Siobhan Holt
Aug 23, 2023

‘It’s moving from storytelling to story-showing’ – IBM comms chief on AI

Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer and SVP, marketing and communications, at IBM, says the corporation can’t be ‘all talk’ when it comes to the latest AI technology.

Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer and SVP, marketing and communications, IBM
Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer and SVP, marketing and communications, IBM

“As a company, we have to practice what we preach. It’s arguably moving from storytelling to story-showing with AI,” said Jonathan Adashek (pictured), IBM’s chief communications officer and senior vice-president, marketing and communications. “People want to know that we’re actually using what we're creating and that’s important for me.”

Known as one of the world’s oldest technology companies, dating back 111 years, IBM is no longer a computer or laptop provider; instead, it offers its clients and customers infrastructure, consulting services, and software such as hybrid cloud and AI technology.

The big question is, does the tech corporation currently use AI in its comms function? “Candidly, I think we’re still in some early days,” Adashek admitted. “But I’ve got a couple of different teams inside the organisation who are looking at how we apply AI.”

According to Adashek, IBM has started to use AI in certain areas of the business such as events, so the business can “better manage” its events and “track the results”.

Speaking to PRWeek UK on a recent visit from the US, the comms and marketing pro explained how the business wants to be one of the leaders in AI technology, adding that he’s been focusing on how the technology is used in IBM’s comms function.

IBM is also assessing how it uses AI within content creation, social media, and its comms functions in general, as well as in media buying and media placements.

“For me, it’s not to be the first mover in the function – it’s to be a deliberate mover. I want to be intentional,” Adashek explained.

He said that if IBM does this “the right way” it’s going to “augment the jobs that people are doing in the organisation today”.

“We need to make sure that it’s a) doing it in the right way, and b) people understand how they would work with the new technology and what it means for their job.”

The comms leader argued that many comms and PR specialists “spend a lot of time” performing tasks that aren’t communications-related but are administrative and they “don't have enough time to be the true communications experts”.

He believes that if AI can help a comms professional to “shrink” that time by 10 per cent or 20 per cent, it will provide more time for staff to do other things, such as “creating new content and being great communicators”.

Practice what you preach

When asked whether AI could replace jobs in PR and comms, Adashek’s view is that it should augment people’s operations and their knowledge, but not replace their jobs.

“We’ve said as a company, we think some of our back office jobs will be replaced by AI. But that doesn’t mean that those jobs, that those people are being fired,” he added.

Like many in the sector, he believes AI will help comms and PR teams to gather data much quicker and streamline the function by helping to create “more value-creating jobs” across PR and comms.

IBM’s comms function

Adashek joined IBM in New York in January 2020 as chief communications officer before being promoted to chief communications officer and senior vice-president, marketing and communications, two years later, overseeing both the comms and marketing departments.

In January 2023, the UK and Ireland communications team, led by former Thames Water comms chief Sunny Tucker, was merged with the marketing team. Tucker reports to Simon Edward, head of marketing and comms for the UK and Ireland.

IBM’s UK and Ireland comms team works with its US-based colleagues routinely across a range of comms, from specific campaigns for IBM’s Cloud, AI and Quantum products to managing reputational issues and in specific areas such as financial services and sustainability.

The team’s work spans everything from external, internal and executive comms to social media and brand advertising. IBM also works closely with its primary PR agency, Weber Shandwick, alongside other smaller agencies.

AI and precision regulation

Describing how AI can gather useful data, Adashek said IBM has been using generative AI technology in a recent collaboration with the Wimbledon tennis championships. IBM created a tool for the tournament that produced tennis commentary for all video highlights packages.

Although this new tool used AI to help advance the game of tennis, IBM hasn’t always supported technological advancements. For example, it stopped using facial recognition because “not everyone was using it in a positive way”, said Adashek, and the risk of it being used negatively outweighed the positives.

The comms pro said AI needs regulation, but that it needs to be “precision” regulation and “not on a broad-brush approach”. His view is that, at present, AI regulation is a “land of uncertainty” because there are different levels and forms of the technology – so there need to be different forms of regulation. For example, IBM argues that you can’t write regulations for a restaurant review on Google in the same way you write regulations for a mortgage or medical health.

Adashek said: “The phrase that a lot of my colleagues say is ‘without Information Architecture (IA), you can't have AI’. A lot of people aren’t thinking about that,” he warns.

AI and creativity in comms

When asked if AI could limit creativity in comms, Adashek disagreed and said it will act as a starting point for comms professionals.

“I think it’s going to improve the work of the overall function,” he added. “It’s going to help me personally have a better view of what’s going on and be able to understand the ROI that we’re getting on investments of people and of time against communications projects, communications efforts and activities.

“I think it’s going to help the team scale in general as well... So I see great benefit for it,” he said.

The technology sector

It’s no secret that 2023 has been a challenging year in the technology sector. Adashek said IBM has made “significant” redundancies as a result of the challenges, but added: “They were more focused.”

It’s been a “tough time” and many companies hired to “meet immediate demand” without looking further ahead, he said.

Although the business has been making cutbacks, IBM is still hiring, according to Adashek.

“We’re hiring into places where we’re going to see more client interface and more direct value created for the business,” he explained.

“I feel that the organisation, the comms, marketing and CSR in our organisation, is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for us to tell our story. We’re much more focused on what we’re trying to do and the stories we’re trying to tell – the campaigns we’re trying to put into the market,” he said.

“We’re really driving towards productivity – as everybody, I would argue, in every company and organisation is looking for more productivity now.”


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