LONDON — With its bullish embrace of artificial intelligence, the PR industry is at a critical juncture in its relationship with the complex technology requiring communicators to balance AI’s benefits and risks.

“The issues that we’re all grappling with are numerous and some of them are quite vexing,” said BCW chief innovation officer Chad Latz, adding that issues range from bad actors and data to misinformation.

Latz’s comments were part of a panel discussion exploring the impact of AI on the communications industry at PRovoke Media’s EMEA Summit last week in London.

Allison Spray, Hill & Knowlton’s global head of intel and tech innovation, and Rianne Poot, global vaccines director at Pfizer, also participated in the discussion.

At the heart of the discussion was the recognition of AI's transformative potential, coupled with the realization of the ethical and practical challenges it presents. Just as AI can contribute to a problem like the spread of misinformation, for instance, it also could possibly be used to alleviate it.

Latz underscored the staggering pace of technological advancement, highlighting the exponential growth in data generation and the consequent implications for communication strategies.

“The pace of technological changes has been unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Ninety percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone,” he said.

"In the first month and a half, ChatGPT in its first iteration had over 100 million subscribers. Today ChatGPT has over 100 million active users every single week," he said. Roughly 55% of marketers use AI “in some capacity” for work.

Poot shared her experiences in leveraging AI to enhance global marketing campaigns, including its role in scaling content. “Right now, I’m trying to champion the use of AI not only from a global perspective but introducing it at the local markets and in their campaigns,” she said.

However, Poot said there are limitations to using AI when it comes to scaling and distributing it on a global scale: “It’s not only about scaling that content and sharing that content but also about understanding if this content is going to work because it’s tapping into consumer markets in that market but also with regulators." Whether the word “vaccine” can be used in a campaign, for instance, varies among countries, she said.

“If I would be able to find a way of scaling up the content but also scanning upfront to see if its viable and going to resonate with audiences in local market that would be a big step forward,” Poot added.

Spray said she believes technology should serve as a catalyst for human ingenuity, not a replacement for it: “I really believe that technology at its heart is about augmenting humans, it’s not about doing more better work."

Poot agreed: “Technology is great but it’s not technology first. Technology helps you achieve your goal and my goal as a consumer marketer is to understand my consumers and be where they are at and to make content that will resonate with them. If I need new technology to get there, then I am open to the technology but it’s not my ambition to incorporate new technologies and I am very clear about that.”

Spray also stressed the importance of exercising caution in leveraging the technology: “Risk and opportunity are synergistic." Businesses, she said, are at difference places in their adoption AI, and it is incumbent on communicators to understand clients’ needs and concerns and how to help them: “If we start there, I think we will be able to integrate AI more broadly in a way that’s more responsible."

Where will that put the industry a year from now? “I don’t think we can say with any confidence exactly where we’ll be. But I do think we will be looking at the same questions in terms of answer to the problems which is how we understand the problem and where we can reasonably inject technology into a problem to better outcome,” Spray said. “That part we will still have.”

Poot concluded: “I would hope that we are actually proud of the output, that we have more thoughtful and purposeful campaigns,  that we are able to reach more and more consumers, and reaching consumers that we haven’t been able to reach before. I hope to look back and talk about all the good that we’ve been able to do using these technologies.”