It looks like PR has its head in the sand about AI

Ostrich surprised / image generated by Blue Willow AI.

[This topic is proving to be one attracting great interest with other people publishing opinion and insight on AI and PR. I’ll update this content periodically: see ‘Updated’ links at the end of this article.]

While attention on and interest in artificial intelligence as a tool to aid and amplify people’s creativity continues in a non-stop fashion with ideas, opinions, announcements and more appearing in unequal measure on a daily basis, AI is not catching on everywhere.

During much of 2022, all the attention was on creating AI-generated images with Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and DALLE-2 as the primary trio of tools that anyone could use to translate imaginations into reality, even winning an art contest.

So far in this year 2023, all the talk has been about chatbots and specifically ChatGPT that have profoundly captured imaginations in the mainstream with the simple formula of writing a question or instruction for the AI to create a text result from the prompt.

Excitement and hype has been endless. Good and bad news surface everywhere. If I were to look at this on a hype cycle graph, I’d place this AI right at the top of the peak of inflated expectations, perhaps even slightly onto the edge of the slippery slope that leads down to the trough of disillusionment.

Hypecycle for AI generative and chatbots, March 2023

There’s no doubt that developments in AI are moving at quite a pace. While hype is at its peak, the time is now for learning more about AI, experimenting with it yourself, and discovering how it can be of distinct value to you in your work (and in your leisure). With learning and experimenting come the confidence to discard the hype as you glean insights that help you focus on what matters and what actually is important.

Except in a large part of the PR profession, it seems. Ironic, given PR’s key role in creating excitement (and hype).

According to the results of a PRCA and ICCO survey conducted in February and published this week, 25 percent of those surveyed stated categorically that they would never use AI tools such as ChatGPT in their work in public relations.

This is the collective view of some of the CEOs, directors, and department heads who are members of the two professional bodies behind the survey, or work for agencies that are. The PRCA alone represents 35,000 PR professionals in 82 countries worldwide.

PRCA and ICCO PR survey on AI software.

I’ve not seen more information than that published by the PRCA in its press release. It would be good to know more about the reasons behind why 25 percent of survey respondents say they’d never use AI, assuming they were asked for reasons. Such naysayers will likely be quite surprised when they learn how much they already use AI without being aware of it.

There is some good news, though. As the numbers in the image above show, 30 percent of survey respondents said they’ve never used ChatGPT or other AI tools before but plan to do so soon. 15 percent said they are fairly frequent or very frequent users already. 29 percent said they rarely use such tools.

Could it be ignorance about AI and the pros and cons that prompted 25 percent to respond the way they did? Perhaps respondents have had bad experiences that inform their present views? That’s a possibilty but I doubt it would be so for all 25 percent. Are they put off by all the hype, never mind the excitement? Possibly. But I believe it’s most likely lack of knowledge.

So there are some hills to climb here in the PR profession where over half the survey respondents (54 percent) have rarely or never used AI and don’t intend to. I wonder how they respond to clients who ask them for advice and counsel on this topic with questions such as:

  • Who’s doing what with AI like ChatGPT in my industry?
  • What are you doing in your agency and with your other clients?
  • Which chatbot should I use? ChatGPT? Bing? What about Bard?
  • Aren’t chatbots old news? We’ve had Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant for years!
  • What will the AI landscape in my industry look like in 2025?


Don’t sleepwalk on AI

There is plenty of information out there if you look that will help you see some worthwhile benefits from using a tool like ChatGPT in your work that will benefit you and your clients or your employer. Here’s a simple list of just five reasons why you should seriously consider using AI in your PR work:

  1. Improved Efficiency: Public relations professionals can use ChatGPT to automate tasks such as drafting press releases, responding to media inquiries, and managing social media communications. This will help them to be more efficient and save time.
  2. Increased Engagement: ChatGPT can be used to interact with clients, media, and other stakeholders in a more personalized and engaging way. This can help to build stronger relationships and increase brand loyalty.
  3. Enhanced Reputation Management: ChatGPT can be used to monitor online conversations and identify potential issues before they escalate. This will help public relations professionals to address concerns in a timely and effective manner, thereby protecting the reputation of their organization or clients.
  4. Better Crisis Communications: ChatGPT can be used to develop crisis communication plans and respond to crises in real-time. This will help public relations professionals to mitigate the impact of negative events on their organization’s reputation.
  5. Improved Data Analytics: ChatGPT can be used to gather data and analytics on media coverage, social media engagement, and other key metrics. This will help public relations professionals to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and adjust their strategies accordingly.

