Is AI in PR and marketing a sword or a shield? - We Change Minds

Is AI in PR and marketing a sword or a shield?

In their seminal book, the Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, Al Ries and Laura Ries famously describe PR as a sword and advertising as a shield.


By this, they mean that PR fills a brand building role in a technology PR campaign and advertising fills a defensive role, maintaining brand values once PR has created them. Broadly speaking, this is something with which I can agree, even 22 years later.

But it does make me ask the same question of AI – is it a sword or shield? Or something else?


Last week at the CIPR Midlands conference, Peter Heneghan, the founder of an organisation called The Future Communicator, talked about an idea called the AI halo. Heneghan uses this phrase to describe the group of technologies that sit around an organisation and between it and social media – and one might argue the media itself.

Heneghan includes tools like Beautiful.AI, Canva, Discord, Feedly, Grammarly, HeyGen, MailChimp and OpenAI in this category. This idea made me ask, is this halo, this circle or barrier of light, filling a brand building or defensive function?


Broadly speaking all these tools are creative, so one might argue they fill a brand building function. However, advertising is also a constructive and creative activity. Ries’ original metaphor doesn’t ask us to consider whether an action is aggressive or positive, but rather the position that action occupies in the history of a brand.

He argued that PR builds brands and it is only when those brands have been built that advertising should step in and begin to defend them. This is a question of chronology, not of proactivity.

So, does generative AI’s role as a guerilla marketing tool, one that allows small brands to compete at scale with larger ones mean it’s a sword? In the history of a brand, does it fill a more active role in the early days?

Not necessarily, some of the most progressive AI-based marketing activity I’ve encountered has been in large organisations.


I think the answer sits in a reframing of Ries’ original statement. AI, like both PR and advertising, is neither a sword nor a shield. It’s a bootstrap.

AI allows smart practitioners to accelerate the route they are taking to the end result, to use their existing resource to lift themselves up, quite literally by their own bootstraps.

This applies in a large organisation or a small one, because AI is, so often, a personal tool. Most of the good applications of AI I’ve seen have come from a permissive a progressive organisation telling its people to think and experiment freely. It rarely comes from the mandated use of a particular AI tool to achieve a distinct result.

So put away your swords, hang up your shields and look down at your feet. AI in marketing is merely a question of steps.


Stone Junction scores hat trick at Midlands PR awards

Stafford PR firm scores hat trick at Midlands PR Awards

Prev read-more

Writing prompts for AI? Ask TRACI

Next read-more
How to write prompts for a generative AI