Patterns of Adaptation: How the communications industry is adapting to generative AI

Yesterday I joined the Unconference on AI at Berghs School of Communication, one of the world’s leading creative industry schools. It was a fascinating chance to hear from professors, students and practitioners trying to figure out how to incorporate AI tools in their work. The pressure is on; according to recent research, it seems likely the communications and marketing industry will be more affected than most.

Some patterns are starting to emerge.

We all (almost) feel augmented.

I’ve become fond of saying “With ChatGPT, I feel like I have an intern now.” Turns out, the thought is quite common: I heard it from speaker after speaker.

Professional communicators especially feel like they are augmented, as they can use their experience to frame specific tasks for a generative AI assistant.

The importance of experience and the value of art direction are important here. In an era where content production itself can be automated, much more depends on having the ability to brief effectively, and on having the taste and discernment to review and refine work. We call this art direction and editing, and its relative value just increased substantially.

But we don’t all feel augmented.

What surprised me was speaking with some teachers at Berghs and learning that they notice that some of their students are reluctant to engage. Some are diving in, but some say it feels like cheating, and they prefer ‘pure’ creativity instead.

Standard workflows are developing.

 Meanwhile, in the industry, it’s full steam ahead. Many speakers described a similar intermodal workflow for generating campaigns:

  1. Using Chat GPT for client industry research to identify key topics
  2. Using Chat GPT to ideate on those topics for insights, base slogans etc. – essentially an accelerated brainstorming/ideation process
  3. Working up this material into core propositions “manually”
  4. Developing copy with Chat GPT
  5. Using that copy as a base, asking ChatGPT to create prompts for Midjourney to generate image creative
  6. Integrating the copy and image into campaign materials

This workflow can generate relatively high-quality marketing materials for standard text-and-image campaigns extremely quickly.

One speaker told us that he had been able to generate a whole client campaign in half an hour – something that would have taken three days earlier, and required hiring an illustrator or graphic designer.

We’re going to have to change our business models.

So, you can generate three days’ work in half an hour. Maybe your time savings won’t be quite so radical, maybe you can do three days’ work in a day. Regardless, I think we’re all starting to realize that we can work much faster, if we’re doing the same type of work we did before.

For an industry where the standard is that we are paid by the hour, that poses some pretty big questions.

  • Does your client approve the work at 09:30 and expect a full campaign delivered by lunchtime?
  • Do you just deliver the same campaign you could have done without AI, price it at 3 days of your time, and go to the pub?
  • Do you put three days of work into it anyhow, expanding the campaign and delivering more in the time than ever before possible?
  • If so, what additional features and deliverables are you adding to the campaign to make it worth three days of AI-augmented work?

So, this is the real question here. How do we deliver new types of communication work that weren’t possible before?

Not just faster. Different. 

When we started delivering social media campaigns, over a decade ago, we discovered that the technology enabled new creative forms of communication. One of these was influence work and influencer marketing, an emergent mode of marketing communications native to the web 2.0 era. We expanded the old repertoire of copy, visual and video with new ways of reaching people and engaging them.

We haven’t worked out yet what the equivalent of this will be in the age of generative AI. 

We clearly have our work cut out for us.

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