Op-Ed: AI and public relations, what now?
We are all reluctant to change. It simply reflects our human nature. Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new, recently, interest as well as skepticism have escalated at all levels. The term was defined and coined in 1956 by computer science experts, and companies like Google have been relying on AI for decades.
Across industries and professions, debates are in order considering its effectiveness, while opposing views spread fear of catastrophic magnitude. Arguments in favor, as well as challenges, have been analyzed by public relations and research experts from all over the world in relation to this complex and polarizing subject.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, jobs with a high level of exposure to AI tend to be in higher-paying fields where a college education and analytical skills can imply an advantage. Critical thinking and analytical skills are quintessential for public relations professionals, precisely those skills can make us “survive” the AI hype.
A similar argument was stated back in 2018 by the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report stating the Fourth Industrial Revolution would change business models across industries, eradicating soft skills displaced by AI, giving greater importance to creativity, problem solving and strategic analysis. Time has proven their theoretical framework.
AI implications can be quite positive and challenging at the same time for public relations practitioners. Here are some critical points to consider:
- AI can be a great information gathering tool, saving time to collect much-needed facts to define a problem or opportunity before working on a strategic plan, or in preparing or responding to a crisis. On the other hand, practitioners must verify the source and the accuracy of the information, something inherent to our role and our responsibility. It should be clear that there is a significant difference between the information gathering process and research per se, which must comply with scientific process to be defined as a primary formal method useful to make accurate projections.
- It can serve as content generator, to write letters and press releases, but key words must be defined and provided to be able to get a draft that will always require additional work and edits. Consider it lacks human touch, emotional intelligence, creativity, business acumen and common sense. For that reason, you should use it as a starting point, but never rely solely on a draft created by AI-powered tools. Responsibly, we should fight misinformation and bias.
- Ethics is a huge question. First, full disclosure is necessary whenever we use AI tools. Being transparent, explaining the way we used this tool is the right thing to do. We should also be truthful by informing and securing that sources were verified and content edited, as is expected of us from stakeholders. We are and will always be ethical vigilantes in all that we do, although for now there is not a book on ethical guidelines regarding this topic. Responding to this concern, the European Commission proposed the first European Union regulatory framework for AI in April 2021, classifying the use of automated systems according to the risk they pose to users. Also, UNESCO has led the international effort to ensure that science and technology develop with strong ethical guardrails for decades.
- Practitioners need to stay updated on how to integrate automation into our roles, just as we have done with the internet and social media since their inception. Academia must review their curriculum as well, or university students will lack knowledge and experience on this topic. The role of educators is pivotal, as evidenced by Ethan Mollick, Associate Professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, who is doing an outstanding job teaching innovation and entrepreneurship, a great role model for others to follow.
AI development and adoption is imminent. While it is here to stay, senior level judgment, ethical reasoning and strategic counsel are irreplaceable in the public relations field as documented by a Chartered Institute of Public Relations study, Humans Needed More Than Ever (2023).
There is nothing to fear. Automation will not replace our jobs. The digital era demands us to learn and integrate the use of new technologies into our practice. We have survived, adapted and mastered these recent technologies.
The question is, will you accept the challenge or become obsolete?