Are you fascinated or frightened, or both, by artificial intelligence
and its likely impact on the practice of public relations?

If so, you're not alone. I am, too! How could we not be in light of recent unveilings of such well-known and cutting edge, AI-using ventures as Adobe Firefly, ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Bing?

And, who's to say there aren't other, lesser-known or still-totally-secret AI-based products already loose on the Internet and social media platforms?

Concerned about this, and wondering how other professional communicators feel about the looming presence of AI, the well-known, international firm of WE Communications partnered with the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations to survey 400 communications leaders across the U.S. about their own use of AI and, more significantly, about the impact they expect AI to have on public relations and other communication industries. That survey was done in April 2023.

This word bubble illustrates the survey respondents' one-word feelings about AI's likely impact on their profession.

The mixture of fascination and fear that characterized the respondents' comments is mirrored in the report's title: "Fascinated and Frightened." The curiosity, excitement, and optimism respondents felt about the potential benefits of AI were counter-balanced by their serious concerns about the likely negative impacts of AI on personal and organizational security, privacy, and the spread of disinformation.

The opening summary of the report states: "In just the past few decades, we’ve witnessed several technological advancements that have meant total paradigm shifts for our work as communicators... This latest advance in artificial intelligence rises to that level... How do we make sure our industry is ready for this massive change to our work, our lives and our world?"

Right off the bat, 80 percent of respondents said "AI will be extremely or very important to the future of PR work," which on the surface sounds like a very positive conclusion. But, it shifts from a positive statement toward a more-negative one when follow-up responses indicate that most communication professionals are unprepared to deal with AI. "Only 23% say their organization is currently making changes to the way they work due to new AI tools." And an even smaller percentage of the respondents, "Only 16% say they are extremely knowledgeable about applications of AI" in their specific areas of expertise.

The report's second general conclusion also strikes me as less than reassuring. It states: "Most communications leaders see efficiency benefits in the short run... 88% say AI will have a positive impact on the speed and efficiency of certain work tasks, and 72% say it will help reduce workloads." Yes, that sounds good but, as I look at subsequent findings, I'm troubled by the "costs" we might have to pay to achieve those benefits. For instance, only 55% of the respondents felt that "creativity will be positively impacted by AI," while 25% said AI "will negatively impact our creativity."

The third general conclusion is that most communication professionals will need to develop new skills and shift their current mind-set to take full advantage of all that AI has to offer. They will need to do more strategic thinking and learn to better "understand the interactions between humans and computers understand deeply how AI technology works so that we can lead the way in the fight against misinformation ... and dream big as AI developments unlock new use cases for our industry." -- Sorry if this sounds sarcastic, but can't you almost hear an inspirational soundtrack swelling in the background?

The final section of the report, subtitled "AI Readiness Playbook," offers "next steps" all communications professionals, including public relations practitioners, should take "to guide our organizations through the ethical, moral and societal considerations around AI adoption." I won't quote them here, but you really should download the report and carefully read all of it, including those recommended next steps.

Read and/or download the full report.     


This website was initially developed to support public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University. Since I've retired, it's become a supplementary text at scores of universities and is widely used as a reference or refresher by public relations professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

New study focuses on reputation:
how it's earned and its impact.

For the eighth time, the Annenberg Center for Public Relations at the University of Southern California has issued an annual Global Communication Report analyzing emerging trends in the field of public relations.

Titled “New Reputation,” this year's report studied what goes into building and protecting an organization's reputation, something that that has always been a primary role of public relations.

It reports that today "consumers are making more demands, employees are more vocal, and investors are scrutinizing every aspect of a company’s behavior" to such an extent that "reputation has become the determining factor for the products they buy, the jobs they choose, and the stocks they invest in."

That means public relations practitioners have to devote more time and energy than ever before to thinking about and defending their clients' reputations. And, they have to go about their reputation-building and reputation-protecting in new and different ways because it is now so easy for anyone who wants to launch a reputation-destroying attack to do so and to attract followers who will join in on social media.

With only a computer or a smart phone, disgruntled employees or dissatisfied customers or any otherwise angry people can challenge even the largest and the best organizations.

And, in this age of social media and widespread belief in fake news, reputations have never been so fragile. Good reputations were never something you could create and then forget about. They always needed to be watched over and protected, but they were never as vulnerable as they are today, because it was never before so easy to stir up a huge and demanding activist mob willing to tear down anyone or any organization that doesn't measure up to its standards.

The details of the report are fascinating, but too long and incorporating too many charts and graphs to summarize here. Please, visit the Annenberg Center's website where you can download the study free of charge and read it for yourself.

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Which career path is best for you:
in-house PR or outside consulting?

Students seeking a career in public relations often wonder if it’s better to work as an in-house public relations specialist for a non-PR organization or work for a public relations agency as an outside consultant to a variety of organizations. But, there's no one right answer. It ultimately depends on you, the type of work experience you desire, and whether you want to be recognized as a public relations person or as part of an organization.

If you want to be known and recognized as a "public relations person," working for a public relations agency or as a freelance consultant may be best. Your business card or employer's name will clearly identify you as a public relations practitioner.

In contrast, if you work as a public relations person for the ABC Company (or any other organization or prominent person), most people will tend to see you and think of you only in terms of your relationship to that company, without giving much thought to what you actually do for the company. – You’re likely to be labeled "an ABC guy or gal," not a PR person, regardless of how high you are in the corporate hierarchy. – Here in the Cincinnati, for instance, the Vice President for Public Relations of Procter and Gamble is little known outside the public relations community for doing public relations work, but is widely known as "one of P&G’s key vice presidents."

But which, you may wonder, would give you greater clout and credibility? In-house practitioners are often seen as having more knowledge about their organization, while external counselors may be viewed as having more knowledge and experience doing public relations. But, it's really not that clear-cut.

Internal practitioners know and are known by people within the organization, have extensive knowledge of it, and are personally linked to its success or failure. That should give them an edge handling internal matters but, they're so well-known, they may be treated as "prophets without honor in their own country."

With fewer internal entanglements, outside consultants can concentrate on public relations with less distraction by other organizational concerns or office politics.

But, only you can decide which choice is best for you. Good luck making it.

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Updated: 5/21/2023