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What does ChatGPT and generative AI mean for PR agencies?

Some believe that the sky is falling, while others see a silver bullet. The reality is that recent developments in artificial intelligence, as seen in tools like ChatGPT, may hint at both promise and peril for communicators.

Public relations and marketing agencies have looked at these “generative AI” services and identified an opportunity to create content and visuals promptly and at much lower cost. They see a potential answer to their hiring woes in some markets coupled with something that will help them to bolster their bottom lines.

At the same time, agencies that focus on content creation and design worry that these tools may eat into their business. They see a threat in the form of pressure to lower their prices to compete with these (for now) free or low-cost services – if they can keep the clients at all.

Some social media posts have even lamented that these tools are already putting writers and artists out of work. These arguments echo those made as other industries have adopted new labor-saving technologies, like robots in the manufacturing world.

As with past technological advances like TV or the Internet, the latest developments in generative AI will undoubtedly lead to changes in the way that agencies work. Those who are quick to understand the opportunities and challenges will be better positioned to adapt and thrive in the new environment.

The impact on agency-produced content

Most public relations and marketing agencies produce a considerable amount of content for clients, including press releases, blog posts, contributed articles, social media updates, newsletters, website content, infographics, and more.

Tools like ChatGPT can accelerate this content creation process to enable agencies to quickly develop first drafts. At least for now, these drafts will still require careful fact-checking to handle the well-publicized tendency of these services to make errors. Of course, the content itself is only as good as the guidance (or “prompts”) that a human gives to the machine. As of this, writing, strategy and judgment can’t be outsourced to the cloud.

The coming content flood

In the near-term, generative AI services will likely lead to a large influx of online content as many people get the bright idea to have the computers manufacture lots of content for websites and blogs. We have already seen some publications deploy these tools to bolster their own content production with AI-written articles.

While this may be beneficial for a short period of time, as more organizations take this approach, the benefits to search engine optimization (SEO) and other goals will diminish. The overwhelming flood of content that is coming will make it harder for anyone to break through the noise, especially if they are relying on a large volume of content created by these services.

The search engines fight back

In the wake of the hype surrounding ChatGPT, both Google and Microsoft have moved swiftly to tout their coming capabilities with AI-driven search. While early reviews aren’t entirely positive, they will undoubtedly continue to improve (backed by massive budgets and large user bases).

The rise of AI in search will further diminish the value of content that agencies and organizations flood the market with because the search engines will provide answers directly on their own sites instead of sending users elsewhere for the information that they seek.

It is also likely that the guardians of the search algorithms will attempt to devalue generative AI content, just as they have done with previous attempts to win higher rankings with the help of technology. It remains an open question how successful this will be since – at least so far – it appears this content is not as easily identifiable as previous tools that help create content farms.

Creators fight back

Legitimate questions have been raised about how generative AI leverages existing content to produce results, usually without compensating or even crediting the original creators. The challenges to these tools have only just begun. Some, like Getty Images, have gone to court to block the unlicensed use of their products to inform the AI algorithms.

If generative AI tools lose access to their information sources – like databases of images or content-heavy websites like Wikipedia and Quora – that could impair their ability to produce results. These blocks could be the result of a court ruling, but some sites could take more aggressive measures to block external scraping (which could end up hurting other services beyond those in the generative AI arena).

The power of community

In a marketplace that will soon be flooded with a large increase in content driven by AI, agencies must work with their clients to find ways to rise to the top. It used to be that you could simply argue that if you created quality over quantity then you would be OK. With the capabilities of the current crop of generative AI services, the quality may not be that far off from what you might create on your own.

That means you need to build a relationship with the audience that consumes your (and your clients’) content. By crafting blog posts, updates, and newsletters imbued with personality and individual expertise, you can create a community that is interested in that content because of who created it and how they interact with them.

Despite uncertainty, agencies should seek opportunity

While the pace of progress and the potential hurdles to generative AI certainly raise questions about how it will develop, there is no doubt that the technology is here to stay. Agencies must be prepared to identify ways in which they can take advantage of these developments to produce better results for clients and improve the efficiency of their own operations.

Those agencies that devote resources to learning about and experimenting with generative AI now will be better prepared for the future. With careful understanding of the risks (especially since many of these services are still in the very early stages with question marks about reliability and eventual costs), agencies can even begin deploying some of these tools today in the work that they are doing.

Agencies succeed when they embrace new technologies by finding ways to integrate it with the work that they do and the results that they produce for clients. Generative AI will change the way that communicators work, and it is up to all of us to address the challenges it creates while taking advantage of the opportunities presented.

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA).

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