Artificial intelligence (AI) is presenting itself as a massive opportunity for communications professionals. What’s more, they’re in a prime position to lead the charge with this new wave of technology.
We caught up with Alex Sevigny, APR, who will lead IABC’s upcoming AI for Communication Professionals Master Class (beginning 6 November). Get his take on how AI can impact campaigns and workflow, ethical considerations for using AI, what attendees will gain from his three-part class and more.
How can AI impact a communication campaign or workflow?
AI can help improve strategic planning. You’ll get something generic if you ask a generative AI system such as ChatGPT to write a campaign from scratch. However, running a completed draft through generative AI and asking if you’ve missed anything can lead to valuable insights.
You can do the same thing with writing. Once you’ve composed a speech or news release, you can ask generative AI to help you enhance it in different ways, such as getting voice and tone right for your client.
The best way to start with generative AI is to use it as an assistant or a sounding board. There are so many other examples of ways it can improve your workflow, but this is a good place to start because it minimizes the risk of mistakes. AI can be a huge assistant for verbal and visual storytelling. Chatbots can be a huge asset for building relationships at scale.
Think big but start with small projects, so you can learn how to use AI effectively and safely.
What are some potential ethical considerations and biases that professionals should be mindful of when implementing AI in their strategies and tactics?
I think the biggest challenge we’ll face as a profession — especially since we’re at the beginning of the adoption curve — is the public’s discomfort. You’ve heard stories about comms shops getting in trouble because they used ChatGPT to write a sensitive news release, obituary or speech. Right now, most members of the public aren’t comfortable with a deeply human topic, like a tragedy, being commented on by an artificial agent.
Another challenge is representation. If you’re using generative AI to write text or compose an image, it must create something truthful, real and appropriate to the public with which you’re building a relationship. Take time to craft a prompt for the AI system with details about voice, accent, dialect, regional identity or ethno-cultural identity of your audience. The same goes for a chatbot. If you’re training a chatbot that will likely be the first point of contact for much of your audience, make sure you script or train it properly.
This is why it’s so important for communicators to be involved with any generative AI projects their organizations take on — we are the key people who have a “whole of organization” understanding, in terms of relationships and potential risks.
What are some first steps that comms professionals can take to build confidence in their data competency and effectively utilize AI to achieve their communication objectives?
Gain familiarity with the systems. Play with them on your own time, with personal projects where you won’t get into trouble at work, should you make errors. Work on becoming an effective prompt engineer — prompting the AI to give you appropriate and useful output for your practice.
Read up on prompt engineering, too. It’s not daunting the way computer programming is, because all of the prompts are in plain English. In fact, you can even use voice prompts with some systems, like ChatGPT. Prompt engineering and the ability to show your prompting work will be a big part of how communicators use AI in an effective, transparent and ethical fashion.
Can you give us a sneak peek into the resources and tools that attendees will have access to during and after the Master Class to further explore AI further?
AI will change our economy just as the Industrial Revolution changed the agrarian economy. We’ve had a taste of the transformative change that’s coming with how social and digital media changed our culture, society and economy.
I suggest — perhaps provocatively — that PR and communications missed that boat. We didn’t capitalize on social media, so our practices and the public interest are the poorer for it. In the Master Class, I hope to make the case that professional communicators should be in on the AI revolution now so our practices can prosper and the public interest can be protected.
We’re going to cover so many exciting things. I’ve just taught the Data Science and Analytics for Communications Managers course in the McMaster University Master of Communications Management program. We learned how building a data-driven, evidence-based practice is fundamental for effectively — and strategically — incorporating generative AI into you workflow.
That will be the focus of this Master Class: how to build a practice that is ready for incorporating AI and automation into it, so you are more efficient, creative and productive.
To accomplish that, we’ll take a tour of the history and development of AI in the first session. I’ll also outline the generational opportunity that it represents for our practice.
In the second class, we’ll focus on making our practice more data-driven, because generative AI is only as good as the data that you feed into it. I’ll show participants how easy it is to use the data that they already have but aren’t using.
In the third and final class, I’ll demonstrate in practical terms how generative AI can be incorporated into campaigns at every level — research, analysis and communication, and continuous evaluation.
My Master of Communications Management course has been a big success, as many students have shared they feel empowered to use data and AI in their workflow and strategies, whereas before they felt helpless. I hope to bring IABC Master Class participants the same knowledge, confidence and optimism about how AI can be a huge asset and strategic opportunity for them. How they can use AI to tell better, more impactful stories and more effectively build relationships using artificial intelligence.
More About Alex Sévigny
Dr. Alex Sévigny, APR, is a professor of communications management at McMaster University, where he served as director of the prestigious master of communications management (MCM) program for nine years. He is an expert in artificial intelligence and its impact on the practice of professional communication. He teaches a course on data science, analytics and artificial intelligence for communications managers in the MCM program. He is just finishing a book on artificial intelligence and its impact on the practice, co-authored with Martin Waxman, APR, which will be released in 2024. Dr. Sévigny runs the Communications Management Research Lab at McMaster University. He has been an active consultant in communications management for the last 20 years, working with organizations and individuals at the highest levels of Canadian politics, government, and across the private and not-for-profit sectors.