PR Roundup: State of AI in PR, Epstein Papers and Rodgers’ Faux Pas

a pile of papers made to look like the Epstein documents

Happy New Year! (It’s still ok to say that on January 5, right?) Welcome back and congratulations on getting to the first Friday of 2024. PRNEWS is back with its first PR Roundup of the year, which includes highlights from a new study about AI in PR, what communications professionals can learn from the release of the Epstein report, and navigating the complexities of a controversial broadcast guest’s comments—as was the case with NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s latest appearance on ESPN’s “Pat McAfee Show.” 

Muck Rack Releases State of AI in PR Data

What happened: This week PR efficiency platform Muck Rack released its State of AI in PR 2024 report. Overall, insights showed AI having a positive impact on work quality and efficiency for those in the industry, with 74% reporting an increase in the quality of their work and 89% completing projects more rapidly.

Other findings included: 

  • Writing social media copy is the most popular use for AI, according to 64% of those surveyed, followed by research (58%), writing press releases (58%) and crafting pitches (54%).
  • While 21% of agency communicators say they never disclose their AI use to their clients, only 6% of brand representatives think that’s the right move.
  • While unscrutinized AI output was deemed a significant risk by 63% of PR pros using AI, 95% say they’re editing their AI output. 

Communications takeaways: However you feel—emotionally or ethically—about AI, it seems to be making a productive impact on the industry. Greg Galant, co-founder and CEO of Muck Rack, says 2023 revealed itself as the year of experimentation with AI, and it appears most communications and PR professionals have embraced it. 

“Adoption of generative AI was still relatively low earlier in the year (2023), but a third [of surveyed professionals] said at the time that they were planning to explore it,” Galant says. “They held true to that commitment with nearly two-thirds now saying they use it in their workflows. Plus, the number of people who were either not sure they wanted to use AI or had no plans of using it both decreased substantially, showing that generative AI is likely to have a permanent place in the communicator’s toolbox.”

Epstein Report Leaves Public Figures, Organizations, Businesses Open to Judgement

What happened: Jan. 3 saw the highly anticipated (by online sleuths) release of 40 previously sealed court documents connected to the late Jeffrey Epstein’s court case. Epstein, convicted with sex trafficking in 2019 of underage girls, appeared on many occasions with high profile friends, celebrities and public figures. Many onlookers were looking for revealing new information that could land prominent politicians, business owners and others in hot water. 

Communications takeaways: So far, the documents have landed with a thud, and thankfully for those connected to Epstein publicly in the past—have paused any further accusations regarding their reputation. 

However, for PR professionals who work with volatile clients or individuals who may be dealing with a similar reputational upheaval, it’s best to always be prepared. 

Britni Ackrivo, Senior Vice President of Real Estate Public Relations at Gregory FCA, says the key to managing fallout from bad press is knowing your client or organization’s vulnerabilities well in advance. 

“Have those candid conversations at the start to unveil any future potential skeletons,” Ackrivo says. “This early insight forms the basis of a crisis communications plan and crisis committee that can be deployed at a moment’s notice. Every second counts, so advanced preparation allows for a more thoughtful response when a crisis does occur.”

Heather Crowell, Executive Vice President of Investor Relations at Gregory FCA, says if a client is linked to revelations associated with any scandal, it’s important to consider their relationship to public companies and the stakeholders involved. 

“Legal consultation is essential to align strategies with ethical standards, particularly for public companies facing heightened brand risk,” Crowell says. “In such cases, a statement from the board supporting leadership can bolster trust. Additionally, appointing designated spokespersons for different groups including shareholders, creditors, vendors, customers and employees is crucial for clear, consistent communication.”

Pat McAffee/Aaron Rodgers/ESPN Issues

What happened: In adjacent Epstein news, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers—certainly no stranger to controversial statements—appeared on ESPN’s “The Pat McAfee Show,” and alleged that late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel could be on the Epstein report. Kimmel responded via social media threatening legal action, saying the following:

"For the record, I've not met, flown with, visited, or had any contact whatsoever with Epstein, nor will you find my name on any 'list' other than the clearly-phony nonsense that soft-brained wackos like yourself can't seem to distinguish from reality," Kimmel said on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Your reckless words put my family in danger. Keep it up and we will debate the facts further in court."

This is not the first time Rodgers spewed possible misinformation on McAfee’s show—which is not normally rebuffed by the host or the network. Rodgers, after all, is paid by McAfee’s show to appear on the program. 

Communications takeaways: Despite an apology from McAfee regarding the possible defamation, an onlooker may wonder what responsibility not only McAfee holds in all of this, but also ESPN.

Julie DeCaro, a columnist for Deadspin, notes that ESPN should make a statement or move regarding Rodgers’ continued parade of misinformation. She also notes that if the sport-leader does not, its parent company—little ol' Disney—could get involved. 

“If ESPN won’t take action against Rodgers, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Disney Chief Bob Iger to get involved, as there are currently dozens—if not hundreds—of devoted Rodgers followers on social media running with Rodgers’ claim that Kimmel was a known associate of the most notorious pedophile the U.S. has ever prosecuted. Disney can’t be happy about that.”

Jon Schwartz, managing director and head of sports at Prosek Partners, says that while many sports personalities have made successful transitions from professional athletes to business people, including McAfee, issues regarding proper broadcast training can still surface. 

“In this instance, [McAfee] missed a vital opportunity to flag in real time that Rodgers was either making an allegation or a joke,” Schwartz says. “That accountability lies with the host, and I am sure ESPN has since coached McAfee accordingly—as evidenced by the apology he made yesterday. To avoid gaffs and lawsuits, networks need to implement onboarding programs for new broadcasters that include a primer on “Journalism law". They should also arrange periodic ‘fire drill’ scenarios so those learnings stay fresh in hosts’ minds.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal.