FOBO and the PR Industry: Facing AI with Optimism and Ethics

Guest Post by Nicolette Addesa on June 14, 2024

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Nicolette Addesa stands in front of a room wearing a white suit as she gives her presentation.

In an era where the suggestion to smear glue on pizza can be taken seriously, and journalists find themselves engaging in emotionally charged banter with AI bots, the rapid pace of technological innovation can be as daunting as it is bewildering. Amidst this backdrop, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the three-day CPRS National Conference, a gathering dedicated to demystifying the impact of artificial intelligence on the public relations industry. The conference was a vibrant hub for rekindling old connections and sparking new ones, all while navigating the trepidation that comes with being on the cusp of the AI revolution—a sentiment aptly encapsulated by the term “FOBO,” or the Fear of Becoming Obsolete.

Throughout the conference, we collectively navigated the complex terrain where artificial intelligence converges with public relations. The use of AI is revolutionizing organizational dynamics and stakeholder interactions, while also raising important ethical questions. Additionally, AI presents challenges such as the spread of disinformation and deepfakes, which can undermine trust and have negative impacts on reputation.

Emerging from the conference, I was imbued with a sense of optimism and a renewed excitement for the potential that AI holds for our field. In the following sections, I will share three key insights that I believe will be instrumental for my team as we step confidently into the future of public relations.

Resistance is futile

The imperative to embrace artificial intelligence within our profession cannot be overstated. Historically, the field of public relations has been reticent in adopting new technologies, as evidenced by the gradual acceptance of the internet, the slow integration of SEO, and the cautious approach to social media. We cannot afford to let this pattern persist with AI—a transformative force that is already being used by both journalists and PR professionals.

A recent State of the Media survey reveals that while one in four journalists view AI as a significant challenge, nearly half are already harnessing its capabilities for tasks ranging from generating story ideas to aiding in research. During the conference, Jean Valin indicated that AI assists in approximately 40% of public relations activities.

As we step into an era where the adage “there is an AI for that” becomes increasingly relevant, it is incumbent upon us to invest time in learning about the tools available to us and to deliberate on how we can use them ethically. It is our responsibility to not only keep pace with AI but to leverage it in ways that enhance our profession and the value we provide.

The Irreplaceable Human Touch in Public Relations

Benjamin Prud’homme and Jerome Solis of the Montreal-based artificial intelligence research institute, MILA, explained that the concept of Super Artificial Intelligence—systems with self-awareness and cognitive capabilities surpassing those of humans—remains a distant reality. Despite significant advancements in the realm of generative AI, human involvement remains integral to the process.

Public relations is more than a set of tasks – that is why AI won’t replace us. In my workshop, I discussed how our capacity for empathy, our skill in fostering trust, our flair for humour, and our proficiency in nurturing relationships are uniquely human attributes that AI, in its current state, cannot replicate.

During his keynote address, Robert Doane highlighted the timeless art of storytelling as a fundamental means by which humans have connected and forged bonds throughout history. Storytelling, a foundational aspect of our profession, “is the humanness that we carry.” It epitomizes the quintessential human spirit that we embody.

Navigating the Path of Ethical Progression

The integration of generative AI is projected to make a substantial economic impact, potentially contributing an additional $187 billion to Canada’s economy and enhancing labour productivity by 8%. This could translate to an average time saving of 30 minutes per workday for Canadians by the year 2030.

Concurrently, the environmental footprint of AI technologies like ChatGPT cannot be overlooked. A single interaction consisting of 20 to 50 exchanges with ChatGPT may consume the equivalent amount of water as a 500ml bottle, varying with the time and location of its deployment. Furthermore, the energy required to train GPT-3 incurs a significant off-site water footprint, estimated at 2.8 million litres.

The age-old debate of weighing environmental sustainability against economic benefits continues in the context of AI. As we navigate the adoption of AI technologies, here are some key considerations to guide your approach:

  • Mastering AI tools can provide a strategic edge in your operations.
  • Embrace automation for routine tasks but remain vigilant in verifying the accuracy of the information.
  • Be transparent about AI-assisted content creation, following the lead of academics like Dr. Alex Sevigny who are now acknowledging AI contributions in using APA format.
  • Ethical considerations are paramount – it is essential to have a well-considered ethical framework in place prior to, during, and post-engagement with AI, one that evolves in tandem with technological advancements.

With the advent of automation enhancing efficiency in various facets of a communicator’s daily tasks, there is a shift towards dedicating greater time to the strategic and high-value elements of our roles. This shift allows communicators to focus more on defining clear objectives, highlighting the value of our contributions, and establishing a direct link between our efforts and positive business results. As routine tasks become automated, communicators are afforded the opportunity to return to the core principles of our profession—cultivating meaningful relationships, offering insightful internal guidance, and ensuring that communications are ingrained with a sense of humanity and sustained empathy.

About the writer

Nicolette Addesa Leads Public Relations at EY Canada. Her workshop during the CPRS 2024 National Conference encouraged attended to harness the AI tools at our disposal while reflecting and being purposeful in preserving human authenticity in PR.

N.B. This article was written with the help of AI. 

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