How Small and Midsized Agencies Can Begin Testing the AI Waters

We’ve all heard the varying sentiments around AI:

If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the headlines and the explosion of AI-related news, takes, op-eds and warnings over the last six months. As the owner of a communications agency, I’ve been told that I should revise my hourly-rate billing model and downsize my writing department because everyone now knows that a chatbot can write a perfectly fine press release or blog post in about one second. I’ve read that AI will supercharge my productivity and help me impress clients. It might also tell lies that could land me in hot water if I don’t fact-check everything (like the lawyer who made headlines recently for using ChatGPT to prepare a court filing filled with inaccuracies). I’ve heard that I should hire an AI prompt specialist or become one myself. I should buy a subscription to at least six AI-powered tools. And, if I do so, I just might be contributing to the downfall of civil society. It’s a lot, right?

If you want to put your head on your desk right now, you’re not alone. Lots of us still have cryptocurrency flashbacks. While it may be tempting to jump in and join the myriad newly hatched AI evangelists out there who are grabbing headlines all over the globe, I do think the better way for PR pros to negotiate all this is to take an open-minded, “give-it-a-shot” approach—but in the right circumstances and place. Not just for your own sake, but so you can advise clients who turn to you for answers.

Here are a few things I recommend for small to midsized agencies that are not going to be hiring a vice president of AI anytime soon.

  • Make AI education a priority. Whether it’s one person or everyone on your team, make time and resources available for investigation and trial.
  • Draw up a spreadsheet with potential tools to test. This is harder than it sounds. Over at Futurepedia—billed as “the largest AI tools directory, updated daily”—there are already 3,600-plus tools listed (including nearly 170 copywriting tools), and it is not uncommon for 30 new tools to be added in a single day. Our team turns to trusted LinkedIn connections and other sources of intelligence to help us vet what we try out. As a busy strategic communications firm, we tend to focus first on tools that will help us with research, scheduling and some writing tasks—despite the fact that we all want to play with the image generators.
  • Break down your workflow. Break down your tasks and think about how an AI tool could make one part of your work process faster. The idea is to remove as much of the straightforward work as possible so that you have more time for creativity and strategy.
  • Decide what you want. Think about your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Look for tools that will support the areas you need help with. If your team is really good at and enjoys social media work or even creating workback schedules, then consider doing that yourself. The last thing you want is to take the joy out of work.
  • Judge your results. When we compared an AI-generated press release with one that we wrote ourselves first, we found the results … promising? The prose was stilted and two important facts were incorrectly stated, but honestly, in time I could see this tool being useful if subjected to a human fact-checker and editor (particularly when it comes to making sure copyright is being respected).
  • Reflect. Did the AI press release generator tell us something about our own practice? Yes. We learned that the standard press release style sounds a lot like it could have been generated by a robot, and we’re thinking about how to change ours to create a better reading experience. We want to be sure we’re always speaking and writing with our unique voice.
  • Share your findings with the team and your network. Get another perspective, see what others are doing and learning, and join the conversation. One way or another, AI tools are going to change the workplace, and it’s important that the people using the tools are as engaged as those creating them.

This is what we’ve been doing at The Agency. What is your team doing to tackle the incredible amount of information about AI? We’d love to swap ideas — let’s chat!

This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2023 issue of Forbes.

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