ICYMI, generative AI has taken PR and communications by storm—all business fields, really. But as useful and resourceful as it’s proving to be, senior comms professionals are still a bit intimidated by this just-months-old tech wunderkind, reveals important new industry research from comms giant WE Communications and the distinguished USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, which finds that of the nearly 400 senior pros they surveyed, the overall assessment can be summed up in two words: fascinated and frightened.
Thus the title of the newly-released comprehensive report, Fascinated and Frightened: How are Communications Professionals Viewing the AI Opportunity Ahead?, which determines that PR leaders recognize the importance of AI for the future of the industry but don’t yet have the knowledge and experience they need. This and other findings underscores the opportunity and urgency for communicators to reconcile that gap by building AI readiness through increased education, experimentation and dedicated skill building.
“We are at the start of a massive disruption to our work, our lives and our world—not unlike other technological leaps we have navigated over our 40-year history,” said Tiffany Cook, president, technology and consumer sectors at WE, in a news release. “We must again step up to help our clients navigate the adoption of new technology, and a new way of working. The good news is that this survey shows communications leaders have an opportunity to take a leading role in building understanding for how AI in communications can be used purposefully, strategically and ethically.”
The new report captures the survey insights and analyzes how comms pros can apply them to their work, offering new angles on issues such as challenges to adoption, the immediate opportunities to unlock generative Al’s full potential, and a recommended path forward.
“This report is a collective effort between USC Annenberg and WE to secure visibility into the impact that generative AI is having on professional communicators, and uncover insights into how the broader industry is reacting and how those in the field must act now to define its future,” said Cook.
The research reveals four major findings:
- AI fluency and generative AI experimentation in communications are low, spotlighting an opportunity for education and action
- Most comms leaders see efficiency benefits in the short run, yet there is interest to expand beyond to better understand new forms of creativity in the future
- These leaders are acutely aware of the challenges of AI adoption
- New skills and a mindset shift are key to capturing the AI opportunity
Comms leaders are acutely aware of the challenges of AI adoption
Although the majority of surveyed leaders recognized the importance of AI to the future of public relations, only 23 percent say their organizations are currently making changes to the way they work with AI tools—highlighting the need for readiness and literacy. Sixty-one percent cited concerns with misinformation/disinformation, while the other most common concerns were information security (44 percent) and data privacy (45 percent).
Looking to the future, the findings show that although 88 percent of communications leaders expect to see efficiency benefits in the short run, there is interest in unlocking new forms of creativity through guided experimentation. Fifty-five percent of respondents agreed that creativity in the field would be positively impacted by AI—whether by encouraging new lines of thinking and brainstorming, or by freeing up workers from mundane tasks. To that end, the report recommends that PR leaders prioritize learning new skills to untap this productivity.
Ultimately, the first movers to develop competencies in generative AI and understand the communications use cases will stand to gain the most value
“In an earlier survey we conducted, only 4 percent of PR professionals said they were ‘very familiar with AI.’ Since then, that number has increased, but historically the communications industry is slow to adopt new technologies. We can’t let that happen with AI,” said Fred Cook, director of USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, in the release. “We need to manage the critical issues associated with AI and move aggressively to incorporate it into our work.”
The report is based on a survey of 394 employed people across a range of roles in the field of communications located in the United States. The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, queried respondents about their familiarity with AI tools, attitudes regarding its value for the communications industry, and the level of impact it will have in the immediate future.