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The impact of AI on media relations

In a world where we are inundated with digital tools promising to make life simpler, it’s easy to understand the appeal of using AI to cross off the more repetitive tasks in a PR professional’s day.

Utilising a tool that can write introductions or pitch emails in a sector where time is precious seems like a no-brainer. Solid media relations are a vital element for a successful campaign, but does AI have the potential to widen or minimise the intersection between PR and journalists? We asked nine PR professionals and four journalists to find out if AI tools have a place in a PR’s arsenal.

Put down the AI toys and start using the PR tools

Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO at PRophet: “I knew AI would be critical to communicators back in 2020 when we first built PRophet. The premise then and still is today, how do we use AI to engage with the right journalists in less time to gain more placements. PR people have to stop associating AI with just generative AI. Predictive and generative AI together is and will have the greatest impact on our profession. Which reporter or influencer will be most interested in my story idea? Which trends should I lean into so I can be part of the cultural conversation. What’s the next threat to thwart and from where? And how do I use generative AI to tailor my content to these stakeholders to drive engagement? We should only use enterprise grade tools that are fit-for purpose for comms professionals that are used strategically, deliberately and surgically. And not use toys like ChatGPT, GPT 4.0 or generic apps like Microsoft Co-Pilot.

Champion face-to-face over AI

Rich Leigh, founder at Radioactive: “AI brings many great things to PR, but I'd sooner jack PR in than use it to build relationships with journalists. In fact, we're going the other way at Radioactive. Our teams spent more time meeting journalists face-to-face, like in the good old days, than we have in years. I've never had an in-person journalist meeting that didn't result in us being helpful to each other in some way. I suspect that AI tools will struggle to compete with creativity, judgement and relationships [forged from in-person meetings] for a long time yet.”

There’s a time and place for automation

Sophie Conway, account director at Inkling Culture: “There’s a place for AI tools in a PR’s belt. It’s a great starting point to efficiently research journalists and build contact lists. But when it comes to forging new media connections with the aim of landing quality coverage for clients, I believe we need human interaction and experience to tailor story pitches that will resonate with journalists. Yes, not all the traditional methods still work as well in 2024 – media meets can be much harder to land with journalists having less time available – but demonstrating to contacts that you understand what they write about and pitching accordingly, plus that you’re reliable and collaborative, still goes a long way in taking a media connection and turning it into a meaningful media relationship.”

Leads should be earned, not generated

Tom Seidel, senior account executive at Earnies: “When it comes to forging new media connections, there’s no way around it: you need a good chat, not chat GPT. Those who use generative AI regularly are already accustomed to its “brain”. The copywriting is unoriginal at best, or worst still, completely unintelligible. To think those who write stories for a living can’t distinguish between AI and genuine outreach would be a rather foolish mistake. And most importantly, AI could never beat the media meet, where PRs and journalists alike not only get a chance to chat. As with any good PR opportunity, new leads need to be earned, not generated."

Journalists prefer the ‘good old-fashioned’ approach

Amanda Francis, account director at Berkeley Communications: “AI advancements are exciting for many industries, but I’m not convinced there’s a significant place for them in PR and, in particular, building journalist relationships. There’s a lot to be said for the traditional approach; good old-fashioned emailing, DM’ing and picking up the phone are still absolute key methods of selling in/building journalist rapport and are the methods most journalists still very much favour. PR is built on relationships and there are certain elements that just can't be replicated by AI – including content writing and media relations which are the very bread and butter of PR.”

AI won’t make you more personable at lunch

Howard Jones, head of communications at Vorboss: “The nature of automation and AI feels wholly at odds with what any relationship should be. Using technology to simplify the process of finding the right people makes sense. And a form of automation to help you keep in touch – like a simple reminder. But relationships are – or at least should be – based on personalities and some sense of value exchange. AI won’t give you those things. AI won’t help you get a feel for what a particular journalist needs, and it won’t make you good company at a lunch.”

