AI Event: Friend or Foe – How we unravelled the complexities of AI’s role in PR and marketing

Last week, Pinstone hosted our first comms learning and networking event exploring the big question of whether artificial intelligence, or AI, is a friend or foe to those working in our sector.

A huge team effort went into organising the event and our thanks goes to everyone who attended and particularly to the external panellists who took the time to share their wealth of expertise on this rapidly evolving subject.

It was an incredibly eye-opening deep dive into AI with a raft of key learnings from the day.

AI’s rapid evolution

Recent industry stats on AI speak for themselves. In February 2023 just 15% of agencies reported using generative AI, with 25% saying they would ‘never’ adopt these tools in a survey conducted by PR industry body PRCA.

Fast forward just four months to June and the number of agencies reportedly using ChatGPT had already increased to 57%.

Similarly, in February there were 993 AI tools available but as of the end of September this has grown exponentially to 16,723. As Hamzah Malik half-joked that ‘economically it’s an arms race.’

It was pointed out by Stephen Waddington, that without a robust regulatory framework in place, people are ‘literally making it up as they go along.’

The speed with which the technology is developing was one of the primary reasons for hosting our event on this subject, to share our learnings and those of leading industry figures on such a hot topic in comms.

As comms professionals we’re keen to avoid ‘sleepwalking’ into these technological developments. It’s clear that AI is transforming our industry, but will this be for better or worse?

The pros of using AI

Whether we like it or not, AI is out of Pandora’s Box and there’s no going back. On the positive side of the debate, Ben Verinder believed that generative AI ‘is almost like magic’ and that reductive AI is an ‘incredibly powerful and useful’ tool.

Large language models such as ChatGPT are hugely democratising and have the potential to allow organisations to grow faster by using the technology to its capacity.

AI can also augment existing processes and allow people to flex their communications skills more. Viewing AI as a ‘tool’, it can help enhance outputs or automate more mundane tasks, or even spark creativity.

Potential pitfalls of AI

However, the dynamic acceleration of tech and speed of adoption in general is not without its drawbacks.

Catherine Brien told the audience that they must ‘be accountable’ and ‘don’t trust the machine’. Maintaining critical thinking and fact checking in the face of the threat of AI’s occasional ‘hallucinations’ which generate false information is something to keep top of mind.

As well as practical issues, there are also ethical and legal considerations. These include copyright, privacy, transparency and meeting stakeholder expectations. Therefore, responsible use of AI is crucial to mitigating risks such as misinformation, fake news, and data privacy issues.

For AI to be truly beneficial it must be effectively integrated into the agency governance with staff receiving the upskilling they need to take advantage of the power of these technical innovations.

As Catherine explained; “If you want to embrace AI. Think about your objectives first, then think about the tools that are available to achieve those goals.”

Be on the front foot with your AI policy

For forward thinking agencies, it’s vital to stop pondering ‘should we use AI?’ and instead proactively consider exactly when, where, and why you are going to integrate AI into your workflow instead.

At Pinstone, we’ve developed a rigorous AI policy which has been rolled out following comprehensive staff training and an internal pilot project.

Our AI taskforce lead, Rebecca Morgan provided an overview of how large language models and other tools have been adopted in six areas: from supporting with commodity content, ideation, research support, through to SEO optimisation, audio transcription, and sentiment analysis.

“We have implemented best practice measures to ensure our team and clients can benefit from these evolving technologies while minimising the associated risks. We have a series of guard rails in place so that we don’t ever compromise on delivering high quality outputs that we’ve built our reputation on,” says Rebecca.

It’s a point echoed by Ben Briggs who said that while AgriConnect use AI in a restricted capacity ‘the reputational risk long term is too risky’ for their journalists to be replaced by emerging technologies and that humans will continue to be the ‘gatekeepers’ for core editorial content.

Next steps for AI

While there was clear excitement and enthusiasm about the opportunities AI offers from our panellists and audience, this was tempered by genuine concerns about potential pitfalls and the need for careful oversight and ethical considerations.

When put to the final vote at the end of the session, the panel concluded that AI is a friend to be treated with caution. As Catherine warned, ‘human accountability is paramount.’

Event showreel highlights

Further reading recommended by the panel:

The Bard’s last word on AI

In case you need an example of the power of AI, here’s a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare Catherine Brien produced created using ChatGPT on whether AI is a friend or foe?

Upon this stage, where human minds entwine,

A question, pondered by both low and high,

Doth rise like tempest’s surge in hearts’ design,

Shall AI befriend or, as a foe, draw nigh?

Majestic algorithms, finely tuned,

Their intellects surpassing mortal ken,

Yet fear, like shadows in the night, festooned,

As man-made intellects rise ‘gainst our ken.

Yet in the circuits, virtue may reside,

As friend, companion, guide, and helper true,

To aid, enhance, and magnify our stride,

If we with wisdom steer this course anew.

In silicon and code, we chart our way,

With choices made, ’tis up to us to sway.

Thanks again to our all our speakers:

  • Catherine Brien, consumer digital and data science expert at management consultancy firm Alix Partners
  • Ben Briggs, Group publisher and editor-in-chief at Agriconnect (publisher of Farmers Guardian)
  • Hamzah Malik, Founder of Vet Pulse, the AI-powered vet’s assistant
  • Ben Verinder, managing director of Chalkstream and author of a number of public relations guides – including ‘AI and data ethics’
  • Stephen Waddington, founder and managing partner of Wadds Inc a professional advisory business for comms agencies and former CIPR President
  • Catherine Linch, Pinstone’s managing director
  • Rebecca Morgan, associate director at Pinstone
  • Helen Maiden, Pinstone director
  • Hannah Lloyd, Pinstone director

If you’d like to learn more about Pinstone’s use of AI please contact us at

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