PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
AI is coming to public relations.
© 2023 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations
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Are you fascinated or frightened -- or both -- by artificial intelligence (AI)
and its coming impact on the practice of public relations?
You're not alone.

Personally, I'm very concerned about what could be coming next, especially in light of the recent unveilings of such well-known and cutting edge "performance enhancements" in programs such as Adobe Firefly, ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Bing, all of which have new and relatively untested AI capabilities.

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?

There's been at least one nationwide survey to find out how public relations professionals view this prospect.

It was conducted in April 2023 and included some 400 communications leaders from across the U.S. who were first asked about their own familiarity with, and use of, AI and then about what impacts they expect the introduction of AI to have on public relations and other communication industries. Development and tabulation of the survey was a joint venture of WE Communications, a well-known, international firm, and the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Public Relations.

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

The uncertainty and mixture of fascination and fear that characterized the respondents' comments and this illustration is clearly reflected in the report's title: "Fascinated and Frightened." The respondents' curiosity, excitement, and optimism about the potential benefits of AI were counter-balanced by their doubts and serious concerns about the likely negative impacts AI could have on personal and organizational security and privacy as well as its possible spread of disinformation.

In its opening summary 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... We’re seeing headlines daily about the business and societal impacts of generative AI. And, as a collective community of communications professionals, we have an opportunity to make sense of this new technology and internalize how it will impact our businesses...

"How do we make sure our industry is ready for this massive change to our work, our lives and our world?"

In my opinion, the key findings of this survey should, at best, be interpretted as a call-to-action for the communication industry.

But, this is only my opinion, and it's somewhat more pessimistic than the view presented in the summary of the survey results. Those writers seemed to approach the results with what I would describe as rose-colored glasses, although they referred to it as "a sense of curiosity and optimism." Setting that difference of opinion aside, the summary presents four key findings which I have quoted as they appear in the report.

  1. AI fluency and generative AI experimentation in communications are low; opportunity for education and action.
  2. Most communications leaders see efficiency benefits in the short run; yet there is interest to expand beyond to better understand new forms of creativity in the future.
  3. Communications leaders are acutely aware of the challenges with AI adoption.
  4. New skills and a mindset shift for communicators are key to capturing the AI opportunity.

Let's briefly explore a few of the survey statistics that led to these findings. First, 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 positive conclusion. But, it shifts from a positive statement toward a more-negative one when you consider the follow-up responses that indicate 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 second general finding 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." While that sounds good, when I look at other parts of the survey, 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 finding may be the one I'm most comfortable with. It asserts 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." -- Not sorry if this sounds sarcastic, but can't you almost hear an inspirational soundtrack swelling in the background?

If it is a call-to-action, the report suggests some possible next steps.

The final section of the report is titled "AI Readiness Playbook." It starts with the assumption that: "Artificial intelligence is already transforming our industry, our communities and our personal lives." And, because of that, it urges us to jump in and begin "experimenting with these new tools" so that we will be able "to guide our organizations through the ethical, moral and societal considerations around AI adoption." The ways we're encouraged to do this are:

If I seem less than enthusiastic about all this, I admit that I'm still somewhat skeptical and suspicious of artificial intelligence,
but I am trying to keep an open mind and eagerly await future developments.

Table of contents Read and/or download the full report:"Fascinated and Frightened." Practicing Public Relations main page
19 July 2023