New Study from WE and USC: AI Readiness Critical to Future of Comms

May 16, 2023


SEATTLE – May 16, 2023 – Fascinated and frightened, that’s the assessment of 400 senior communications professionals asked to share their response to the recent explosion of interest in generative AI. A comprehensive new survey released today by WE Communications (WE) and the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations (USC Annenberg) reveals communications leaders recognize the importance of AI for the future of the industry but don’t yet have the knowledge and experience they need. The survey results underscore the opportunity and urgency for communicators to reconcile that gap by building AI readiness through increased education, experimentation and dedicated skill building.

“We are at the start of a massive disruption to our work, our lives and our world — not unlike other technological leaps we have navigated over our 40-year history,” said Tiffany Cook, president, technology and consumer sectors at WE. “We must again step up to help our clients navigate the adoption of new technology, and a new way of working. The good news is that this survey shows communications leaders have an opportunity to take a leading role in building understanding for how AI in communications can be used purposefully, strategically and ethically.”

The new report published by WE and USC Annenberg, “Fascinated and Frightened: A Look at How Communications Professionals Are Viewing the AI Opportunity Ahead,” captures the survey insights and how communications professionals can apply them to their work. The report uncovers four major findings including challenges to adoption, immediate opportunities to unlock the full potential of generative Al, and a recommended path forward.

“This report is a collective effort between USC Annenberg and WE to secure visibility into the impact that generative AI is having on professional communicators, and uncover insights into how the broader industry is reacting and how those in the field must act now to define its future,” said Cook.

Key Findings

  1. AI fluency and generative AI experimentation in communications are low; opportunity for education and action
  2. Most communications leaders see efficiency benefits in the short run, yet there is interest to expand beyond to better understand new forms of creativity in the future
  3. Communications leaders are acutely aware of the challenges of AI adoption
  4. New skills and a mindset shift for communicators are key to capturing the AI opportunity

Although the majority of surveyed communications leaders recognized the importance of AI to the future of public relations, only 23% say their organizations are currently making changes to the way they work with AI tools — highlighting the need for readiness and literacy. Sixty-one percent cited concerns with misinformation/disinformation, while the other most common concerns were information security (44%) and data privacy (45%). These statistics confirm that communications leaders are acutely aware of the challenges of AI adoption.

Looking to the future, the survey captured that although 88% of communications leaders expect to see efficiency benefits in the short run, there is interest in unlocking new forms of creativity through guided experimentation. Fifty-five percent of respondents agreed that creativity in the field would be positively impacted by AI — whether by encouraging new lines of thinking and brainstorming, or by freeing up workers from mundane tasks. To that end, the report recommends communications leaders prioritize learning new skills to untap this productivity. Ultimately, the first movers to develop competencies in generative AI and understand the communications use cases will stand to gain the most value.

“In an earlier survey we conducted, only 4% of PR professionals said they were ‘very familiar with AI.’ Since then, that number has increased, but historically the communications industry is slow to adopt new technologies. We can’t let that happen with AI,” said Fred Cook, director of USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations. “We need to manage the critical issues associated with AI and move aggressively to incorporate it into our work.”

To increase a communications organization’s AI readiness and tap into the full power of generative AI as a partner and collaborator, WE has also included AI Readiness Tips for Communicators embedded within the report “Fascinated and Frightened: A Look at How Communications Professionals Are Viewing AI Opportunity Ahead.”



About the Report

The WE Communications and the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations report, “Fascinated and Frightened: A Look at How Communications Professionals Are Viewing the AI Opportunity Ahead,” is based on a survey of 394 employed people across a range of roles in the field of communications located in the United States. The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, queried respondents about their familiarity with AI tools, attitudes regarding its value for the communications industry, and the level of impact it will have in the immediate future.

About WE

WE is one of the largest independent communications and integrated marketing agencies in the world. We’re all about people — both our clients and employees — and we believe in the power of communications to move audiences to positive action. Female-founded, female-led, and fiercely independent, WE has spent more than three decades helping world-class brands tell technology-led transformation stories that shift perceptions and change behavior.?

Our global reach includes offices in 21 cities, partner networks that expand our footprint and client capabilities, and a team of more than 1,500 media and content strategists, creatives and data scientists across our technology, health, and consumer sectors. Our work with global brands like Microsoft, Intel, McDonald’s, and Volvo has been recognized by Cannes Lions, PRovoke SABRE Awards and PRWeek Awards, just to name a few.?

For more information, press only: Kara Kraft, WE, (503) 443-7143, [email protected]