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Distinctive Dispatch #5: Better comms for people, places and work
Communicating in the age of AI; where should Bristol build new homes?; principles for community engagement; a Distinctive first year in business.
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Comms in the age of AI: put people first
Sometimes, change happens in a flash. Of all recent shifts impacting our daily lives, the rapid advance of AI technology could be the most disruptive yet.
For communication professionals, it feels every bit as big as social media’s arrival about 15 years ago. We must get comfortable with these developments and use them to support our work and our clients.
In some respects, ‘twas ever thus. Change is constant for people working in media and comms over recent decades. Many of us already use AI every day - social listening, media analysis and automating responses - are well-established features.
The pace of change is intensifying though. We need to consider processes, professional development and ethics when navigating this fresh terrain.
For our part, we’ve followed developments and joined industry debates. We’ve discussed what these changes could mean with clients and peers. And we’re looking at how we can use AI to add value to our work.
It has huge potential and is a step change from how most of us used AI before.
Benefits of AI
Through spending time on it most days, and occasionally disappearing down rabbit holes, we’re finding useful ways for AI to support us.
Tools like ChatGPT can support high level research. It’s much better than Google’s broken search, which spews up irrelevant sponsored content in response to queries. Ask it for options for a day out in [any place] compared to Googling and you’ll see what I mean.
It can support brainstorms and test thinking about a situation or a point of view.
AI chatbots join our team meetings, to take notes and assign actions minutes after the end. One of my best friends has developed a tool called parker.ai to fulfil this function, which I look forward to testing.
We’re also exploring AI’s ability to support tasks like analysing or logging engagement responses. This is work in progress. But if it can do the heavy lifting quicker, that enables smart working and helps us focus on high value work.
While we test our thinking, some media and comms companies are diving into AI in a continued drive for efficiency and competitive advantage. This is happening against a backdrop of concern over accuracy of AI content, fake publications, misinformation and bias.
There is plenty here for businesses to consider, and comms professionals are well placed to support them on this journey.
I feel there is another challenge, which many commentators don’t touch on because of their tendency to place AI in a standalone category.
Step away from evangelists claiming on Twitter that AI can make you a millionaire, or defeatists worrying that humans are heading for obsolescence. Blocking our path to progress is a landscape littered with badly implemented technology which fails to meet the public’s needs. Too often, the interface of business, tech and end users is a barrier, not an enabler.
Not Skynet yet
I’m referring here to chatbots that don’t get the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And wasted hours spent ‘on hold’ at the mercy of automated call centres. How many mobile apps does it take to park my car ‘conveniently’? Did you know that you can find the answer on our website? I’ve tried that already. You can’t.
The prevailing argument against this automation is that it leaves people who aren’t ‘tech savvy’ behind. While I don’t dispute this, I’ll say that many people who use tech every day don’t like how it works either. That’s because it’s clunky and wastes time.
Organisations are still grappling with post-lockdown changes to how we live, work and communicate. Many harbour sunk costs from previous rounds of technological ‘transformation’, or half empty offices that they’re working out what to do with. AI hasn’t come at a great time for organisations who already have plenty to contend with.
For these reasons, it may not provide the productivity boom advocates promise. I don’t think it’s possible without massive investment in training and building capacity to integrate it properly into workflows.
Putting people first
This highlights to me that, more than ever, talented, engaged people make the biggest difference to an organisation’s success. That’s why our approach to AI is based around putting our team front and centre in our interactions with clients.
We are transparent in how we use AI, and to what ends. We always take responsibility for our work.
Our adherence to accuracy, fact-checking and commitment to ethical practice is a counterweight to AI’s tendency to make things up. As communicators, we need to lead in this area as others apply less rigour.
Understanding our clients and their sectors enables us to advise them well and produce genuinely authentic, knowledgeable content that sets them apart.
Above all, we’ll always be there for our clients. We’ll be visible and present. We’ll answer the phone. We’ll care about getting the job done properly. And we’ll do what we say we’ll do.
There’s still something to be said for businesses who make it easy for their customers to work with them. If AI helps in this area, that’s great.
The robots may be coming for parts of our jobs. Regulators should take seriously the risk of harm this poses.
But there remains an important role in thriving organisations for excellent people who care. I’m sure the success stories will feature those who recognise that.
* ChatGPT4 drafted headline options for this post.
Things we’ve heard
More or less: behind the stats - BBC Radio 4. “So 6%, of a big number can be the same as 13% of a small number?” The debate about whether recent interest rate hikes are as bad as those double digit increases in the 1970s and 1980s highlights a lack of understanding of the economics around housing. This show explains why. Taking into account the fact that today’s housing costs account for a much greater proportion of household income, it seems that both situations were similarly tough. And we definitely don’t want interest rates hitting 16% today.
Where should Bristol build homes in the midst of the housing crisis? Bristol: Behind the headlines. Bristol24/7’s Martin Booth speaks to environmental campaigner Danica Priest on her concerns about proposed development across the city. It’s a fascinating, heartfelt perspective. The explicit question raised in the headline around where homes should go remains open. That’s an important point for future discussions on Bristol’s next Local Plan to respond to.
Things we’ve read
Techno-Narcissism – Scott Galloway. I discovered Professor Scott Galloway when reading his book Post corona during lockdown. This post is an excellent perspective, looking beyond the hype surrounding the AI boom. He’s well worth plugging into.
Fear and anger in Somali community over liveable neighbourhood - The Bristol Cable. The Cable is one of several local titles doing an excellent job of exploring and explaining potential impacts of changes like Liveable Neighbourhoods in Bristol. This piece highlights fears from the local Somali community who say the proposed improvements will impact their lives. The Cable is also translating into Somali.
Things we’ve said
Our principles for engagement that works – for clients and communities. This post sets out three guiding principles – clarity, connecting communities, communicating two ways – underpinning our engagement work. We honed them through working with communities across the country. We’re proud to be measured against them.
A Distinctive first year of stand-out PR support and positive impact. Plenty to reflect on here from our first year in business, which completed in June. Massive, heartfelt thank you go to our clients, colleagues, partners and friends for supporting us on the journey. Time flies…
This newsletter takes a summer break, with the next edition out on 8 September. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you want to discuss anything, please leave a comment or drop us a line.
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