong rush – let’s call it panic – to capitalise on the latest technology, the predictions are already in about the demise of public relations at the robotic hands of AI.

And there’s a new phrase that – if it were truly intelligent – you’d think was written by an AI bot itself, and that is: “AI isn’t coming to take your job but is coming to take the jobs of PR professionals who aren’t expert users of AI.”

I don’t think it’s prudent to devalue and dismiss decades of professional public relations and communications knowledge, learning and experience with one unsubstantiated claim – not least when the UK Government caveats its latest report into the impact of AI on jobs and training as being based on “uncertain assumptions” and “should be interpreted with caution”.

AI for public relations – an underwhelming experience

Like Monica Ali, I too have experimented with AI. ChatGPT managed to unearth some media titles that were otherwise unknown to an internet search or media database, which was nice. However, with other tasks, it was hugely underwhelming.

Asked by a client to draft video interview questions for a range of different audiences about a particular product, I compared my efforts with those of AI. While ChatGPT did a passable job of coming up with a list of questions within seconds, speed was its only redeeming quality: the questions were bland, predictable, obvious and uninspiring – not surprising if you recycle and repackage what’s already been said, as AI does.

My attempt at question creation was (IMHO) better, but only because I believe the human approach to a task like this includes a determined thought process to find something fresh and vital, not just something already available. Like Monica Ali pointed out, the human touch has a better way of creating something distinct that will stand out from the noise and make a human connection.

While I’m under no illusion that AI will dry up and blow away because of my reservations, I think that both the communications profession and those it serves shouldn’t forget some communications fundamentals before falling down the rabbit hole into AI Wonderland.

By that I mean:

  • Benchmarking where your business or brand is now – not just via digital research but with insight from real-life interaction between your staff and customers.
  • Identifying the themes and topics you should seek to own, or at least claim a share of voice, because you’ve recognised them as important to your customers and other stakeholders. Your company’s experts, with their fingers on the pulse of the sector, should be the best source of this information.
  • Being clear about how your business can add value to the discussion around an issue – because you know intimately where your expertise lies, where your voice can be distinct, but also where it doesn’t/can’t be.
  • Creating messages that are more than bland statements and are equipped to make the recipients think, feel and do something that will benefit them as well as your business.

Right now, human thought, innovation and interaction remains the best way to achieve the above and to generate PR and marketing communications activity that is both creative, memorable and based on a dogged determination to be original.

 


For B2B public relations and marketing communications consultancy, contact Metamorphic PR.

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