Stories and Strategies Podcast
Guest: Allison Carter
Published February 19, 2023
Doug Downs (00:11):
The concept of artificial intelligence has always been good. Hollywood plot stuff from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey to James Cameron’s the Terminator. It’s 1984, A cyborg sent back in time from the year 2029, arrives with the mission to kill Sarah Connor, the woman destined to be the mother of John Connor, A resistance leader that will ultimately threaten Skynet, the AI evil overlord of 2029. Bottom line. For those of us in 1984, we must stop the computers from taking over, but Hollywood tends to have an exaggerated view of artificial intelligence. What are the real implications of AI on public relations and marketing? AI can’t multitask. It’s not guided by ethics. It can’t perform beyond its limitations and certainly can’t write creative blockbuster hot movie dialogue.
Arnold S (01:16):
I’ll be back.
Doug Downs (01:19):
Okay, so there’s a little room for AI when it comes to writing today on stories and strategies. Headlines recently featured in Reagan’s daily PR news, including the checks and balances being developed to keep check G P T in check. Journalists are responding to fewer of our pitches. And why are m and m’s candy suddenly controversial? My name is Doug Downs. Off the top, the theme from the Terminator, composed by Bradley Feidel. That’s good music. My guest this week is Allison Carter. Hey Allison.
Allison Carter (02:10):
Hey Doug. How are ya?
Doug Downs (02:10):
I’m good, I’m good. And you’re joining us from, it’s called the Hoosier State, right? Indiana, Indianapolis, Hoosier, right?
Allison Carter (02:18):
It’s Indianapolis, Indiana, and yes, it’s the Hoosiers. Yeah,
Doug Downs (02:22):
I said it backwards. How are things where you are, I guess no chance of spring popping up anytime too soon, right?
Allison Carter (02:27):
It’s pretty warm here, but it’s very windy, so I guess that’s kind of spring-like.
Doug Downs (02:32):
Yeah. Yeah, it can be. Allison, you’re the executive editor at PR Daily. You come to the role from a media background and you have a BA in communications from Elon University.
Allison Carter (02:43):
Doug Downs (02:43):
First, let’s talk about the big headline in the writing world these days. <laugh> Chat, G P T. By the way, a human wrote this script, not a computer today. We’re never quite sure though if a blog or a newsletter or an ad has been written by a human or a computer, but now there’s an AI tool that might help us figure out if AI wrote the original piece.
Allison Carter (03:09):
Yes. So we now have robots to tell us if something was written by a robot, <laugh> Chat, G P T is rolled out in an AI detection tool, but even they admit it’s not great. It can only kind of tell you probabilities and it can definitely get things wrong.
Doug Downs (03:25):
Where are you at with the whole AI writing script for PR people? I must admit I’m… It definitely can and it is will and it will be a threat, but more to the writers that maybe aren’t going the extra couple of miles to create something that’s creative and on point. Where were you at with AI writing?
Allison Carter (03:45):
Look, I think if you’re doing something very basic, let’s say you’re doing a press release that the client insists you do and isn’t going to get picked up anywhere. Let’s say <laugh> all done them, right? No, right, of course. But let’s say it’s a new hire press release or something like that, that’s very run of the mill. I do think that can really help you save some time, you know, need to be very, very careful to check them. You need to fact check them, double check all the names, that kind of stuff. But I do think that it can save you some time to essentially bring up for the higher level writing activities that you really should be doing anyway. So if you have them write that press release and you can then spend that 30 minutes, it would’ve taken you researching your distribution list or writing a really good pitch for a storied that might actually get traction. I think that time well spent and isn’t going to replace you if you actually have the skills to go above and beyond what a robot can do, which I would hope that we all do.
Doug Downs (04:43):
Yeah. Have you read articles where you’re pretty sure it was written by AI?
