The Year Ahead: Ethical AI Practices, Data-Driven PR and Prioritizing Human Interactions

Make no mistake: The PR industry was disrupted this year—from AI to a record number of journalist layoffs and media consolidation. But amidst the sea of change, an opportunity emerged. As we head into 2024, I truly believe that one-on-one connections and interactions will become more important than ever, with PR teams prioritizing deeper relationships with reporters as well as their clients and teams. The concern of AI bias in news algorithms that spooked PR teams earlier this year will lead to more authentic storytelling and data-driven insights will be central in ensuring that messages resonate in a world increasingly powered by machines.

So, what will the new year bring? Let’s dive in.

Data and Insights Take the Driver’s Seat

Having long moved beyond the ‘cutting clips’-style PR of the past, PR professionals will become increasingly more data-driven, relying on insights to inform campaigns, measure effectiveness and optimize the impact. AI tools will take an obvious front row in these efforts, offering support through media monitoring, sentiment analysis, etc. Overall, this will enhance both efficiency and understanding, freeing the industry to focus on what they do best. In the face of inflation and potential recession, effective data utilization will be key for PR professionals, ultimately achieving more with limited resources.

Navigating the Ethical Minefield With Governance

As AI tools become increasingly integrated into PR practices, ensuring their ethical use is crucial. Governance frameworks help address concerns like bias, discrimination and privacy protection in areas like sentiment analysis, content creation and targeting. As an example, late last year our team piloted an AI Governance framework guiding ethical and effective AI implementation in partnership with B Corp Consultancy. Our goal is to empower brands with the knowledge, tools and confidence they need to make informed decisions, including prioritizing human needs, maintaining accountability and fostering transparency.

People Will Still Buy From People 

While AI is a hot topic, and we are all incorporating technology more and more into our daily lives, it is important to not lose sight of the basics. A machine cannot do what we do as people, and we must continue to double down on our client relationships. We must continue to get to know them, understand their objectives, and continue to come to a the table with new and different creative ideas. Technology can help us be more efficient, but nothing will ever replace the experience and strategic thinking of a good PR practitioner.

Authenticity Will Be More Important Than Ever

Being sincere and reliable in PR efforts will be more important than ever in a world where digital interactions have taken over and misinformation is everywhere. In 2024, we must place a renewed focus on crafting messages on behalf of our clients that connect to their audiences. We must move away from overly "polished" content to more honest, transparent and relatable management. Brands that place a high emphasis on authenticity in their communications will see the biggest impact in customer loyalty and, ultimately, sales.

In-Person Reporter Meetings Are Back

It’s been a brutal year to be a journalist. 2023 witnessed a record-breaking wave of journalist layoffs in the U.S. Notably, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported 17,436 media job cuts by mid-year, the highest year-to-date level on record, with more job losses in the second half. As PR practitioners, we must adapt and strengthen our relationships with our media contacts, who are increasingly stretched thin and often wearing multiple hats. As such, I believe that face-to-face reporter meetings will be back—and more important than ever. I encourage PR teams to get out there and meet with media. Go beyond just sending the email.

Appetite For Social Media Will Intensify 

Reporters today are using social media to break news and connect with their audience more than ever before. News outlets are also continuing to invest in and expand their online engagement as well. As we head into 2024, we will need to expand our social and search listening tools as brands look for ways to measure target audience engagement. An awareness of how users engage with earned media through merchandising on other channels will lead to more interest in what the public is searching for—and therefore, more opportunities for brands.

Let's not just predict. Let’s actively shape the future of PR in 2024. Will we be at the forefront of innovation, harnessing the power of human connection and data-driven insights? Or will we be left behind in the dust of a rapidly-evolving media landscape? Only time will tell.

Jennifer Risi is founder and president of The Sway Effect.