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AI meets public relations: The emergence of the communications engineer

One of the hottest topics in recent memory, AI’s exponential growth has commanded our attention, shifting from science fiction to reality in real-time.

Professionals across industries are pondering the possibilities of AI tools in the workplace, with knowledge workers, including PR pros, increasingly uncertain about the future. Given the impressive language capabilities of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, it makes sense why workers who spend much of their time writing may be a bit worried. 

Though the fearful take feels like the easy one, the reality is more complex — and more positive. 

AI tools aren’t here to replace us. But as we move forward, the most successful communicators will need to recognize a culture shift across the industry, meeting at the intersection of art and science by assuming the role of the “communications engineer.” 

The term “engineer” may not automatically land with those who take more pride in the art of comms rather than the science, but bringing the two halves together ultimately creates a prettier picture. Communications engineers use actionable analytics to drive strategy and backstop their gut instincts. They utilize generative AI and other advanced tech to become more performative, predictive, productive, and maybe one day more prescriptive. 

Tasks like drafting pitches, blogs, bylines, media briefing books, and even crisis statements — what once took hours for first drafts can now be done in under two minutes. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful use cases to date. Productivity Through leveraging AI tools tactically, workers can begin to free themselves from repetitive and tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on more engaging work. Junior PR pros, often assigned admin and research tasks, can use AI to help build media lists, monitor and compile coverage reports, and conduct research. This not only enhances overall efficiency but also gives PR pros more energy to tap into their ingenuity. Assistance One of AI’s most underrated benefits is its keen ability to serve as an assistant. No, it can’t pick up your dry cleaning or go on coffee runs (yet), but it can improve your work in many ways. 

For example, you can approach AI chatbots and fit-for-purpose platforms like PRophet as coaches. While many tend to take AI-generated copy and touch it up on the back end, humans can also input their own copy to find areas for improvement; in this way, generative AI can serve as a convenient writing tutor — an affordable resource for upskilling staff. AI can also assist writers with ideation, research, and search engine optimization. Tools such as Midjourney or Adobe’s Firefly also show us AI’s ability to serve as a creative assistant. Communicators can present their challenges to AI tools, unlocking fresh ideas and novel perspectives; AI’s ability to sift through information and identify patterns can act as a catalyst for creative breakthroughs. Resonance With AI tools entering the mainstream, the days of gut instinct and “spray and pray” are officially coming to a close. Thanks to smart software, crafting resonant content will become easier than ever before. 

This is a massive game-changer for PR tasks such as pitching. Tools like PRophet are leveraging generative and predictive AI to identify the reporters most likely to cover a story positively — and generate personalized pitches for each one. With this bespoke approach, media placements are not only more likely but also more impactful. Other industry software players are following suit. The same theory applies to creating content such as blogs, bylines, press releases, social posts, and marketing emails. Generative AI can streamline the drafting process while predictive AI takes the proper KPIs into account, ensuring a final product that readers can’t get enough of. Clairvoyance In an industry as unpredictable as ours, any way to stay ahead of the curve is a welcomed advantage. 

Predictive AI makes this possible, allowing us to see around corners. We can now make predictions with greater accuracy, such as detecting threats to brand safety and integrity before they materialize. We can also identify shifting trends and consumer/ customer preferences, finding ways to capitalize on opportunities while mitigating risks. And AI tools are inherently interdisciplinary, allowing for inspiration and ideas to come from multiple sources. Connection When leveraging the efficiencies of AI, agencies may be able to make the shift to value-based billing. As opposed to time-based billing, this model can give clients more confidence that they’re receiving quality work in a timely manner without paying agencies to take the slowest and longest path possible. And, as many of us can attest, a confident client is often a happy one, which can strengthen relationships long-term. 

Additionally, smart comms tech can help PR pros foster stronger relationships with the media. In targeting only the most relevant reporters, communicators can create mutual benefits and stand-up relationships. What’s next? As we all know, the explosion of AI tools is unlikely to slow down. But amid all the fearmongering, hype, and speculation, it’s promising to see communications professionals successfully implementing AI at this early stage. These pioneers are paving the way for AI as a supplement — not a replacement — in PR and beyond. 

Aaron Kwittken is the founder and CEO of PRophet, the first-ever generative and predictive AI SaaS platform designed by and for the PR community. Kwittken is also the CEO of Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s Comms Tech Unit. Before PRophet, Kwittken founded KWT Global, a PR and brand strategy agency where he currently serves as chairman. He is a guest lecturer at USC Annenberg.