Allison Carter (04:49):
I don’t know that I have seen that yet. Out in the wild I, I know that more and more media outlets are doing that just today I saw that Men’s Journal was caught doing that after the CNET debacle, which was also caught doing that. So I think what’s going to be important in the future is the transparency about when an AI is writing thing versus when human is, whether that’s media or whether that’s us as PR professionals talking to our clients about it. We just need to be honest about where it’s coming from.
Doug Downs (05:19):
I read something last night that parts of Sports Illustrated are written by, I can’t imagine anything filtered or fabricated picture wise or written wise, <laugh> in Sports Illustrated, but it, it’s going to become more and more common. I do, if I’m stuck, any writer will get stuck. I love to go into an AI tool and help generate the creative juices so that I can submit all, there’s an aha that I was missing. I do appreciate that about AI writing.
Allison Carter (05:51):
There was actually a piece in the New York Times that talked about use of AI in classrooms because now there’s a lot about plagiarism and will students ever write an English paper again kind of thing. And what this one teacher came up with the idea of was she had students use chat G P T to create an outline of a story so an outline of an essay so they could kind of see what the structure should look like, and then she had them close their laptops and then write out the essay based on that outline by hand. So I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about. You can use it to help give you some structure and ideas and then go in and give it the human spin and that thing that only you can add to it.
Doug Downs (06:26):
That’s perfect. Other headlines making the news. I love to brag that there are now more podcast listeners in Insert country here – in the United States, in Australia in Great Britain than Netflix subscribers. And that sounds amazing, but the truth is, it’s because people share Netflix passwords. We live miles apart, but you and I could swap Netflix passwords and it would work that Netflix recently took some steps to address that, but it resulted in some interesting social media backlash.
Allison Carter (07:00):
Yeah, there’s a ton of backlash. This was a rollout that was really botched at every level. So the plan was to crack down on password sharing by essentially saying you have to sign into your home network. So basically one wifi network that you designated as your home base once a month in order to keep using Netflix. Not only were people, so the way that they rolled this out was they accidentally posted it in a help article on the United States site and said, oh, well actually that was an accident. It was only supposed to be for Canada. It was only supposed to be for New Zealand. We’re not rolling it out in the United States yet, but no one’s really buying that. They’re clearly going to roll this out as widely as they can, and people are really upset about this for multiple reasons. First is just logistically how’s this going to work?
People have lots of circumstances that mean they might not be able to sign in once a month. You got college students, you have deployed military, you have people who don’t have a home base because they travel all over the place, so many different circumstances. And then there’s just really this sense that Netflix knew about password sharing for the last decade. They even encouraged it in some instances, and now they’re acting like you’re stealing something because you’re sharing with your friends and family, which is something that’s been done for such a long time. And at a time when everyone’s feeling a pinch on their wallets, it just feels really stingy. It just doesn’t leave anyone with a good taste in their mouth.
Doug Downs (08:23):
Bad timing here. Bad timing,
Allison Carter (08:26):
Doug Downs (08:26):
The backlash. Whenever there’s social media backlash, I love to ask, well, what does that actually mean? Netflix puts so much in the Goodwill Bank from a public relations standpoint. Any long-term effects from that, do you think?
Allison Carter (08:40):
I think so. I think that this is a very serious blow. Netflix had already been getting quite a bit of pushback for this perception. You can say if it’s reality or not, there’s a perception that they cancel shows after one season that just as you were getting into something, you’re like, oh, not going to be any more of that. So people were already kind of annoyed and now they’re like, oh, okay. Well now you’re going to put even more restrictions on me while taking away the content that I like. I’m just going to cancel. We of course won’t know for sure until we see the subscriber numbers during their next quarterly report, but at least anecdotally, they’ve taken some big body blows here. They actually put out a blog post yesterday that I wrote about in the daily scoop that sought to clarify the confusion, did nothing of the sort. Basically, they just said, we are rolling this out in Canada, in New Zealand and Spain and Portugal, I believe said nothing about the future of it in the United States and basically blamed users for the confusion about the password.
Doug Downs (09:37):
It’s your fault. I love that.