This list was created by ChatGPT from a prompt I gave it. I edited it very lightly, mostly replacing ‘customer’ with ‘client’ that better reflects naming conventions in the industry. It can give you some ideas worth looking into where you can add some flesh to these skeletons, as it were.

Also, check out a newly-published report from the CIPR titled “Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and the impact on public relations practice” that the CIPR describes as “the most comprehensive review to date of AI use within the profession.”

Signficantly, the CIPR notes:

The public relations industry is “sleepwalking into a technological future” unless it gets a better understanding of the potential applications and limitations of artificial intelligence (AI) and wider technology.


In addition, as awareness of AI tools and what you can use them for increases – alongside the hype and some unrealistic expectations – some people are sharing the learnings from and outcomes of their experiments, helping others make their own starts, such as:

Don’t ignore these still-emerging technologies that will have a profound impact on our lives let alone our work.

Finally, the image at the top of this page that I’ve titled ‘Ostrich Surprised’ was created by a new AI image generator called Blue Willow AI from a simple prompt I gave it. It’s free to use and very good. Give it a try!

Related reading:

[Updated 5 March 2023:] My friend and podcasting partner Shel Holtz posted a commentary on LinkedIn just after I published this article. Shel noted as he began his narrative: “The notion that PR practitioners would never use an AI tool like ChatGPT is profoundly disturbing but also unsurprising for an industry that has always been at the tail end of new technology adoption.”

Shel’s post has attracted quite a few comments from other communicators on LinkedIn. There are some good perspectives shared there, worth reading and responding to if you have opinions.

A comment by Mark Rose struck me as reinforcing the views expressed by 25% of respondents to the PRCA/ICCO survey who said they’d never use AI in PR. Mark started his comment by saying: “AI brings PR down into the muck hole of robo marketers. It increases spam to journalists and makes it harder for legitimate, well-thought-out pitches to penetrate.”

I couldn’t disagree more with such a singular assessment. As noted elsewhere it’s about how you use a tool rather than the tool itself.

I decided to ask ChatGPT for a response.

Me: “Does AI brings PR down into the muck hole of robo marketers?” ChatGPT’s response:

No, AI does not necessarily bring public relations (PR) down into the “muck hole” of robo-marketers. In fact, AI can be a valuable tool for PR professionals to help them analyze data, identify trends, and make better decisions. However, it’s important to understand that AI is a tool, and it is only as good as the data and algorithms that power it.

AI can be used to automate some aspects of PR, such as media monitoring and sentiment analysis, which can save time and improve efficiency. However, PR is ultimately about building relationships and creating meaningful connections with stakeholders, which cannot be fully automated.

While AI can assist PR professionals, it should not be seen as a replacement for human creativity, empathy, and critical thinking. The best PR strategies are those that strike a balance between data-driven insights and human intuition and understanding. Ultimately, the success of a PR campaign depends on how well it resonates with its target audience and how effectively it builds trust and credibility, which cannot be achieved through robo-marketing tactics alone.

ChatGPT, 5 March 2023

Of course, a critic might say, well, without citing the sources for its opinion, the AI’s statement cannot be trusted. Or, the AI’s demonstrating bias. I’d say it’s as good as anyone else’s opinion. And it actually doesn’t demonstrate bias, which is quite clear if you read the response. In my view, it’s a balanced response, one that I haven’t edited at all as I’m quite happy to use it as is.

Yesterday, Shel published an essay-length post on his blog that adds substantially to this topic and discussion. It’s a good read.

Looking beyond PR itself for a moment, other communication disciplines also have interest in AI. Let’s add crisis communication to the list, with a new ebook published by Philippe Borremans titled “Mastering Crisis Communication with ChatGPT.” It’s on my to-read list.

I’ll also inlcude a dystopian perspective of ChatGPT and similar AI tools published by Alexander Hanff in The Register on 2 March. What happens if a ChatGPT-created description about you and your life says that you’re dead, and has convincing-looking links to mainstream media content including an obituary. Except such content doesn’t actually exist. Whatever you think of AI and chatbots, this is a must read.

I’ll repeat something I said in an article I published in June 2022: Keep an open mind about AI.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.