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How you can prepare for the impact of AI on PR

Credit: Paul Wooding

After reading Sam Altman’s thoughts on how, within five years, artificial intelligence (AI) could replace 95% of the work currently being done by marketing agencies, I had a stiff drink, and reached for my copy of Neville Shute’s apocalyptic novel ‘On The Beach’. Perhaps it could provide some tips on how to cope with impending doom?

After all, are we not facing near-extinction from a fast-approaching (data) cloud that removes most of humanity from everything it touches?

While I don’t believe our future is as bleak as the poor souls in Shute’s novel, it’s clear that we are facing unprecedented change and disruption and we need to quickly adapt to what’s coming.

So, how do you prepare for the known unknown? I have some thoughts:

1: Start using AI now:

AI will 100% replace a good deal of what you currently do, so get ahead of the change and understand how you can work with the technology, not against it. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s cheating. Most of us struggle with long division to split a restaurant bill so why resist using AI to make you more efficient and effective? If your employer isn’t providing access to AI platforms, invest in one yourself.

2: Build your personal AI toolkit:

If you’re still asking AI to write daft songs and punny names for your pop-up food side hustle - Vandoori since you asked - keep doing that! But spend some time formalising how you use the technology to make it work as hard as it can for you. There is a wealth of information online on how to construct prompts and agents (mini chatbots trained on a specific topic of your choosing) that can speed up common tasks. Create a library of useful prompts, and develop agents for your company/clients. Continue to feed and train your chosen AI model with the work that you do, everything from the copy you write to articles on competitors and industry reports. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

3: Focus on unique use cases

I’ve long thought of PR as being too risk-averse. Our slavish focus on delivering media hits means that for most PRs, our day-to-day work is filled with doing the same thing to a consistent standard. AI is going to automate so much of that output…so use your newly freed-up time to think about unique use cases that add real value, whether to yourself or the company you work for. For example, if you have ever thought about building a mobile app that gives stakeholders or clients 24/7 access to planning, reporting and evaluation - build it! Or at least build the business plan and architecture for it. AI gives us the power to quickly take ideas out of our heads and into project teams. A great deal of future work will be based on ideation and collaboration. Adopt that mindset now.

4: Double down on the skills AI can’t replace (yet)

Soft skills have historically been the poor-relation to specific competencies like writing or project management, yet think about how many job interviews you’ve had where the focus has been on the more intangible yet critical skills you possess. These will be the last traits to be replaced (if at all), so it makes sense to upskill now. Networking is a good example. It’s a word that strikes fear in some people, yet the ability to engage with a broad set of people to build relationships and trust is a skill that will be highly prized for future work. There are many others and Harvard Business Review wrote a great piece on this topic.

I’ll say again that I don’t believe we’re facing the same fate as Shute’s protagonists, but we are facing an uncertain future. To our credit, very few people I have spoken to have their heads in the sand when it comes to what’s ahead of us, but we still feel a little sluggish as a profession in getting ahead of the impending disruption.

And we have a good idea of what that disruption looks like, from $800m investments being cancelled to 700 jobs replaced. Closer to home, the mega-merger in WPP between BCW and H&K was done, in part, to prepare for the impact of AI. As Mark Read, CEO of WPP said at the time, AI will change the rules of the road for PR businesses.

Unlike On The Beach, how our story ends is yet to be decided, but I firmly believe we can choose to make it a happy(ier) ending.

This article was written by senior independent public relations practitioner Paul Wooding.

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