Allison Carter (09:40):
The tone and tenor of it. It was very like, oh, there’s confusion about what constitutes a household. No one was confused, no one was confused. So just kind of that you’re stupid, we need to slap you on the hand. It’s not the tone
Doug Downs (09:55):
And lots of competitors out there now, so maybe not the right time for that.
Allison Carter (09:59):
Exactly. I do think we’ll see what happens when a new season of a hit show comes out when there’s new Stranger Things season, when there’s a new Wednesday series. But can you build a business on people subscribing for one month when there’s a new show and then canceling?
Doug Downs (10:13):
Okay, a new poll by, Meltwater is suggesting a large portion of public relations and marketing pros expect the use of social media to become more important in 2023. But another poll by Morning Consult says a majority of Americans believe social media sites are changing in the wrong ways. What’s happening here?
Allison Carter (10:39):
I mean, there’s a lot happening here. Each social network is kind of to be taken on its own terms. Obviously Twitter has been in utter chaos since the takeover of Elon Musk. It’s seen as becoming more extreme. It’s features are changing very, very rapidly. They too are applying new fees. Then you have Instagram, which has had a lot of pushback against trying to become TikTok and moving away from its roots as a video sharing site. I think what’s really happening is we’re essentially moving into a social media two or even 3.0 era where they’re becoming something new and let’s be real, people don’t like change,
Doug Downs (11:15):
Right? So it’s becoming more prominent for PR and marketing pros, but maybe with a darker side to it.
Allison Carter (11:29):
And I mean, I think it’s important to note that even though Americans, I think that was the poll with Americans specifically don’t like the direction that social media’s heading, I don’t believe there was any indication that they plan to use it any less. Most holes show it still going up. So I think that the lesson for PR pros there is really how can we make sure that we are using it in a positive way that we aren’t getting sucked into some of that darkness here in the United States next year, the presidential election year. Again, that’s going to be very chaotic. That is going to create darkness, as you said, in our very polarized country on social media. How can we be an optimistic force for good without seeing seeming Pollyanna-ish and in this difficult economy when many of us are as communicators, those poor Netflix communicators, they didn’t come up with that policy, just stuck trying to communicate it. And that’s a hard job, and I feel for them. So how can we strike those balances, even as people are leery at social media?
Doug Downs (12:30):
And just fyi, Ragan’s has a great social media conference coming up at Disney World that’s in March, so if you’re, you’re in the Florida area, or travel to Florida is doable. That’d be a great conference.
Allison Carter (12:42):
It’s a fantastic conference. We’ve got an Allstar lineup and lemme know if you’re coming now. I’ll see you there.
Doug Downs (12:48):
That sounds good. New data from Propel Media says journalists are responding to fewer of our pitches down by 20% or one fifth. That’s not good news for us anyway. Allison, what’s going on?
Allison Carter (13:04):
Well, I mean, think it’s a confluence of events. I think that we all know that there are fewer and fewer journalists every day. Yeah. You mentioned that. I come from a media background. I worked at the Indianapolis Star before I came to Ragan. I was a news editor and I saw people leave that newsroom, including me, and never be replaced. That’s happening all over the place. I mentioned earlier that Men’s Journal was using ai I saw on Twitter. That’s because they’re down to just five staffers.
Doug Downs (13:36):
Allison Carter (13:36):
So, so even if the number of pitches were sent out, they’re so overwhelmed. We need to make sure that we are really saving our best stuff and not just sending things out. It’s back. It’s 2003 because they just don’t have the bandwidth to get back to every pitch.
Doug Downs (13:55):
I can remember, because I do a lot of media training. I remember the statistic I had that I could rely on, this was 10 years ago, was that there are four times as many PR people as there are reporters. I’ll pitch you that number’s worse today. I won’t put you on the spot, but your thoughts on that of being surrounded as a journalist.
