AI Public Relations: Revolutionary Strategies for an Emerging Industry

AI companies face distinct challenges in today’s media environment. The ask-no-questions love affair with tech is over in the minds of consumers and the press. Maybe this started when Facebook knowingly sold customer data to Cambridge Analytica. Maybe it happened when FANG started being called monopolies. Whatever the start, the reality is we’re here in a place where Americans have suspicions about new tech. This suspicion has been flamed considerably by headlines about how AI will take hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next decade and the launch of ChatGPT, which left Americans shocked to find out that the entire internet had just been scraped, leaving regulated industries to ban the use of ChatGPT for official communications, followed by the bizarre Sam Altman “I quit-no, you’re fired-welcome back, dear leader” story. All this has left Americans unsure of what to make of AI, but while they’re excited about ChatGPT, they aren’t exactly advocates. AI finds itself at the crossroads of past tech crises and the uncharted, which is adding to the post-pandemic uncertainty PTSD most Americans have right now.  AI companies need to start using PR to head off tomorrow’s crisis, but more importantly, they need PR to improve their reputation, especially if an IPO is the ultimate goalAI Public Relations revolutionary strategies for an emerging industry ensure the focus is on the success of the industry.

AI Public Relations for Companies of Today and Tomorrow

The top priority for AI companies needs to be creating trust. It doesn’t matter if you’re a B2B AI or B2C company; AI companies need to invest in the trust bucket right now, so when bad actors are revealed  – not all companies will suffer the reputational blow equally.  It’s easy to see why AI companies don’t see a need for this at the moment – the emerging tech is exciting, and the conversations around its responsibility and potential are practically existential; for founders, these ideological conversations feel paramount. And they are. But there is a disconnect – just because these conversations are fascinating and important doesn’t mean they will help advance AI.

Emerging industries often face distrust challenges, and AI is no exception. The only certainty about AI right now is that we’re nowhere near creating trust for AI.

How AI Can Leverage PR for Trust

Right now, AI is NOT a media darling but a media target. The big-tech infighting isn’t helping. Is AI going to wipe out humanity? Is that hyperbole?  First of all, if “Big Tech” is using fear of AI for their own purposes, this is a sinister application of lobbying and a short-sighted one.

The only way to turn this ship around is through a consistent show of trust; there is a deep need for PR for AI companies. AI companies, large and small, need to look within, find the areas in which they are superior actors, and educate the public on what it means to be a trustworthy AI company in modern society.

AI companies can use this moment of AI interest to educate the public and draw them in with possibilities and fun, but also lead the conversation around the risks and simplify complex concepts so the average person understands AI’s current opportunities and limitations.

Why AI Should Incorporate Corporate Communications

Hundreds of OpenAI employees threatened to quit. Sam Altman’s fall from grace wasn’t because of a massive screw-up, per se – it was because he was laser-focused, and his futuristic tech blinders prevented him from seeing the humanity of today. There was a moment when OpenAI’s employees moving over to Microsoft en masse could have meant that Microsoft all but acquired OpenAI without actually purchasing the company. Ex-Googler Geoffrey Hinton famously left Google “so that I could speak freely about the existential threat.”

At this moment, all AI companies – and those using AI, need to develop internal policies that help guide decision-making. Much like purpose-driven policies, these policies need to be developed internally first. Because of all the unknowns, it needs to be broad – and it needs to be along the lines of Google’s “Do No Harm” policy. And AI leaders from all sectors, of all sides, should be working together, not just to “control” AI, but to create industrywide self-regulations; if AI companies don’t define these boundaries for themselves, then governments will do it for them, and it will be expensive and painful. Today’s AI companies can leverage the tech mistakes of yesterday to prevent a similar fate for themselves.

All AI companies – and companies using AI need humanity-focused internal communications and clear human-centric guidelines that give employees guidance on the uses, applications, and future of AI within the organization. Emerging industries can never forget the power of the internal advocate. Silicon Valley did this exceedingly well in the early days, and it’s something today’s tech companies should return to prioritizing.

PR for Piloting the Regulatory Environment

Public perception – driven largely by the media – will dominate the calls for AI regulations. Tech leaders who think they will have twenty years before regulations threaten their growth, as they did with the internet and social media, are misreading the room. The political environment today is divisive, and consumer sentiment about tech today is very different from Silicon Valley’s bright, idealistic early days. A recent CES survey found that 24% of consumers described tech as “scary,” 30% as “unpredictable,” and only 2% as “safe.”

Shaping perception and thought leadership are most important for today’s AI entrepreneurs – more so than they were in the earliest days of tech. But we can still take a page out of the most well-regarded or well-known founders – from Marc Benioff to Elon Musk- to see how their use of their reputation was leveraged, where it worked, and where it didn’t.

Why AI and Public Relations Need to Work Together

AI companies are pushing incredible boundaries and the opportunities are endless. AI companies still need to attract tier-one partnerships and collaborations, whether investor, pre-IPO, or consumer-related. The future of AI depends on public acceptance, and media coverage will drive much of that perception.

Key Takeaway 1: Consumers, the media, and regulators are looking at tech overall, and AI specifically with jaundiced perspectives.

Key Takeaway 2: The dynamic and opaque AI industry needs to increase engagement with the media to lead and Saveeducate on AI’s opportunities and risks.

Key Takeaway 3: Companies using AI and AI companies themselves need to create human-centric guidelines for their employees’ use and understanding of the tools, as well as the responsibility of using AI tools.

Key Takeaway 4: AI companies can reduce an onslaught of regulatory burdens by being good citizens today and managing perceptions.

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