LONDON — Marketing and communications professionals across industry sectors are open-minded and largely positive about the application of artificial intelligence tools, but remain cautious about potential reputational threats, according to new research from FleishmanHillard UK.

The agency’s report, ‘Will gen AI change the game? Understanding the hopes, fears and ambitions of communications and marketing decision-makers’, surveyed more than 200 marcoms professionals at leading UK companies to find out how they’re thinking about and using AI now, and how they are planning for the future.

According to the survey, 70% of marcoms decision-makers are now using generative AI and/or business process automation (BPA) at work, with 86% saying that they know “a lot” or “something” about the technology. Its use is currently largely in research and efficiency-based tasks:, gathering market intelligence (44%) and streamlining workflows (44%) being the most popular applications.

However, despite extensive and rapid uptake, 67% of marcoms leaders report having no training materials for the use of these technologies in place and 65% say their business has no policies or guidelines for generative AI or BPA.

Many marcoms professionals are approaching AI with an open mind: 93% responded with net positive sentiment when asked how they feel about generative AI and BPA’s impact on the delivery of marketing, PR or communications.

However, 92% harbour negative emotions (including confusion, concern and feeling uninformed) towards the impact of generative AI and BPA on the industries in which they work, which included technology, manufacturing and healthcare.

Four out of 10 respondents believe their organisations could likely face various reputational threats over the next two years because of these new technologies, with concern highest for the impact on company culture (43%), and wider industry disruption (43%).

Overall, 87% believe that the use of generative AI or BPA in marketing, PR or communications has the potential to impact their organisation’s reputation.

FleishmanHillard technology director James de Mellow said that in the absence of AI policies, organisations leave themselves more open to reputational and legal risks that come from generative AI-created content.

“The emergence of generative AI adds a whole new dimension to managing brand reputation and widens the threat landscape,” he said. “As communications professionals, we cannot risk being outpaced by the technology and confronted with a reputational situation we simply don’t understand.

“Our report’s findings are, overall, heartening. They show a marcoms world that is generally choosing optimism over fear, approaching this change with an open mind rather than burying their heads in the sand. There are some ‘watchouts’, and we clearly still have a long way to go, but communications is certainly working to meet the challenges and opportunities these technologies present.”

The research was conducted by TRUE Global Intelligence, FleishmanHillard’s in-house research and analytics practice, in June and July this year. The report is based on a survey of 200 marcoms professionals at leading UK companies across the automotive, energy, financial services, FMCG, healthcare, manufacturing and technology industries.