Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The future of PR is AI + human expertise

by Stephen Marcinuk, Co-founder and Head of Operations at Intelligent Relations

PR professionals are no strangers to change. Over the last two decades, our industry has had to continuously adapt to new technologies and shifts in media consumption habits, all while staying true to the core principles of effective storytelling and relationship-building. Yet the advent of generative AI appears to represent a new frontier, one that holds the promise of transforming our entire approach to PR.  

But does that transformation include replacing or eliminating human staff? If you’ve worked in PR in any capacity over the last year, odds are you’ve heard all this before: “AI is coming for our jobs.” “AI will make writers and comms staff redundant.” Yet speaking as someone who has co-founded and built an AI-focused PR agency, I really feel a lot of these fears are misplaced. Yes, AI is changing our entire approach to PR and, at first glance, appears poised to generate the same sort of mass layoffs that have hit other sectors.

​​But given that 95 percent of AI-focused PR companies have stated they won’t be replacing any staff with GenAI, it’s clear that there’s something else going on here.

Why AI hasn’t led to layoffs

One easy explanation for why generative AI hasn’t triggered mass layoffs in PR is that not enough PR companies have embraced it yet. There is some truth to this, but also quite a few myths. Firstly, the PR industry has absolutely been hesitant to embrace AI. Many PR professionals believe that AI can’t do PR, or even assist, due to the sensitive, human-to-human nature of the work. PR has always been about building relationships with clients, journalists, and editors. AI can’t possibly master the soft skills necessary to foster real human connections.

The thing is, though, AI can help PR professionals become more effective at their jobs. It can assist in drafting content, pinpointing the appropriate journalists to pitch, and monitoring coverage across a wider range of journalists than humans could possibly keep track of. All of this is extremely useful in enhancing workflow efficiencies, especially at a time when the media landscape is fragmenting, with more journalists and content creators than ever before. Effectively keeping track of all this information is simply not possible without the right technology.

As for any fears that adopting AI will lead to mass layoffs, the smart PR companies will aim to avoid that. To put things bluntly, it is short-sighted to downsize your team simply because you can now do the same amount of work with fewer people. Rather, you should be thinking about how much more value you can bring to your clients by having a more effective and powerful team of the same size. If you focus instead on delivering the same value at a lower cost, your company will probably be left behind. 

AI + human expertise

Today, generative AI excels at a huge range of rote tasks, such as ideation and crafting initial drafts. However, despite continuous advancements, it still struggles with being specific, concise, and interesting. Most of the AI models I’ve played with are still too verbose, and they tend to reuse the same trite phrasing over and over, making it easy to recognize when something is AI-written. This is why human expertise is still a critical part of the work process and will likely remain so for a long time yet.

The best way I’ve found to think of AI is to view it as a highly enthusiastic intern. For instance, you might ask an intern to do content drafts or brainstorm ideas, but you would never let them send out final drafts without first reviewing their work. In other words, you should always keep a human in the loop when working with AI. This is especially important when you need to capture a specific voice or tone that aligns with a brand’s messaging and resonates with the target audience.

Another important step in AI integration is to encourage your team to upskill so they use AI to its full capabilities. This is the best thing you can do for your employees as it will ensure they can take on a broader scope of responsibilities and become indispensable members of the team. Play this right and you might even see your company branching out into new media verticals.

For example, maybe your company has only focused on one vertical, like digital print. Now, because you’ve found efficiencies in your company’s workflows, your team can expand into influencer marketing or other types of campaigns. This is what I mean when I say AI can bring more value to your company and clients. 

Final thoughts

To summarise, the future of PR lies in the fusion of AI and human expertise. By harnessing the strengths of both, PR companies can boost their productivity and performance while still retaining the invaluable human touch that is at the core of all PR operations. Ultimately, the companies that embrace AI as a complementary tool rather than a replacement for human workers will see the most growth, both now and in the far future.