Not yet: PR professionals might be thinking about AI’s impact, but most agree it’s not ready to help them

If there’s a list of professions being asked, “Will ChatGPT render what you do obsolete?,” public relations makes it.

If you ask the professionals themselves … it’s a swift and succinct, “No.”

In theory, news releases, pitches and social media posts could already be generated through artificial intelligence-driven language processing platforms such as ChatGPT. PR experts are exploring how else these next-gen cybertools could be implemented into their work.

Not all of them have come away inspired.

Sharon Golubchik. (Antenna Group)

Regardless, there’s no denying the potential that’s there, said Sharon Golubchik, senior vice president of health care at Antenna Group.

“I think all of us need to stay up to speed with innovation,” she said. “We should all be asking, ‘What does this do to elevate the work we do for clients?’”

PR firms’ clients aren’t against it. Golubchik said she’s heard of many clients implementing the use of generative AI for their own purposes. And those organizations tend to be comfortable with it being put to use in helping promote their brand. Sometimes, PR firms are even being asked to use it.

Besides chatbots that are either free, still in testing or available on a low-cost subscription basis, AI is also being incorporated into expensive media monitoring software marketed to the PR industry. Those tools offer PR professionals the potential to fast-track research they do regularly.

Ethan Andersen. (Courtesy photo)

Ethan Andersen, partner at Princeton Strategic Communications, added that those cutting-edge generative AI technologies can also get incredibly granular about who PR professionals should pitch and how they should do it.

Still, he’s skeptical.

“The truth is, if I’ve done a good enough job of developing relationships with reporters and narrowing down pitches I send them to just ones most relevant to their audience, I don’t really need to game the system to find the perfect situation or time of day to reach out to them,” he said.

Like others in the sector, Andersen suspects there’s good reason to practice “a fair amount of caution to the use of any generative AI” in their industry.

April Mason. (File photo)

April Mason, president of Violet PR, explained that one of the issues PR professionals have encountered is that platforms such as ChatGPT only display information that leads up to 2021. In their line of work, dated information isn’t totally helpful.

“I’ve also, for example, asked ChatGPT to generate a press release about our firm winning an award,” she said. “What it gave me mentioned that I was a health care expert. And I have no idea where that came from, because I never have been. The structure might look good, but those factual errors mean I would never rely on it.”

Putting those concerns aside, Mason does think these systems have potential to speed up certain processes for PR professionals. One of the ways she’s experiencing that is asking ChatGPT to find new ways of phrasing something or generating quick bios of executives or new hires.

“But it’s not going to replace any staff, at least our staff, anytime soon,” she said. “It’s just not there yet. And I’m not sure what will happen in the future or how it will evolve. But, right now, it’s not replacing even half a person.”

Amy Stern. (File photo)

Amy Stern, senior vice president at 3E Public Relations, echoed the feelings of others in her sector: AI will continue to be used. In fact, it’ll probably be used much more in the future than now. …

It’s also not going to be the whole story.

“Relationships with editors, publicists and journalists are always going to be tantamount to being able to land placement in media for a client,” she said.

Media monitoring tools

Amy Delman is a longtime public relations expert. How long of a time? Well, she attests to being excited about switching to personal computers — and doing away with the corrector tape required to delete a typo before then.

Amy Delman. (File photo)

She’s seen many technological updates to a PR expert’s daily work since those days. The associated costs are not always so exciting.

Supporting the work of PR professionals are a competitive suite of near-mandatory media monitoring systems, such as Muck Rack and Critical Mention. These software tools help PR firms learn about media outlets, their audiences and their journalists. That includes tracking what those journalists are writing about and a whole lot of other granular details.

It’s not just nice to have: It’s a necessity for even a boutique operation such as her Amy Delman Public Relations LLC. But, it’s a big investment.

“When I went to get one of the databases the first time, I had to share it (with another PR expert) because I couldn’t afford it,” Delman said. “Now, I’ve decided to solely own one of these databases. It’s somewhat terrifying because it’s costly.”

Delman just started with her new search, sharing and analysis tools in August. She’s hoping to see results.

“It’s too soon to say (if there will be a return on investment),” she said. “But I want to level the playing field by using the same services used by big firms.

“But it’s definitely important to have something like this. As anyone will tell you, PR is 90% research.”