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How AI will change the PR agency model

Last week we discussed how AI is impacting the PR industry, this week we look more specifically at how generative AI is changing how agencies work.

We must be mindful of AI limitations

Will Cooke, head of strategy and creative at PR firm M&C Saatchi Talk: “Generative AI has the potential to revolutionise the PR industry. As a powerful and accessible tool, it can level the playing field, increase productivity, and streamline work processes. But once every agency taps into its power, it is about how you use this that will matter. Certainly, the streamlining of tasks will make the way we work more efficient, but that doesn’t mean the work will be more effective. The winners who can use the tools to boost critical and creative thinking.

“We also need to be mindful of limitations. It is important to champion the diversity of thought, which is a direct result of diverse talent and ideas. Whilst generative AI can provide a wealth of data, it certainly can’t offer the nuanced insights and perspectives that come from human experience. Biases will always be present in AI tools so it’s about finding the right blend of human thinking and allow AI to challenge us to think beyond our boundaries”

Agencies will be creative champions

Toby Brown, head of PR at marketing agency Octopus Group: “Agencies produce a lot of content today, but sometimes feeding this machine can come at the expense of creativity. Generative AI can help agencies produce more content faster, but crucially also of a higher standard if used well. This means careful crafting by experienced writers and creatives who build the skills to get the very best from the new tools at their fingertips.

“For me this isn't about cranking out more content, far from it. I believe generative AI can allow and support everyone in agencies to spend more time thinking creatively. The best agencies sell creativity first, content second, and I believe tools like ChatGPT can help agencies place an even greater focus on their greatest USP - coming up with great ideas.”

Simon Billington, executive creative director at marketing agency, TEAM LEWIS: “AI can change the way agencies work, at every level. But, have no fear. Long-term it creates a new platform for us to build on.

“AI raises the ‘process’ baseline. Ruling out obvious ideas, connecting the dots quicker. Causing chaos and dreaming up provocative, not predictable, ideas is a creative’s heartland. AI doesn’t stop that. It supports it.

“Using tools for inspiration, research and analysis like they currently use desk research will free up original thinkers to critically review and fact check answers. It’s part of the new journey. Not the destination.

“Those in any briefing process must ask the right questions to uncover the truffles of opportunity in the NDA.

“In 20-plus years in this industry, one thing has stood out. Change. Change allows us to do incredible work with incredible people. Agencies must keep delivering the thing they’re employed to do. Making the creative difference to clients.”

You may need more staff

David Bramley, director at agency Platform Communications: “The PR business is always changing. It’s been more than 20 years since I sat with colleagues around the boardroom table stuffing press releases into envelopes. Yes, technology has made me more productive and my job way more interesting.

“So, how will generative AI change the PR space? I think it’s critical to think how will it change the role of clients and information disseminators before thinking about how it’s going to change PR. We work with a lot of clients across media and technology; how those industries are already using machine learning and data provides clues to how communications is going change for all businesses, whatever the sector. Communications will be more personal and targeted. It will be algorithmic and more sophisticated. The role of the writer will clearly change, but the core skill of great written work will remain.

“My belief is that Generative AI is going to change PR faster and more widely than any technology that’s appeared during my 30-year PR career - and that’s incredibly exciting and scary. To succeed, it’s critical to think very carefully about how AI is going to change the role and needs of your clients and your PR targets and make sure you can use AI to keep giving them what they need. It’s probably impossible to say if the total number of people working in PR in five years will be greater, but embrace AI and you can control if more people will be working at your agency.”

The base level of copywriting and design will go up

Guy Clapperton, founder and lead trainer of media training agency Clapperton: “I did an online media training session in the last couple of weeks in which someone commented that their headphones made them look like Mickey Mouse. Late on in the session I made some stupid comment about a yurt - so someone decided to ask ChatGPT whether Mickey Mouse could build a yurt. It came out with several paragraphs about the resources he’d need, relative strength, whether a mouse would be strong enough to lift the materials - all when the correct answer was ‘shut up you idiot’.

