Comms in the age of AI: put people first

AI in blue text against a yellow background

Sometimes, change happens in a flash. Of all recent shifts impacting our daily lives, the rapid advance of AI technology could be the most disruptive yet.

For communication professionals, it feels every bit as big as social media’s arrival about 15 years ago. We must get comfortable with these developments and use them to support our work and our clients.

In some respects, ‘twas ever thus. Change is constant for people working in media and comms over recent decades. Many of us already use AI every day – social listening, media analysis and automating responses – are well-established features.  

The pace of change is intensifying though. We need to consider processes, professional development and ethics when navigating this fresh terrain.

For our part, we’ve followed developments and joined industry debates. We’ve discussed what these changes could mean with clients and peers. And we’re looking at how we can use AI to add value to our work.

It has huge potential and is a step change from how most of us used AI before.

Benefits of AI

Through spending time on it most days, and occasionally disappearing down rabbit holes, we’re finding useful ways for AI to support us.

Tools like ChatGPT can support high level research. It’s much better than Google’s broken search, which spews up irrelevant sponsored content in response to queries. Ask it for options for a day out in [any place] compared to Googling and you’ll see what I mean.

It can support brainstorms and test thinking about a situation or a point of view.  

AI chatbots join our team meetings, to take notes and assign actions minutes after the end. One of my best friends has developed a tool called to fulfil this function, which I look forward to testing.

We’re also exploring AI’s ability to support tasks like analysing or logging engagement responses. This is work in progress. But if it can do the heavy lifting quicker, that enables smart working and helps us focus on high value work.

While we test our thinking, some media and comms companies are diving into AI in a continued drive for efficiency and competitive advantage. This is happening against a backdrop of concern over accuracy of AI contentfake publications, misinformation and bias.

There is plenty here for businesses to consider, and comms professionals are well placed to support them on this journey.  

I feel there is another challenge, which many commentators don’t touch on because of their tendency to place AI in a standalone category.

Step away from evangelists claiming on Twitter that AI can make you a millionaire, or defeatists worrying that humans are heading for obsolescence. Blocking our path to progress is a landscape littered with badly implemented technology which fails to meet the public’s needs. Too often, the interface of business, tech and end users is a barrier, not an enabler.

Not Skynet yet

I’m referring here to chatbots that don’t get the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And wasted hours spent ‘on hold’ at the mercy of automated call centres. How many mobile apps does it take to park my car ‘conveniently’? Did you know that you can find the answer on our website? I’ve tried that already. You can’t.

The prevailing argument against this automation is that it leaves people who aren’t ‘tech savvy’ behind. While I don’t dispute this, I’ll say that many people who use tech every day don’t like how it works either. That’s because it’s clunky and wastes time.

Organisations are still grappling with post-lockdown changes to how we live, work and communicate. Many harbour sunk costs from previous rounds of technological ‘transformation’, or half empty offices that they’re working out what to do with. AI hasn’t come at a great time for organisations who already have plenty to contend with.

For these reasons, it may not provide the productivity boom advocates promise. I don’t think it’s possible without massive investment in training and building capacity to integrate it properly into workflows.

Putting people first

This highlights to me that, more than ever, talented, engaged people make the biggest difference to an organisation’s success. That’s why our approach to AI is based around putting our team front and centre in our interactions with clients.

We are transparent in how we use AI, and to what ends. We always take responsibility for our work.

Our adherence to accuracy, fact-checking and commitment to ethical practice is a counterweight to AI’s tendency to make things up. As communicators, we need to lead in this area as others apply less rigour.

Understanding our clients and their sectors enables us to advise them well and produce genuinely authentic, knowledgeable content that sets them apart.

Above all, we’ll always be there for our clients. We’ll be visible and present. We’ll answer the phone. We’ll care about getting the job done properly. And we’ll do what we say we’ll do.

There’s still something to be said for businesses who make it easy for their customers to work with them. If AI helps in this area, that’s great.

The robots may be coming for parts of our jobs. Regulators should take seriously the risk of harm this poses.

But there remains an important role in thriving organisations for excellent people who care. I’m sure the success stories will feature those who recognise that.

A version of this post originally appeared in our monthly Distinctive Dispatch newsletter. Sign up for future editions. 

Photo in header by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.

Written by

Ben Lowndes 


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