How to Use AI for Outreach and Media Relations

Digital Third Coast, along with the rest of the internet world, has been diving deep into AI- from automating rote internal processes to exploring new ways to innovate our work and bring incredible results to clients. While we’re still in the early stages of learning about all the things AI can do, one of the most enticing workstreams we’re looking into is that of media outreach and relations for our Digital PR team. 

While we’re not handing the reins completely over to the new robots in town and letting AI take over all forms of public relations, we ARE finding ways to work smarter – not harder. Here are some tips and tricks to free up your time and headspace to craft even more strategic approaches to any campaign.

Use AI to Jumpstart Building Your Press Lists

Midjourney image of a woman working at a desk.

I want to be clear: it is impossible to fully automate digital PR, and, on behalf of myself and my financial stability, no one wants to. However, some of the dryer bits of the business we can gladly hand over to our new chat window assistant. 

Microsoft’s Bing Chat AI feature, a sort of highly functional and less cute sequel to Clippy the paper clip from Windows 95 and Microsoft Word, can be a PR pro’s best friend.

Found only on Microsoft Edge, Bing Chat does the work of scouring the internet for relevant journalists and/or articles on any subject of your choosing- and compiling them neatly into a list with URLs. From there, all you have to do is build a list in the PR platform of your choosing and you’ve saved yourself hours of manual prospecting time. 

While Bing isn’t perfect, and can sometimes return articles or journalists that you shouldn’t ultimately include in your outreach, it can certainly eliminate steps in the list-building process. 

If you’re looking for a more integrated AI and public relations experience, Muckrack recently announced its integration of AI tool PressPal into its list-building functions. PressPal will create bespoke press lists based on keywords in press releases and pitches. It also integrates ChatGPT such that your entire release can be written by AI and simply requires human finishing touches. While Muckrack is a paid platform, it advertises creating a free account to try out PressPal today. 

With a periodic spot check, knowing how to use Google Bard’s AI is also powerful. Bard can be enlisted to remove duplicate emails (or write Excel code that does exactly that) on a press list. One must simply prompt “please remove duplicate emails from the following list” and then paste your email list into the chat window. 

Leveraging AI to Create Bulletproof Outreach Strategies

One of the most critical phases of outreach happens with no outreach at all: creating and implementing the overall outreach strategy document at the high level. Any PR pro knows taking the time to evaluate angles and develop a cohesive outreach strategy that covers all the main newsworthy points is necessary for success: and now AI can help. 

Submitting your campaign’s writeup wholesale to Bard or ChatGPT with the AI writing prompt “please outline a press outreach strategy with 5 rounds” will create an outline of outreach angles and strategies. 

Screenshot of ChatGPT

When provided the text of our report on the Top 50 Google Easter Eggs, ChatGPT’s outreach strategy not only provided different verticals, it also mentioned publications by name and what angle would best align with each vertical. While PR pros will definitely still need to think critically and tweak these outreach angles, AI lays a very effective foundation on which PR pros can layer more sophisticated outreach angles and finesse a strong digital PR strategy. 

Not only that, but one can take some notes on how to best match journalist tone across verticals. Prompt ChatGPT or Bard to write a paragraph in the style of a typical tech or entertainment publication and they’ll oblige. You can also prompt the AI engines to provide headlines in the style of, say, the New York Post, or any other target publication for outreach.

This is an incredible opportunity to really tailor the tone in your pitches to align with verticals without the hour or two of research it takes to read through several articles and learn the tone the old-fashioned way. Take, for example, ChatGPT’s take on the Atlantic: 

Screenshot of ChatGPT

Modeling pitch subject lines on extant headlines showcases understanding on the part of the PR pro and can definitely help tip the scale in the eyes of journalists. Understanding their work and core audience shows that pitches aren’t mass blasts, and that there is intentionality around outreach– and now, you don’t have to spend quite as much time to earn that kind of trust. 

AI Pitch Writing: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Midjourney image of a robot

One of the ways PR pros first started embracing ChatGPT is through automating the pitch writing process. This is a slightly dangerous move, as entrusting the robot to write your pitch with no edits is deeply unwise. AI writing style is somewhat formulaic, and any journalist detecting an AI pitch will likely delete it or worse, mark it as spam. ChatGPT PR is more of a symbiosis than supplanting. 