“So that’s where we are with AI for the moment. It can do all the research, but hasn’t yet got the discernment to identify a daft time-wasting question when it sees one. When it gets there, and it probably will, the base level of copywriting and design will most likely go up a bit as it’s automated and the creative industries will be challenged to ensure they’re ahead of it. In the same way that audiences’ hearts start to sink when they see another version of the same old PowerPoint template from a bad presenter, they’ll come to recognise formulaic AI-generated text and the individual stuff will stand out.”

Work will be simplified

Mary Poliakova, PR consultant and co-founder of PR agency Drofa Comms: "What changes will occur with PR jobs with the introduction of generative AI? Honestly, I would not expect any dramatic changes in the upcoming years. AI simplifies the work of PR managers, copywriters, and authors whilst, for sure, not replacing them. A competent specialist with human consciousness still remains the primary creator. However, I would also anticipate a growing demand for communication specialists who possess the knowledge and proper skills to effectively utilise AI in the realm of public relations. And that would be the right trend.

“Generative AI creates images and texts according to the tasks set directly by the PR manager. We are already using various AI instruments in our work, and we cannot claim AI is perfect yet. It is an excellent tool for creating a wider range of texts and headlines - whilst still requiring proper analysis and editing from a PR content specialist. Generative AI can add new meanings to PR content - but once again, the original idea comes from PR professionals - who are and will be in demand, despite the AI craze.”

There will be more demand for talented writers

Zach Cutler, co-founder and CEO of PR software firm Propel: “Generative AI is already changing PR with platforms to draft pitches, press releases, and more. However, this doesn’t translate into fewer writers. The writers of today will instead transfer their skills to prompt writing to match the need to understand how to craft an effective prompt and edit the results. AI outputs are only as good as the inputs, so talented writers with deep industry knowledge will be needed more than ever. Agency models will likely be impacted because they, along with the rest of the knowledge economy, will still be competing for the best writers, and that talent will still need to be skilled and knowledgeable in the fields they’re working in. This will likely increase demand for superstar writers at a time when all other knowledge industries are searching for them as well.”

Agencies must train their people

Caitlin Singh, communications executive at B2B agency Definition Agency: “Generative AI has the potential to reform the way PR operates. It can automate the creation of press releases, social media posts, and website content. It is no surprise that there are question marks over the roles of writers in PR.

“Generative AI can significantly change PR agency day to day by enhancing their ability to create high-quality content at scale. Agencies can leverage the power of AI to produce content that is personalised and optimised for different channels, hopefully leading to increased efficiency across the board.

“However, the integration of AI in PR will require PR professionals to develop entirely new skills or at the very least improve on existing ones. Ultimately, generative AI has the potential to create more opportunities for PR agencies and professionals, but only for those who are willing to adapt and embrace the technology.”

Chat GPT savants will be in demand

Adnan Bashir, senior manager, global corporate communications at Hansen Technologies: "In the midst of all the runaway ChatGPT chatter amongst the communications community, one question I've pondered for a while: are people truly afraid of ChatGPT taking away their jobs? Or are they actually afraid of being outdone by more adept professionals who can become ChatGPT savants, and use it more efficiently to drive productivity?

“Perhaps it's time we all take a really long look in the mirror and decide what this is really about. I would say that rather than us debating the future function of generative AI and the possible surfacing of ‘new jobs’, committee-style, the more productive approach is to use this new tool - when and where applicable, and with caution - to augment one’s own underlying strengths. Remember that in the end, there really is no substitute for real-world, real-time context, subtext, nuance, empathy, creativity and cultural cognizance."

Small businesses will do their own PR

Cahill Camden, CEO of consultancy Digital Vision Media Group:  "Automation will help small businesses taking PR into their own hands in 2023. As the democratisation of content continues, we will see more and more independent media sources emerge. Podcasts. Blogs. Video. With a growing number of opportunities available, small businesses will turn to software to help them navigate the PR landscape. Those who tap in, will be able to drive their businesses further, faster, despite market conditions".

Agencies have nothing to fear about generative AI, quite the reverse, they should be excited. Big changes are coming, but as long as agencies embrace the new tech and become experts in it, they could be more in demand than ever. Here you can read more PRinsight features on the impacts of AI on PR.

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