Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making leaps and bounds of progress in 2023, particularly with the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and, most recently, Google’s Bard.
SEO professionals and digital marketers around the globe are eyeing this new development with a mixture of excitement and suspicion that AI might, one day, take their jobs away. What’s a digital PR pro to do?
This blog post will explain what AI is, how it works, and how you can use it to take your digital PR expertise to the next level.
While no one knows what the future will hold, it’s safe to say that for now, AI in digital marketing should be viewed as less of a threat and more of an “assistant.” It can help you work smarter, not harder, and create some innovative content campaigns to boot.
While you may have visions of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey dancing around in your head when you hear “AI,” current technology is much different. Think, customer service chatbots and predictive text platforms.
AI, or “artificial intelligence,” is a program that mimics human thought but it does not have the capacity for value judgment.
For this article, I want to focus on text-generative AI and image-generative AI. These are the two primary types of AI content creation options that digital PR pros can benefit from most.
The most well-known text-generative AI platform at the time of this writing is Open AI’s ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a large-language model AI platform. Essentially, it is fed an astronomical amount of text which helps “train” it to understand the probability of word sequences.
For example, if it uses the word “good,” it’s likely that the next word could be “morning,” “night” or “job.” With advanced probability calculation, ChatGPT is able to create bodies of text in a variety of styles and formats that mimic true creative generation. It’s important to emphasize, however, that it cannot think or judge for itself (and it will never give an opinion).
Google’s Bard platform is also a large language model working with LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications). Just like ChatGPT, Bard is designed to work with prompts… but its early versions can also pull from Google searches. It can use that data as well – and incorporate it into its results.
An important note for both of these platforms is that there’s no guarantee the information they provide is actually correct. It has been well documented that ChatGPT can state falsehoods and even try to back them up. However; both Bard and ChatGPT explicitly state that this is always a possibility.
Newcomer Bing Chat is an AI-enhanced search engine. It takes prompts from the user and searches the web FOR you. It provides organized results that can help you save a lot of time if you’re intentional about your prompt.
Bing is not as useful when it comes to synthesizing information or generating content. It functions much less as a predictive model than Bard or ChatGPT.
Image-generative AI works around the same principles. Platforms like DALL-E and Midjourney were ‘trained’ on millions of images with keywords attached to them. When prompted, they can generate images based on text commands.
It bears noting that while many of these images are accurate, many more have quirks. We’ve seen images with errors like an extra hand or warped face. We’ve also seen these platforms take interpretations literally. For example, a hot dog could result in a photo of food OR a dog on fire.
Again, it’s important to note that there is no creative force behind these platforms. Everything is derived from a program and probability.
Now that we have a baseline understanding of what AI is and how it works, let’s get to the fun part: examples of AI in digital marketing and digital PR.
I’ll say it again: AI is not creative. But it can help YOU be creative.
What goes into good campaign ideation? Knowing how the client’s expertise intersects with the news cycle is imperative to any digital PR strategy. With the right prompt, you can set AI up for success and help you brainstorm.
Sometimes ideation requires a bit of a jump start: why not ask ChatGPT to brainstorm some ideas you can riff on? Take, for example, this initial prompt:
Now, let’s refine to a more specific question:
Now THESE are ideas you can start to work with! As always, the human touch is necessary. It is up to you to expand upon these ideas and find a way to make them unique and creative.
If ChatGPT gave you these ideas, digital PR pros nationwide might get the same results.
Consider these digital PR campaign ideas a launchpad for you. Dive deeper, or pivot to a new aspect of these campaign ideas.
Perhaps instead of a survey on dog ownership, you could survey couples who own a dog. If you asked who the dog likes more – it could lead to interesting content for the relationship and lifestyle vertical!
Another way to use ChatGPT for ideation might involve asking it for vertical suggestions, or subjects overall. When prompted to list subjects tangentially related to dog food manufacture, this was its response:
There could be a veritable gold mine of campaign ideas from these subjects! Asking AI for ideas might be all it takes to get your creative juices flowing.
Another aid to ideation is understanding what topics journalists are covering. All you need to do is name a vertical (ex. lifestyle) and ask what subjects are being covered most extensively.
It’s important to remember that ChatGPT’s current knowledge ends around 2021. That said, Microsoft’s Bing Chat can provide current results, aggregated in convenient lists and links for your research ease.
There are a lot of ways to use AI to brainstorm and stay creative without ever expecting it to BE creative. That is the power of AI. It can help you do your job better, and hopefully with less effort.
You’ve brainstormed and decided on a content campaign idea, and it involves a survey. Rather than start creating a survey from scratch, perhaps AI can help you out (it can).
Let’s keep going with a dog-based campaign. AI won’t know how to come up with hard-hitting, unique questions, but it can create a basic survey. These basic questions are needed to ground your campaign in best practices.
Again, this is a great start for any survey, but should never be considered “done.” Take what AI gives you and elaborate. Tweak questions and add more of your own to hone the angle of the campaign. You want to find newsworthy data that will catch a journalist’s attention.
There’s still a lot to be done when creating a survey: but AI did the first part for you.
You have a campaign, your survey has been analyzed, and now it’s time to write up your findings. Why not let AI take a crack at it?
When prompted to create a write-up based on the survey questions it had just generated, ChatGPT created an admirable article that covered all of the hypothetical bases, but it lacked actual data.