That said, there’s no reason why AI can’t start the writing and you finish it.

It can be as easy as feeding core stats you’re looking to include in a pitch and asking ChatGPT to write a short media pitch and see what it comes up with. Its insight into arranging data and ledes can form the foundation of pitch development that you and your PR expertise can take to the next level. Take the time normally spent writing the basic pitch and instead use it to more effectively research journalists, find better ways to communicate compelling data points, and polish the pitch. 

[Related: AI for Digital PR Media Pitches: Which Platform Reigns Supreme?]

It must be stressed that AI will not replace you or your expertise as a PR pro. ChatGPT and Bard are built around probability: the likelihood that a certain word will follow the next. There’s no value judgment capability, and no general intelligence either: you MUST edit pitches and finish them in a way that showcases news judgment and expertise. Journalist trust will be broken and you’ll quickly find yourself unable to reach anyone if your pitches read a little too like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What to Watch for When You’re Using AI for Media Outreach

As I’ve stressed several times, AI cannot replace human judgment or expertise, and it definitely can’t do your entire job as a PR pro FOR you. If you try and let all the work fall into robotic hands, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Here are just some ways it could go south:

AI is rife with factual error

Did you fact-check all the information in AI’s pitches? Have you noticed that sometimes our robo-assistants seem to answer easy questions incorrectly with absolute confidence?

Because these engines are based on probability and not analysis, they can sometimes be caught. When asked about Kentucky Derby horses that competed in 2012, the platform left off 3 horses– including the winner. Less than helpful! This is why it’s always important to fact-check.

AI has a distinctive voice that’s easily detectable

While we’d all love for AI engines to have the verbal acuity of a Pulitzer Prize winner, they sadly don’t. There’s a formulaic quality to almost all the prose ChatGPT and Bard generate, and this quality especially comes to the fore when the platforms are prompted to make value judgments- asking what the best type of ice cream is, or even whether it’s moral to use AI in the first place, will generate a preamble that states that this is a debated topic.

Once you’ve seen it a few times, it’s instantly recognizable, in much the same way AI images have a certain quality about the eyes that give even top-tier generations away. Not only that, but there are programs that know how to detect AI writing like GPTZero out there to ensure content creators stay honest. 

Circulating unedited AI prose is a recipe to lose all authority and trustworthiness in the eyes of journalists: if you couldn’t even be bothered to write a generic pitch by yourself, why would they think your outreach is anything but spam?

As it is, journalists often cite a lack of personalization in pitches as one of their biggest pet peeves, so not even making the effort to write a pitch in the first place is probably going to be felt as even more egregious.

Remember: while we all have a lot of pitches to send, it is never a good idea to sacrifice quality for the sake of volume. With AI as a highly capable assistant, you’ll be able to focus MORE on quality.

Misinformation and deception are already an issue

Moments of AI deception or misinformation are already taking the airwaves: from the Pope in a Balenciaga puffer coat to fake Drake songs, AI is sowing seeds of doubt in an already fractured news landscape in the U.S. 

Don’t be part of this problem: make sure that your use of AI doesn’t ever pass off AI generation as that of a human. It’s the ethical thing to do– and crucial to maintaining trust in the eyes of journalists and, ultimately Google.

The search giant has already stated they will prioritize high-quality content whatever the source, but AI as it exists lacks the expertise and value judgment necessary to make truly high-quality content. This will likely change in the future, but for now, it’s in your best interest to ensure that your AI content is edited and finished with human touch and intentionality. Pure AI content won’t get you very far. 

Work Smarter, Not Harder

AI is here to stay, and it’s up to PR pros to figure out how to fold it most effectively into our workstreams. While strategy is still key (and irreplaceable by AI) in media outreach, there are a variety of ways to incorporate AI into your work so you have more time and creative opportunity to develop an airtight strategy.

From finessing a pitch that would normally be formulaic, or even taking time normally spent prospecting to really personalize pitches, the time that AI tools free up can make your outreach level up. The trick is to maintain clarity about what AI can and cannot do, and to pair your expertise with AI’s ability to do the legwork for you. 

With platforms like Muckrack and BuzzSumo developing AI integrations, and more and more plugins working in tandem with GPT4, there’s so much time to be reclaimed and used towards the higher level thinking that makes for great outreach. What can be better than that? 

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