Practical uses of AI in membership organisations
Summary of Alastair McCapra’s presentation at the Memcom conference on June 29.
Alastair is CEO of CIPR.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has been monitoring developments in AI over the last nine years, since the first automated writing tools became available. At that time, nothing looked like an immediate threat to what the Institute’s members did.
In 2018, CIPR formed an AI panel to keep up to speed with the tools coming onto the market and the impact they were having on members. Prior to the Spring of 2023, there were few tools available to assist with the professional competencies in PR. Most practitioners said they hadn’t used AI, and didn’t think that they would.
However, the early part of this year brought a kind of Cambrian explosion of AI tools, and the reason that it is already achieving such eyewatering user numbers is that it is extremely easy for non-technical people to use. The technology is now increasingly being integrated into the platforms we all use in the office every day. We'll be using it inside Microsoft Word without necessarily thinking about the fact that we're using an AI tool. As soon as you write your title in the document, it will give you an outline of all the things you need to include.
Other tools, likely to be integrated with Excel in the near future, will allow organisations to speed up analysis of their accounts. They highlight major differences between particular lines in this year’s accounts and the previous year’s, enabling the user to investigate what has caused that change.
We have experimented with some of the tools we know our members are using, starting with Chat GPT. It's so easy to use, and helps get past the 'blank page' problem. We've used it to generate some headlines and slogans, as well as outlines for extended pieces of writing.
Tome.app generates PowerPoint presentations almost instantly. As well as compiling a text and splitting it into slides, Tome adds visuals and allows the user to modify the colour palette.
Impact on the profession
Although PR is a relatively small sector, a specific pitching tool, Propel, has been launched to deal with what has traditionally been a time-consuming and often not very fruitful process. For instance, if a client asks you to sell their solar-powered shoes, Propel will go and find stories by journalists who have written about something similar in the last six months or so. It identifies journalists who write about shoes, people who write about solar power – focusing exclusively on those who've written about something related or who might genuinely be interested.
It then asks you what the USPs of your product are, and crafts a customised letter to each journalist saying: “Dear Harry, I was really interested to see your article about solar-powered hats… I thought you might also be interested in this item on solar powered shoes… Here are the USPs of the product…”
The tech is relatively affordable, and certainly more cost effective than employing somebody to do all this by hand.
AI tools will also transform how we measure and evaluate Public Relations and what people made of news stories, for example.
To try and keep up with this explosive change, we look at two websites. A good starting point is AIcyclopaedia.com, a directory of tools. You can look at a particular area of skill or something that you're doing in your office, or that your members do, and see what’s available for that activity. Similarly, Futuretools.io serves as an index reference page of tools.
The CIPR will shortly be undertaking an AI audit. A third party will work with each of the teams to understand their workflow and what they do, and based on that, suggest some tools to try out that could be useful.
Ethics and copyright are the biggest concerns around this new tech. The learning sets for these tools may or may not respect copyright or privacy when they harvest material from whatever they can find on the internet.
I have encouraged colleagues to make use of generative AI tools, but absolutely forbidden them to do anything with member data, because we have no idea how it's going to be processed or where it's going to end up. That is also an issue for CIPR members.
There is a broader concern about trust. Our existence as professionals is based on society placing its trust in us. Now that a lot of our tasks can be replicated, or approximately replicated, by AI tools, will this undermine trust? And if so, where does that leave us?
All of this changes the skills and technologies needed by an organisation. For professionals, it really puts the emphasis on judgement, on knowledge, on understanding of context. For example, in Public Relations there has always been a strong emphasis on being able to write fluently and accurately, but now there’s a tool that can do that. Even so, someone still needs to look at what the tool is writing, whether it makes sense, and whether it’s true, which involves a different set of skills.
The ability to decide that something doesn’t sound right, or that a detail needs to be verified, and make the decision not to run it because of that, will become increasingly valuable. Being well-read, well-informed, well-rounded, those kinds of things, are going to really be at a premium.
We need to hire nosy, curious people who are open to change and prepared to spend a lot of time experimenting and seeing what they can get these tools to do in the context of the organisation, because that's where you're going to find the value.
Given the rapid developments in AI over the past six months, and the huge interest in the topic from our members, Memcom will be launching a dedicated AI network in the coming weeks. If you’d like to get involved, contact [email protected].