March 29, 2023
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7 mins

How generative AI will impact the communications industry

Generative AI will continue to grow in popularity among comms pros, acting as a first-draft creator and potentially disrupting the agency/brand billing model.

While communications professionals have expressed trepidation around the impact AI will have on their jobs, a survey by The Harris Poll and PRophet, a generative and predictive AI platform for comms pros, showed that 92% of comms pros think AI use in PR is worth exploring. 

And the 8% that didn’t answer favorably probably changed their minds after the splash made by ChatGPT.

A robot that can write press releases for you? Who wouldn’t be on board with that? 

“We are in this hype cycle, you know it’s fear, then doubt, then curiosity, then adoption,” Aaron Kwitten, CEO and founder of PRophet said. 

“I think right now we are in between mostly curiosity and adoption. Once people are on [an AI-powered platform] they realize this isn’t going to replace you, this will actually help you save your staff. It will probably reduce attrition because you’re taking away the mundane tasks no one wants to do, and you’re also going to be upskilling your staff. You’re going to be freed up to do higher-value tasks.” 

This question of how generative AI will show up for PR, comms, and content professionals was the topic of a recent panel hosted by PRophet and Ragan Communications, a news and training website for internal and external communications professionals. Kwittken brought Pluralytics CEO and co-founder Alisa Miller, President of Advantage Intelligence Alex Kelleher, and content marketing strategist and writer Barb Mosher Zinck together to talk about the promise—and perils—of generative AI for PR pros. 

ChatGPT as an “overnight success”

Generative AI, the technology that runs the world’s favorite chatbot, may seem like an overnight phenomenon, but the truth is previous iterations of the technology have been around for years. 

So why did generative AI explode the way it did at the end of 2022 with the release of ChatGPT?

Kelleher broke the tool’s meteoric release and rise down to three main things. First of all, there’s this “myth of the overnight success.” Despite the fact that brands like OpenAI (the company that launched ChatGPT) and tech titans like Amazon and Microsoft have been developing and experimenting with generative AI technology for years, ChatGPT was many people’s introduction to the technology. 

Secondly, Kelleher notes that recent advances in data processing have made it faster and cheaper than ever before. “The processing power and the availability of the data and the cost of processing that data has gotten to the point where this is possible,” he said. “This wouldn’t have been possible technologically or even efficiency-wise 18 months ago, so there’s a real timing piece here.” 

And lastly, there is a desire to retrieve information more quickly and in a more human-like way than ever. Instead of sifting through search results, ChatGPT gives you information in whatever format you request. The “search” part of information gathering is no longer necessary—instead of playing hide and seek with what you are looking for, it’s served to you on a silver platter. Not to say that what’s on the platter is always of 5-star quality, and that’s where naysayers’ concerns often come into play. 

Regardless of the timing and technology alchemy that has brought generative AI front and center in every conversation around content creation, companies are racing to integrate the technology into their products—and brands are eager to explore its capabilities in their marketing campaigns.

So how will generative AI impact the communications industry? 

Generative AI as a first-draft creator (and content regenerator)

Everyone has had a staring contest with that blinking cursor on a word doc while staring at a blank page. 

One of ChatGPT’s great strengths is dealing with “what we call the ‘blank page problem,’” Miller said. 

If you’ve been trying to write a press release for the last hour and haven’t made much progress, generative AI tools can help get you over that first hurdle by at least putting the virtual pen to paper. The important thing is to view AI as an assist, not the final product. “How can you take advantage of AI to help you be more effective and more excellent?” asked Miller. 

It can also be useful for content testing. 

Mosher Zinck recommends leaning into its capabilities for getting a bunch of ideas quickly: “If I have to produce 10 headlines for an ad, it’s pretty darn good at pulling 10 headlines that are good to test, so it has a lot of value for writers and content marketers.” 

Lastly, if you have an idea you’ve already articulated but want to think about new ways to write about it, generative AI can help you take drafts and rework them. If you want to play with the tone of your piece (playful, educational, funny), a generative AI tool provides great sandbox for experimentation. After you write your piece, see what you can glean from regenerating it with different editorial direction.  

Banner that says "2023 State of Comms Tech Report: View our predictions for the evolving Comms Tech landscape with a linked call to action that says "read the report."

Generative AI as a disruptor to the traditional agency/brand billing model 

“I think AI will fundamentally change the business relationship between agencies and brands,” said Kwittken. “Why? Because agencies are paid to do things the long way, but what we really want is value-based billing. We should be billed for the value we provide, not how long it takes.” 

With the availability of tools that are helping marketers get their jobs done more quickly, the traditional method of billing work hours to brands doesn’t make as much sense. What should be valued in this new world? Inputs or outputs? 

Generative AI might make it easier to create copy or images, but the human aspect of giving creative direction, editing, and fine tuning is still very much at play. Just because what used to take five hours now will only take one probably doesn’t mean the output is only 20% as valuable. 

The PR and communications industry is sometimes resistant to change, and upending a long-held way of doing business won’t happen overnight. Ultimately, the growing use of generative AI in communications will require a discussion about the value of the work being done and how that translates to billing. 

Generative AI as a tool for learning 

On the spectrum of where marketers land on their openness to ChatGPT, writers by trade often seem to be a little bit wary of adopting the tool. While Mosher Zinck has trouble squaring what generative AI will do for the quality and rigor of content, she does sees the value in the tool for learning and testing.  

“For people that are coming up the ladder and trying to become better writers for content marketing, there’s definitely value there to take advantage of,” she said. “I just think you need to be careful that you’re not just creating the same content that everyone else is.”

While generative AI won’t write the perfect blog, press release, or pitch yet, it gives writers and editors a different way to interact with their content and train their teams. 

For someone who is starting with little content experience, generative AI can help them learn how to approach sentence or paragraph structure, how to write a good creative brief (if you can direct AI and get the output you’re looking for, you can transfer that skill to freelance direction), or how to approach a story from different angles. 

Generative AI as a catalyst for digital transformation

AI is going to help comms professionals fight misinformation and disinformation through brand safety tracking. It will increase comms pros’ access to data. It will make it easier to find the right people to cover your story. It will write your press releases and personalize your emails. 

“We spend so much time with our clients helping to amplify and tells stories about digital transformation for others, yet our industry has yet to digitally transform itself,” Kwittken said. “I do believe that the hype cycle around ChatGPT will pierce that veil, and comms leaders are going to seek out true digital transformation.” 

Every kind of artificial intelligence is going to contribute to communications becoming a more technology-reliant craft, but generative AI has really been the catalyst for that change. It won’t happen overnight, and it will require a culture shift, but harnessing generative AI as a supporting tool in the comms toolbox is just the beginning of a new way of working. 

Read more about how generative AI will drive next-generation communications in the 2023 State of Comms Tech report. 

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