The Obsession with Generative AI is Part of a Broader PR Problem

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By the look of our social feeds, marketers have fallen prey to an alluring new intoxicant: generative AI.  Rarely has a new technology so quickly upended marketing teams, some of which are replacing their content writers with bots, while others declare, “If you’re not using AI, you’re falling behind!”

I have no complaint with the tactical use of generative AI in marketing. Tools like ChatGPT make it easier to produce simple, coherent content quickly. They also provide inspiration and education. For example, marketers might use AI to come up with ten possible headlines for an article or to learn about a topic they have not previously written about.

What I take issue with is the level of excitement about generative AI’s potential impact on marketing, which would suggest that it is imminently going to alter marketing fundamentally.

The reason this misconception has spread so swiftly is because marketing, and PR in particular, suffers from a broader problem: obsessing with tactics to the detriment of strategy. Righting this misconception is key to delivering PR results.


Without a Strategy, Tactics Are Useless

PR perfectly exemplifies why tactical excellence is meaningless without a coherent strategy. Consider a PR agency or staffer who secures dozens of placements. The company is achieving tactical PR success.

But what if the marketing and executive team aren’t aligned on:

  1. narratives that differentiate the company from its competitors while accentuating its strengths
  2. a go-to-market strategy that includes a plan for marshaling media placements to achieve business-level objectives such as revenue generation
  3. a way to measure earned media to calibrate success beyond the superficial metric of placements

In this very common scenario, the brand may attain tactical PR success — and generative AI could help by generating emails, press releases and pitches — but that success will not drive a business-level outcome legible to decision makers.

And this is precisely why PR budgets are often first on the chopping block during a downturn.

PR professionals spin our wheels, emailing reporters and cranking out content. But we rush to these tactics before aligning with the executive team on a vision for how PR will shift our company’s perception in the marketplace, why that matters to the ultimate goal of sales and marketing, and how our efforts will be measured.

If we focus on efficiency and shiny new objects to the detriment of those timeless strategic questions, we will be fired when budgets get tight.


How to Make a Bigger PR Impact 

PR professionals need to answer three strategic marketing questions:

  1. Are we propagating differentiated narratives that distinguish us from our competitors while underscoring our competitive edge?
  2. Are we reinforcing those narratives in our content and distributing that content so that we connect with our target audience?
  3. Are we measuring our efforts accurately and in a way that shows their impact on revenue?

These seem like simple questions, but experienced marketing and business leaders know they are, in fact, the hard questions. That’s why CMOs get paid the big bucks for strategy, whereas entry-level marketers focus on tactics. PR professionals who focus on answering these three questions — and letting the answers guide whatever tactics they implement — will have a greater impact on their companies and greater influence at the executive level.


There’s a three-step process to creating strategic content and PR outreach, too:

  1. Build differentiated narratives. Research what customers are saying, interview company leaders and the rest of the marketing team, and devise a core brand story and supporting messages that deliver an edge in the marketplace.
  2. Plan editorial output and PR outreach. Ensure the editorial strategy will maximize reach with the ideal target audience and reinforce the differentiated narratives.
  3. Create content. Ensure the content reflects the differentiated narratives and that it provides value to customers, helping them do their jobs better instead of selling them or obsessing over minute product details.

There will always be a hot new marketing toy. But if PR professionals focus on answering the three big marketing strategy questions and take a strategic approach to communications, they will distinguish themselves even as their colleagues mistake the forest for the trees.


Don’t Lose Sight of What’s Most Important

Like dynamic creative or automated paid campaigns, generative AI is a tool that will make marketers more efficient while sparking creativity. That’s welcome. But PR’s biggest challenges and opportunities are timeless.

What is our brand story? How do we develop narratives that differentiate us from all the other companies in our category while accentuating our advantages? Beyond firmographics or personas, who are our customers? What makes them tick, and how will we develop messaging and creative based on that? With which channels and tactics will we go to market, and how will we measure and optimize our campaigns?

For now, ChatGPT cannot answer these questions. Only human marketers parsing the intricacies of human customers can. For as long as that is the case, generative AI is a tool, not a panacea. The most impactful PR professionals will take advantage of tools to achieve strategic objectives without getting blinded by the latest shiny objects.

Joe Zappa is CEO and founder of Sharp Pen Media.