Use AI sparingly

Guy Clapperton, founder and lead trainer, Clapperton Media Training: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There’s nothing wrong with using a bit of AI to help your targeting, but at this stage, it can get a bit generic; you can find your approach will be the same as that of your competitor. [In my training] I try to impress upon them that people are the biggest asset in the industry; their first approach to a journalist is their opportunity to show they’re worth listening to. Why would someone outsource that to a piece of automation?”

PR’s can cut through fake news

Sophie Wallace, account manager at tigerbond and former STV journalist: “If there is one thing that journalists value, it’s trust. It’s easier than ever to spot when an email or a pitch has been crafted completely by artificial intelligence. News desks would be forgiven for turning a cold shoulder to something which doesn’t sound like it has come from a real person. And with even more AI-generated stories beginning to come from newsrooms, reliable sources like PRs are needed more now than ever before. Crafting a compelling pitch and fostering real connections is something that requires human understanding. At the end of the day, trust is at the absolute cornerstone of the relationship between journalists and PRs – without it, then those partnerships simply would not exist.”

AI can be helpful when applied correctly

Peter Heneghan, co-founder at The Future Communicator: “Remember, ‘people buy from people,’ and journalists are no exception. That said, AI can add significant value, primarily supporting the research and preparation phases, rather than replace personal interaction. AI can assist in keeping you informed on key journalist activities, tracking published articles, social media engagement, and keeping you updated on their latest work. It can identify trends in journalists' focus areas, build comprehensive profiles, and gauge the tone of journalists on certain issues through sentiment analysis. One of my favourite uses of AI is developing the right pitch, creating brevity and capturing attention. When you've built a clear picture of a journalist and their publication, you can use AI to rate the likelihood of your pitch having success and adapt it accordingly.”

Don't contact me with Chat GPT

Lee Marlow, senior journalism lecturer at De Montfort University and features writer: “If I had £1 for every email I unceremoniously binned from a hapless PR – who didn’t know who I was, what I did, who I wrote for, but sent me terrible email pitches anyway – I wouldn’t have to work today. I’d be fishing in the Bahamas, drinking Red Stripe and living off the interest. In today’s climate, PRs need to be more savvy than ever – not less. Do your homework. Ask yourself, in all honesty, do I know this journalist, what he or she is about, what they specialise in? Are they likely, really, to want to write about my new tea-towel range? And if the answer to any of those questions is no, then save yourself the time and the trouble: Don’t send it. Especially don’t send it if you’re going to make some feeble joke about ‘hump day’ or if I might be ‘looking forward to the football.’ And especially don’t send it if you’ve got Chat GPT to write it."

Keep the 'R' in PR going

Daniel Cave, freelance journalist and commercial content writer: “The best relationships I have with PRs are personal and understanding. I understand PRs need to send a certain amount of press releases in the hope of less interesting news catching a journalist’s eye – a process that could be made efficient with AI involved – but the PRs that have done well over the years, in keeping me interested, work to build the personal relationship too. These PRs get their clients in front of me most often, get me to take stories I might not have considered if the relationship wasn’t there, and are willing to work to re-angle news to meet my needs. I appreciate PRs are under intense pressure and AI can help – and probably shouldn’t be dismissed as a useful tool – but there’s a reason the R in PR stands for relations.”

You can use AI but don't rush me

One freelance journalist said: “PRs can get away with emails sent to journalists that are generated by AI. However, there would still need to be a person checking the tone, spelling and grammar prior to hitting the send button as AI is as susceptible to errors as people. Cold calling or calling too often is going to push a journalist away but if you are in conversation via email already, then there is nothing wrong with offering to meet up for a coffee or simply a call to talk about what they are looking for. Making us feel rushed is never a good approach but if you have contact with us, we are happy to make life easier on both ends by having a chat.”

AI can't replace a phone call

One reporter said: "I think AI can be incredibly helpful in many ways for both ends of the spectrum. But I do think everyone needs to be careful as it certainly comes across less personal. Personal relationships are arguably the most important thing in this industry, so I'd say building relationships with personal messages/emails, speaking on the phone and meeting in-person is essential and something that AI cannot replace."

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