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AI tools in public relations: a new CIPR report

In recent weeks, we’ve been privileged to work with our client, the CIPR, on the release of their latest report which explores the application of AI tools in public relations, finding this technology is set to explode

In February 2023 the CIPR, the professional body for the public relations industry, published its latest report, Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and the impact on public relations (PR) practice. This is not the CIPR’s first engagement with this topic: in recent years it has worked hard to track the application of AI and wider technology in the communications industry, with publications including Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in PR, The Effects of AI on the Professions, and Humans Still Needed. This latest work, co-authored by Andrew Bruce Smith and Stephen Waddington with contributions from Professor Anne Gregory, Jean Valin and Scott Brinker, is particularly timely – coming at a clear tipping point. As Katie King, CEO of AI in Business notes in the report’s foreword, we’re seeing a shift from scepticism to surging interest in AI within public relations.

Media coverage of AI and its applications in recent weeks has been breathless and in some cases even apocalyptic (see for example, The New York Times: A conversation with Bing’s Chatbot left me deeply unsettled). We’ve seen an avalanche of news covering the ways in which AI will disrupt organisational sectors of all stripes (Allen & Overy introduces AI chatbot to lawyers, Financial Times, and AI can now pick out transplant organs more effectively than what human doctors can see, Sky News). And, when it comes to this technology’s application to public relations and marketing more widely, debate has been no less charged. With attitudes ranging from what amounts to ‘it’s the end of the industry as we know it’ to ‘it’ll never catch on’, it can be hard for communications professionals to take stock of what the latest developments will mean, both for individual practitioners and for the industry as a whole. In this context, this report provides vital navigation for our profession as we seek to make sure we are positioned to capitalise on the opportunities new technology presents for ourselves and our clients and mitigate the risks that are emerging – for example around ethical usage and misinformation.

The market for AI tools can seem, as Katie King puts it, like the Wild West, and as the authors make clear, the incredible speed of innovation presents a challenge in producing a report of this nature as references can date quickly. As such, the AI tools that the report covers, and the way they are applied to public relations, are examples current up to the time of publication in February 2023.

What are some of the report’s key findings?

The first section of the report examines the current tool landscape for public relations and is based on analysis of the Chiefmartec dataset built by Scott Brinker. The second identifies the explosion to come in communications, public relations, and marketing tools as a result of the GPT-3 Large Language Model and other related AI-based technologies.

The report draws a clear line between the eras pre and post 30 November 2022. The authors examined nearly 6000 tools that can be applied in public relations providing support on everything from research and planning to measurement and reporting.

In drawing their conclusions in early November 2022, the authors found that AI was a feature in only around 2% of tools – suggesting at that point there had been little progress in incorporating this technology.

Then, OpenAI’s tool ChatGPT was launched on 30 November 2022. Within a week it had gained one million users. By the end of January 2023, this had risen to 100 million users. Through January, 13 million active users a day visited ChatGPT and its owner predicts they will be able to generate revenue of $1bn by the end of 2024. So, fast forward to January 2023: the range of tools and technologies which can be used in communications had now grown rapidly, with the potential to impact every aspect of what we do.

What should we expect generative AI to do?

The report highlights diversity in opinion around what AI means for how we work. Looking, for example, to one of a PR professional’s key roles of writing, it acknowledges that sceptics argue that ChatGPT cannot replace real human beings in producing high quality content. It draws on the views of Christopher Penn, a communications and AI practitioner who says, “what these tools produce is a statistical average of what they have been trained on. They’re not going to produce anything original because they can’t by definition” (and for reference, ChatGPT is trained on data released up to 2021, so it will not currently draw on anything later than that). For those of us getting to grips with how these technologies will best benefit us and our clients, it’s useful to consider his take that as tools, they are better at refining text than creating it, and the suggestion that ‘prompt engineering’, or the skill of discerning the precise prompt that will generate the output needed, will become an increasingly important skill in the future.

Beyond writing, the report considers the range of skills deployed by public relations professionals including research, planning, analysis, forecasting, delivery and measurement, suggesting that many could be impacted by AI tools, alongside the application of AI to, for example, creating video and images. The report’s authors also highlight Google’s Simple Machine Learning Add-On for Google Sheets – with which any user can apply machine learning to data-sets collected in Google Sheets, bringing potential applications for PR professionals in, for example, the analysis of headlines or social content. As the report notes – the number of tools is already in the hundreds or thousands, with more emerging all the time.

AI and ethics

And, as they analyse what communications professionals can do with AI, they ask the question of what we should do. Referencing the CIPR’s 2020 publication, Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Public Relations, the report highlights that the ethical considerations that were emerging years ago are in no way less relevant now and still warrant serious thought. The questions the industry will have to grapple with range from those specific to our day-to-day work. For example, the extent to which PR practitioners will declare the use of AI in a piece of written communication to much broader considerations around the role we will play in advising on the reputational risks that will emerge from the use of AI in any aspects of an organisation’s activities, as well as considerations around AI’s ability to supercharge the production of dis and mis -information.

What’s next

Applications are evolving fast and it’s clear that the public relations industry has thinking to do about the right ways to incorporate these tools into our work, for the benefit of everyone involved. As the report’s authors conclude “There’ll always be a place for good governance, leadership and management of AI resources in public relations…”

Visit the CIPR website to read the full report.

Image credit Placidplace on Pixabay

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