MONDAY 3 APR 2023 11:38 AM


Stephen Waddington, founder of Wadds Inc., explores what the rapid development AI tools means for the PR sector.

We’re only just beginning to understand the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the public relations practice. The technology has been developed in the past decade largely unnoticed by the profession aside from exceptional reputational issues caused by the overreach of algorithms.

A past analysis of the tool market by the CIPR AI Panel found almost 6,000 tools but very few AI applications being sold or used in the public relations market. That changed in November last year with the release of ChatGPT by OpenAI. It's given rise to a series of applications that are able to mimic human behaviour and tackle many of the skills of the public relations practitioner.

The adoption of ChatGPT has been extremely quick. It had 100 million users by January – just three months after its inception. The appeal is its simplicity and ease of use. Anyone with a web browser can ask ChatGPT to write text, role play or perform creative tasks. It's also used as the basis of other applications ranging from a new assistant for Microsoft Office applications to tools to help make sense of large chunks of text.

ChatGPT was initially based on the GPT-3 dataset, which included 17GB of books, websites, and Wikipedia. It was replaced by GPT-4 based on a larger 45GB dataset in March, rapidly accelerating the development of more sophisticated tools. It's also able to handle both images and text. GPT-5 is already being trained and will be released in the middle of next year.

Applications of AI in public relations

There's already a growing range of applications of AI in public relations based on GPT-4:

1. Text and image generation: tools can help generate content by predicting the next word or phrase from the GPT-4 database in response to a prompt. These tools also work for images. It’s useful for idea generation and creating first drafts of anything text based but it'll make mistakes and worse, hallucinate.

2. Editing and summarisation: this class of tools is extremely useful for making sense of a large document and has already been demonstrated to create summaries, press releases and presentations based on a report or transcript. A chatbot can also be used as an interface to ask questions of the dataset. 

3. Evaluation and modelling: the measurement and evaluation community is experimenting with using ChatGPT to evaluate media content. It's also being used for role play and will readily suggest questions that stakeholders might ask about a situation or scenario.

4. Planning and decision making: there are a range of tools that act on dataset provided by the user and patterns and trends. This can help with planning; decision making and ultimately may have the potential to build new knowledge.

Is AI a good thing for the sector?  

There are polarised views of the impact of AI on public relations. The optimistic perspective views it as an assistant that'll help us work smarter. This is almost certainly the rationale behind Microsoft Office calling its new AI assistant Copilot. Meanwhile, the case against using AI in practice is growing and ranges from issues related to copyright and privacy to the ease with which tools make stuff up and generate misinformation.

'The Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Public Relations' published by the CIPR AI Panel in 2020 foresaw many of these issues. The key areas and issues highlighted in that report by Professor Emeritus Anne Gregory and Jean Valin remain entirely valid – the use and application of AI, social change; the impact on the nature of work; privacy control and transparency issues.

The arrival of a new generation of generative AI and machine learning technologies available at scale and inexpensively only brings these into sharper focus for the practitioner of today.

"New AI tools have rapidly altered the business landscape in a very short time," says Steve Shepperson-Smith, CIPR president. "The opportunities and challenges this presents should not come as a surprise, with the CIPR having invested in world-leading research and pioneering thinking for the industry for a number of years. There is no longer a choice; the PR industry must evolve and continue to evolve with the technology to both better understand it and make use of it." 

A related piece of work in 2018 by Jean Valin published by the CIPR AI Panel explored the impact of AI on jobs in public relations. The report found that 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills (out of 52 skills) could be complemented or replaced by AI, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% by 2023.

Valin concluded that fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour, and relationship building can’t be automated. The research is set to be revisited later this year.

An important role for public relations practitioners in the future will be to not only understand how to use AI in their own work – but to provide organisations everywhere with counsel on how to interpret the reputational implications of AI usage that may impact any or all stakeholder groups.

Navigating this new environment will involve an expansion of the public relations practitioner’s current skill and knowledge set. In some ways, there has never been a greater need for public relations practitioners who can provide the insight and guidance necessary to make this a reality.