Murder, It Wrote: AI and the Death of the Press Release

There has been a great deal of chatter about ChatGPT – OpenAI’s latest AI-driven natural language processing chatbot. This is not another article about how to write a successful prompt.

Optimists tell us this new technology will revolutionise all aspects of our day-to-day life: ushering in a new era of super-productivity and the end of menial labour. Meanwhile, the most pessimistic soothsayers predict the arrival of a terrifying new robot-age.

What all agree on, then, is that AI and ChatGPT-style technologies are set to have an impact. This is as true for communications professionals as other sectors. For us, it’s time to wave goodbye to the press release.

Beyond the hype

We, like you, have tried it. ChatGPT can write a press release. It’s not perfect – it still requires some human sprucing – but it is really, really OK. As one commentator put it, it ‘writes badly incredibly well’. Sure, it won’t win any Booker prizes (for now), but it does promise to save comms professionals time on the basics.

However, for businesses, communication is never entirely transactional – it always involves some business-to-reader relationship. For that reason, there is a deep and inherent reputational risk in utilising AI content: it is a breach of trust.

Discovering in post that something you thought to be authentic – perhaps even compelling, evocative, witty – was written by AI changes the reader’s very perception of it. Imagine ‘Just do it’ was written by a robot. Not so motivating now, is it.

An extra nail in the coffin

Really, though, whether AI can write a press release is irrelevant: the press release is dead, and we have killed it.

If your average press release can be matched by AI, then that reveals a much deeper problem about their formulaic nature. They’re time-consuming to write, dull to read, and easy to reproduce. As a format, it’s been lying face down for some time – ChatGPT is just the latest to give it a prod.

Change is long overdue, and increasingly impressive AI capabilities provide the perfect opportunity to ring them in; death is a time for reflection; a time to remember the good times… and the bad. Press releases are mostly boring. AI won’t change that.

A human-centred approach

So, what comes next? It’s time for businesses to lean into more modern ways of communicating with their stakeholders. That doesn’t mean using AI to write your press releases, but instead means exploring the plethora of new routes to capturing the attention of those that matter to your business.

In a world of increasingly intelligent robots, it’s still people that are making decisions important to you and your business. Communications is about building connections, not just stating the facts.

AI is still not fully capable of replacing great writers and communicators on their own terms, and the best communicators are taking an approach that AI will never be able to match: an approach that is connection-driven and that puts the human front and centre. Talking to robots is a lonely business.

Video killed the AI-star

One less isolating alternative is video. In a digital world, the format has quickly established itself as king: last year, 82% of global internet traffic came from video content, with reports finding that video viewers were capable of retaining 95% of a video’s message, as opposed to just 10% of text. When competing for attention online, video is key.

AI – despite some forays into the world of observational comedy – is not yet capable of competing in the world of video creation. In the modern digital attention economy, attention is earned, never given, and video is a medium much better suited to engaging audiences and storytelling than any other.

Video is an alternative, but what it is really about is meeting the audiences that matter where they want to be met, and with the sort of message that they want to hear. That might mean better harnessing your social media accounts, organising events, or having richer bilateral conversations using the very best articulation of your proposition – something we are increasingly helping clients with.

AI’s arrival on the scene is a wakeup call, then. Not a tool for achieving what was already being achieved, but for demonstrating that there other, more effective ways of speaking to your key stakeholders. A human-centred approach means tailoring format and messaging to specific audiences and engaging with them on a more personal level.

This is how it should have been done to begin with. Press releases have always been boring.