The Communications Industry Will Be Slow to Embrace AI
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The Communications Industry Will Be Slow to Embrace AI

June 15, 2023 | Report

The time I save using AI enables me to spend more time doing the work that demands human creativity, especially writing.”  

My interest in adapting technology to communication was sparked in 1985. I remember the exact moment when the concept clicked for me. It was when an IT rep at the company where I worked saw the modem in my office and asked if I was on a BBS. I didn’t know what that was. He logged me onto one, and my life changed.


I started talking about technology and communication at meetings and conferences a year or so later, after adopting one of the first desktop publishing packages, Ventura Publisher. The reaction from my industry peers ranged from bored to outraged. Virtually nobody was intrigued or excited.

That pattern has been repeated with the introduction of every new technology that, in my view, held significant promise for PR and communications.

Today, the same patterns are repeating with the metaverse and artificial intelligence, both of which will ultimately be as seamlessly woven into our day-to-day experience as the web and email. Artificial intelligence already is. Do you use a fitness tracker? Get product recommendations based on previous purchases? Get music playlist recommendations from Spotify? Use the spam filter in Gmail? Does your video doorbell send you an alert when someone it doesn’t recognize is at the door? Does Grammarly suggest better sentence structure for the document you’re writing? It’s all artificial intelligence.

A PRCA and ICCO survey conducted in February found that 25 percent of communication leaders say they would never use artificial intelligence. Never. (Another 30 percent say they never use it but plan to soon, and 29 percent say they rarely use it.)

The Excuses for Resisting AI

The survey does not offer insight into the rationale behind this rejection of tools like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion for graphics creation; ChatGPT, Jasper, and Writer for text; Soundful for music; and so on. It’s easy to guess, though. The media is full of tales of errors and questionable behavior, along with concerns about the sources of information used to provide these neural networks with the large data sets on which they are trained. Some are distressed that a machine that could never be as creative as a human might nevertheless one day replace them. Some are put off by the learning curve. (There are already scores of articles on how to write prompts, like this one from Shelly Palmer that features 25 ChatGPT prompt templates for creating marketing copy, each based on a different marketing framework. Some entrepreneurs are selling prompt-crafting guides.) There are other ethical concerns.

There is nothing inherent in AI that will drag PR into the muck or erode our integrity or professionalism. Like all tools—even hammers and saws—AI can be used well or poorly. It can be applied to nefarious practices, but our profession has never required technology to do that.

Think Beyond Writing

The wholesale rejection of AI is likely a failure to explore its potential for communicators, who (like teachers and others) seem to be stuck on ChatGPT’s ability to write. For the most part, writing content is not how I have been using ChatGPT.

For example, I considered the current return-to-the-office issue. I imagined a CEO asking for an internal communication informing employees that they must come to the office at least three days a week. I prompted ChatGPT with this: In making the case that employees must return to the office at least three days each week, I am arguing that being present in the office is how people serendipitously encounter each other and produce new ideas, that productivity improves when people are working together in the same physical space, and that being in the office keeps people engaged and connected with their own teams and the wider workforce. What might someone who disagrees with me say?

ChatGPT instantly delivered an answer:

Someone who disagrees with you might argue that remote work can also foster serendipitous encounters and collaboration, such as through virtual brainstorming sessions, chat platforms, or video conferencing. They might also argue that productivity can be higher in remote work environments, as it allows for more flexible schedules and eliminates commuting time. Additionally, they might suggest that remote work can actually increase engagement and connectedness, as it allows employees to have more autonomy and control over their work environment, leading to higher job satisfaction and motivation. Finally, they might argue that hybrid work models, which offer both remote and in-person options, can provide the best of both worlds by allowing employees to have flexibility while still maintaining important connections with their teams and the wider workforce.

I’ll be honest: I had not considered the autonomy and control argument, but it struck me immediately, having paid attention to Daniel Pink’s assertion that autonomy is one of the most vital of motivators for employees.

At the very least, a communicator could undertake additional research to better prepare to address issues that might arise in the meeting. A communicator planning to advocate for transparency could also make compelling points about empathy and awareness while ready to address ways to eliminate privacy and legal issues.

ChatGPT has also helped get me unstuck while staring at a blank screen, draft scannable bullet-point summaries of a lengthy article, shorten my first drafts of lengthy emails, draft multiple potential headlines, and explain industry concepts about which I was unclear.

Caution Isn’t a Reason for Rejection

There are, of course, reasons for caution. OpenAI, ChatGPT’s creator, has been upfront about the tool’s limitations and is clear that the current iteration is a research release. Businesses and professional bodies need to adopt rules governing how AI is and isn’t used. Governments need to implement well-thought-out regulations.

I never provide input to ChatGPT using confidential or proprietary information. I also never accept ChatGPT output at face value. But it takes far less time to fact-check its results than it would to use an alternate resource, whether it’s a Google search or identifying and calling subject matter experts. Isn’t that the purpose of any new tool? As User Interface Engineering Founding Principal Jared Spool told me in an interview back in the late 1980s, technology can only do three things: solve a problem, improve an existing process, or enable you to do something that wasn’t possible before. ChatGPT—and most AI tools—fits squarely in that second category of improving processes.

The time I save using AI enables me to spend more time doing the work that demands human creativity, especially writing. If communication leaders don’t figure this out, AI/communication startups will eat away at both our credibility and our work. It’s worth remembering that communication leaders woke up to the web when web-focused boutiques began grabbing client work that traditionally went to PR agencies, reaffirming my belief that the communication profession doesn’t evolve until it feels enough pain.

For communication leaders to reject AI out of hand is not just short-sighted. It’s irresponsible.


Banner image created on Midjourney; Read the original blog post here.




Senior Fellow
Marketing & Communications Center
Director of Internal Communications



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