Allison Carter (14:16):
Yeah. I mean, I even experience it today. My role here is not my role. PR daily is not pure journalism, but I do get pitches. I do interview people, I do guest posts, all of that kind of thing. And it can be overwhelming sometimes, especially when I get pitches on things I would never cover. So I think that you, as a PR person, the biggest thing that you can do is just say, is there a realistic chance that this journalist recover it because we are getting so much noise at us of things that are not on our beats. When I was at the Indianapolis Star, I would get things that weren’t happening in the state of Indiana, so there was no chance I was going to cover, I was a local journalist, and we get a lot of agent at PR Daily, I get a lot of pitches for agency moves and hires. We don’t do that kind of coverage. It’s fine. And a lot of other sites do. It’s just not what we do. Do your research and you’re going to have a lot. I think it’s those mismatched pitches that are also driving that percentage of success now.
Doug Downs (15:11):
And I got to think the fact we have so many messages coming at us through different channels every day. I mean, just in our little podcast, I’m getting three or four pitches a day now, and often it’s “Our guest can talk about how to run a successful PR agency.” Well, <laugh>, right? Yeah. Zoom in on something. Zoom in. I’m more interested in niche and maybe a little controversy here and there as well.
Allison Carter (15:38):
Well, you really need to find what unique spin can you put on? I deal with the same thing. Five tips for pitching the media. Yeah. What’s your hook? How can you going to write about the Netflix controversy? I’m very interested in that. How can you apply your wisdom to something that people are interested in? Again, that’s do that newsjacking thing that’s going to be really attractive.
Doug Downs (15:59):
Last up, and I’ve been waiting for this one, culture Wars Claim M&Ms. That was your headline. <laugh>
Allison Carter (16:06):
<laugh>. It’s a little bit of a hyperbolic headline. So M&Ms has, since they’ve, I actually didn’t realize how old they were. Apparently the M&Ms anthropomorphic mascots have been around since the sixties in one form or another In the last few years, M&Ms has been tweaking them, revamping them to the 21st century, including ramping down the sexiness of the green m and m, which for many, I can’t believe I’m talking about a candy sexiness, but she for many years was the only female ever. And that very oddly I think they took away her high heels and gave her sneakers, for instance. And some people in the United States, right wing conservative commentators thought that that was a sign of woke politics infiltrating an American classic icon. And so M&M announced that they’re going to I believe they called it a pause, but a pause on those mascots. And instead, during their Super Bowl ad coming up on Sunday, they’re going with comedian Maya Rudolph instead. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of these m and ms. Their language is very cagey and I would not be surprised if they crashed the Super Bowl ad or something like that. But it’s a very weird time.
Doug Downs (17:24):
Does it feel like a stunt?
Allison Carter (17:26):
Oh yeah. It’s totally a stunt.
Doug Downs (17:28):
Allison Carter (17:29):
Yeah. It’s a hundred percent a stunt. It kind of reminds me, if you guys remember a few years ago, the whole killing Mr. Peanut in the Planter’s Super Bowl ad.
Doug Downs (17:36):
Allison Carter (17:37):
Yes. So it definitely has tones of that to it. But I think that in some ways they did do this. They recognized that they were part of this tempest in a teapot, and they kind of said, well, we’ll use some of that attention. And they got ahead of the Super Bowl news cycle. They did this a couple weeks ago, a couple, three weeks ago before most people were talking about Super Bowl ads. So I think that was really clever and really extended the life cycle and help stop them from getting lost in the shuffle. Cause everybody’s going to be watching for their ad on Sunday
Doug Downs (18:07):
Go with the attack. That’s PR, juujitsu <affirmative> it’s, or marketing Jujitsu. That’s always good stuff. Allison, thank you for your time. These were great. I really appreciate it.
Allison Carter (18:16):
Great meeting with you.
Doug Downs (18:19):
If you’d like to send a message to my guest, Allison Carter. Best way to do that is by following Allison on Twitter or LinkedIn address is in the show notes. Stories and Strategies is a co-production of J G R Communications and Stories and Strategies podcasts. If you enjoyed this episode, do us a favor, recommend it to one friend. Thanks for listening.