May 31, 2023

Synthetic Content: Time to embrace AI?

At the CIPR’s Annual Conference in November last year there was a major presentation on synthetic content. This was months before ChatGPT and Brad took over the headlines.

It was also before universities up and down the country found themselves scrambling around working out how to police AI’s use. Back in 2019, I had conducted research with industry leaders on what they thought would be the impact of AI on the profession. The majority played down its impact, stating that they thought writing and creativity would remain, for some time, in the possession of human beings.

How times have changed.

Yet, let’s turn back to this term ‘synthetic content’. Its definition is beautifully simple. To create, in part or whole, content that is influenced or directly shaped by artificial intelligence. But what does this mean specifically for the PR practitioner? It means that AI can play a hand with many of the tasks that we undertake daily. Anyone who has recently been studying may have already either done battle, or made judicious use, of tools that involve complex algorithms.

Hemmingway and Grammarly has hopefully improved our grasps of English. Equally, Turnitin exist to pick-out those who fail to credit sources for other people’s ideas. The commonplace of these tools should mean that trailing Jasper, ChatGpt or Brad is only a small step for many Gen Zs.

Yet, there is a crucial difference. Let’s take the example of the press release. It is one thing to check what you have written and to ensure you have given credit to another’s thinking and another to ask a ‘machine’ to do the first draft of your copy.  The researching, structuring and physical graft of the first draft are all set aside. The time you save is significant.

Some rely religiously on the accuracy of AI. Others miss the common structures that AI uses, often citing references poorly. Yet anyone working in communication knows that it is the first draft that is the hardest. Hardened PRs accept that any press release will often pass through many checks, be it for accuracy, nuance or style.

Others recognise that many pieces of written work are shaped by organisational politics. The journalist who receives a release will often make radical changes before posting. In other words, the first draft is but the start of a long and tortuous journey for a great deal of copy.

Therefore, perhaps we should be less directly concerned about whether AI helps us with the first draft of the copy. Ethically, we may need to acknowledge that it has played a role. Equally, we need to check facts and citations very carefully.

And perhaps we will need to learn new skills to ensure that we can translate the tone of the first AI draft in line with a client’s needs.  

Time to embrace rather resist.  

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