AI is not a new form of technology – the earliest successful AI program was written back in 1951. However, unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you would have noticed that the technology has grown in prominence following the launch of the AI chatbot ChatGPT late last year.
Defined as ‘intelligence demonstrated by machines’, AI applications are part of our daily lives, from advanced web search engines like Google Search to recommendation systems used by Netflix, YouTube or Amazon.
AI technology is also gaining importance in the PR and wider marketing communications sector. WPP, the owner of PR agencies including BCW, Hill+Knowlton and FGS Global, yesterday said AI would be "fundamental" to its business and the group was "excited by its transformational potential".
WPP uses AI to automate workflows, speed up the process of ideation and concepting, and produce innovative creative work for clients. Other key forms of AI in the PR and comms industry include creative tools like AI Art or the most popular generative tool, ChatGPT.
How are agencies using AI?
“We've incorporated AI to enhance our work, rather than take over our jobs,” explains Third City account manager, Isobel Shipley.
The agency currently uses AI to handle administrative tasks like transcribing meeting notes, rewriting jargon-heavy copy into digestible summaries, and even proofreading press releases.
Lis Anderson, founder and director of Ambitious PR, agrees. “Where AI is successful at the moment is the heavy lifting around wider topic research and planning, but don't forget to check its output,” she warns.
“PR should not use AI to create content without an editing job,” she adds. “Creativity, nuanced [PR] activity and consultancy are still very much people-driven, and right now, they should be."
"AI isn't great at copywriting at our expected level, as well as finding adequate sources for our blogs,” continues Anderson.
“AI copy should be taken with a pinch of salt and never be used without editing. I don't trust AI for tasks like copywriting, providing sources, and performing background searches on people or companies – it's so random," she adds.
“It's all about content generation,” says Evgeniya Zaslavskaya, the founder of the ZECCOMS Agency
AI can help “generate basic statements or content drafts quickly and efficiently. It helps kick-start their writing process, providing them with a good level of base content that can be further refined and customised,” she explains.
“Sometimes it helps with the content repurposing to match the right tone of voice for different target audiences and speakers,” Zaslavskaya adds.
When it was launched in 2022, Microsoft-owned ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer application, reaching 100 million monthly active users. And the importance of AI hasn’t gone unnoticed by the UK Government, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing £100m for a task force to increase AI capabilities.
Will AI replace PR professionals?
Although comms businesses are incorporating AI technology into day-to-day activities, AI is supporting the work of PR professionals, not replacing it, as Zaslavskaya explains.
“Chat GPT should not be seen as a replacement for human PR professionals, which is crucial in understanding complex nuances, emotions, and contexts that AI may not fully grasp.”
Unlimited, which owns PR agencies Fever and Nelson Bostock, uses the proprietary AI-powered tool, LUCA.
According to Simon Collister, director of the human understanding lab at Unlimited, LUCA’s AI capabilities are “invaluable for maximising efficiencies, freeing up high-value human activity from repetitive and functional tasks and those at scale”.
According to Collister, LUCA can perform administrative tasks like summarising research reports and, recently, the agency group used the tool to analyse an in-depth industry report on cyber security. Moreover, the agency has used AI to generate new business assets and imagery for a client presentation illustrating a proposed PR stunt's end result.
“Here, AI was hugely powerful in quickly bringing to life a complex concept to help the client see its potential,” explains Collister.
Like Zaslavskaya, Collister admits the technology still needs human support. “We find getting a layer of human interpretation and understanding is always important. We'd never fully automate longer-form copywriting – although we have had some great results with social ad copy,” he adds.
"Many industry creatives will agree that some great AI work is already making waves," reveals Scott Dimbleby, creative director at W Communications.
“Sometimes an AI's cold, hard logic is, ironically, what allows the very human creative process to flourish,” he adds.
However, Dimbleby agrees with both Zaslavskaya and Collister that ChatGPT can’t solve all the problems. Nevertheless, "it can give you a different perspective on something where most avenues are assumed to be exhausted", he says.
“It's been invaluable as a supporting tool for creative kindling and administrative relief,” adds Dimbleby.
AI and creatives
On a similar creative front, Red Havas has been using Copy.AI to explore ideas and create content across numerous platforms and formats.
The agency also uses generative AI tools ChatGPT and image generator Midjourney to help develop and "bring to life creative routes for tissue sessions", helping the agency to “align with clients” and get to “ideas quicker”.
"Generative AI is a tool to help shape and inform our work," explains Andrew Stevens, executive creative director at Red Havas.
From a planning perspective, the agency has found ChatGPT is "great" at analysing, summarising and organising complex issues and information.
Nicola Koronka, co-founder and chief client officer at Missive PR, also believes "AI is great for quickly identifying topics that are driving the conversation".
However, with the rise in AI tools, Koronka believes “brands are increasingly seeking ways to tell a more personal, human story”.
“This is creating an interesting juxtaposition because it means we are capitalising on AI to gather and summarise information,” says Koronka. “But where we deliver true value as communications professionals is in the art of storytelling and creative content. So it’s not us or tech, we are blending,” she argues.
Pitching and media reach
How is AI impacting media outreach? Media targeting is the focus of AI software PRophet. Invented by Aaron Kwittken, KWT Global's agency founder, PRophet software can summarise meeting notes. Jeremy Page, global director of creative and executive vice president at KWT Global says PRophet makes media targeting easier as the in-built generative AI can refine pitches based on journalists' previous articles and identify editors most likely to be interested in a story.
PR management platform Muck Rack has also launched a journalist-discovery tool that aims to capitalise on generative AI to help the pitching process.
The tool, called PressPal.ai, acts to find relevant journalists based on press release keywords. Users can generate a press release using PressPal.ai, and the tool builds from the data in Muck Rack’s database to identify the best reporters to target based on the content.
As with many forms of tech, regulation tends to drag behind innovation, and concerns have been raised about how the emerging technology will be regulated.
“A hot topic for PR is also the area of intellectual property,” adds Bronwen Andrews, managing director of business development EMEA for Real Chemistry.
“The legal ownership of IP created by generative AI can be complex and may create ownership and protection problems for the comms people that use it,” she says.
However, Andrews doesn’t think it’s all doom and gloom. “As we navigate the future of AI, the process for comms professionals will become clearer. allowing teams to create unique and innovative content while avoiding the legal pitfalls,” she says.
“The power of AI lies in customisation [….] the best and most secure route for doing this is to create a proprietary AI system for clients to ensure content adheres to brand guidelines and remains confidential where needed,” adds Andrews.
Multiple questions remain about the technology, but the rise of AI could mean PR is entering a brave new world. Just don't expect robots to replace humans quite yet.