This is a key learning point in working with AI – unless you feed it data, it won’t be able to work with it. That said, for transitional paragraphs, introductions, and conclusions, ChatGPT is your friend. While AI platforms have a distinctive style of voice, there’s nothing to say you can’t edit what it gives you to hone the write-up even more.
Longform text and AI is tricky – I’ll point out again that AI is incapable of providing opinions, and it also is not great at working with extremely current trends. AI also has a very distinctive and detectable “voice” that, unless edited, gives its source away quickly. This could result in Google being less likely to consider your campaign authoritative, so it’s best to ensure that all writeups with AI origins are elaborated, edited, and unique to you.
We’ve pretty well covered how to use text-generative AI to your advantage as a digital PR pro in campaign ideation and execution. What about pictures? While laying out data findings might still be the purview of either a graphic designer or a graphic program, other imagery can take a digital PR campaign to the next level.
The power of AI image generation is its ability to create photorealistic representations of realities that don’t exist yet: cities of the future, workers of the future, a reality where dogs ruled us all, et cetera: all of these can be part of your campaign and, when deployed well, can create real results. Who wouldn’t want to click on a campaign that showcases visions of the future?
Again, always be aware of the current limitations of AI; while programs are rapidly improving (and, generally, more powerful if you’re willing to pay) they are still flawed and require careful review to ensure that no extra appendages or morphing faces sneak into the imagery.
Some top platforms digital PR pros can use include OpenAI’s AI image generator DALL-E, which offers a free, limited use as well as paid subscriptions. DALL-E AI images have a huge versatility- if you can’t prompt it, you can generate it. There’s also Midjourney, another image generator that not only allows you to create imagery, but also to peruse archives of other users’ creations for inspiration. Midjourney currently requires a subscription to use, but it is incredibly powerful and customizable.
Here I’d like to take a second to acknowledge one advantage Bard currently has over ChatGPT: it is marginally more current. When prompted to generate a list of the top 5 journalists currently in the finance vertical, ChatGPT openly admitted it didn’t know anything after late 2021.
However, it did generate a list that was current to the end of its knowledge timeframe.
Bard, on the other hand, seems to pull from different sources and thus offers more current information, as well as a prompt to search for these journalists on Google.
While neither will provide you with email addresses, it’s a great jumping-off point for any press list building you might be doing. Even a list of publications that are strong in certain verticals is a great start to making sure all your press lists have their bases covered.
Using Bing Chat will feel like a powered-up web search, but it saves you many minutes of manual prospecting by finding article after article and will aggregate results into a premade list- it simply requires more setup than the other two platforms (it only works on Microsoft Edge, Microsoft’s web browser, and requires a Microsoft Live account).
One of the trickiest components of digital PR outreach is writing the pitch to be sent to journalists. How do you distill so much information in a content campaign to under 300 words- and catchy? Are you certain the facts you think are most interesting are also most interesting to journalists?
There is always going to be a degree of trial and error to pitch composition and success, which is why we often A/B test our pitches and subject lines to see which combination maximizes results. This is, of course, another reminder of the importance of measuring success at every turn in the digital PR process.
So where does AI come into such a touchy workstream? When prompted, ChatGPT generates decent traditional PR media pitches that can help shake writer’s block or find new angles. As always, heavy editing is required, and you’ll want to triple-check any and all stats the AI includes – but these pitches can help you save time and expand your outreach angles.
Similarly, subject lines seem perfectly tailored to ChatGPT’s strengths:
While the ai writing prompt might be silly, it still shows the potential power of ChatGPT to make outreach a little bit easier. At least some of these subject lines are viable for a pitch as they stand, but they are also a great way to train newer outreach managers on how to write a subject line that hits in a journalist’s inbox.
AI can, on some levels, aid in training.
Let me be clear: it is in no way a substitute for actual training with human oversight. It also has its limits, but it CAN show a new employee more or less what a general pitch template could look like, or what most subject lines should sound like.
It also can help isolate the different writing styles and needs of content creation by demonstrating strengths and weaknesses throughout the process of AI as an assistant. Learning how to write well-conceived prompts for AI also takes time and testing, and in the process, clarity on exactly what it is you’re trying to write – one of the hardest parts of writing, well, anything.
AI can also, in a pinch, provide quick definitions of many well-known concepts that are part and parcel of digital PR. Understanding how to use AI as a training augmentation as opposed to a substitute requires nuance on the part of any manager, but once you get it, it’ll ease training and help any new employee feel supported and informed throughout the process.
Nope. I mean, probably not?
If you heed the tips in this article and stay up to date on all the latest developments in AI, particularly with the release of new tools, there’s no reason why you can’t pivot with the times and learn how to work with AI. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for the human touch, or human expertise in subject matter. AI can do a lot, but its inability to make valuable judgments means that you’ll never be truly replaceable.
While ChatGPT and Bard can “write,” they certainly can’t write WELL- and that makes all the difference. Use them to start a process, but you ultimately can own the end product and finish it to your own standards.
There are a million ways to use AI like a very fast, very error-prone assistant that’s willing to do a lot of the grunt work of executing a content campaign without any eye for perfecting it. We’ll always be needed to apply value judgments to content, and ultimately ensure that our campaigns aren’t just fully generated by AI – the human touch is crucial.
The industry will change. It has before, and it will again, but there’s nothing saying we can’t change with it.