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Episode 72

ChatGPT: Strategies & Best Practices In PR

Chris Harihar
Executive Vice President, Public Relations at Mod Op

Get ready to hear about the various AI applications in public relations, from press release writing to pitch support. Plus, stick around for some insights on data security, the art of experimentation and the potential of AI tools to reshape the PR and communications industry.

“This is a fully human job that is supported through these technologies. We’re not made obsolete by them.”

We’ll talk all about embracing higher-impact, value-driven endeavors that promise stellar results for clients. So, buckle up for this episode, packed with ideas to help you stay on the cutting edge of PR innovation.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • AI-driven PR strategies and best practices
  • How AI impacts public relations
  • Various AI applications in public relations
  • Data security and ethics
  • Challenges and opportunities of integrating AI into PR
  • Future of PR with AI integration

Watch the Live Recording

Full Episode Transcripts

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Leader Generation brought to you by Mod Op. Today our guest is Chris Harihar. He’s the EVP of PR at Crenshaw, a Mod Op company. Chris, thanks so much for joining us today.

Chris Harihar: Of course. Happy to be here. Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.

Tessa Burg: So we are going to be talking about best practices and strategies for using ChatGPT in PR. First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chris Harihar: Sure.

Tessa Burg: What really attracted you to starting to use ChatGPT in your work?

Chris Harihar: Well, thanks again for having me. I’m Chris Harihar, I’m a partner at Crenshaw Communications, a Mod Op company. We’re a premier boutique tech PR agency that specializes in B2B PR campaigns. We work with a lot of prominent technology brands and businesses like Yahoo, Crunchbase, and Double Verify.

Chris Harihar: I’ve spent a little over 13 years in the PR and communications industry over a decade of which a lifetime honestly has been with Crenshaw.

Chris Harihar: I think what makes me, I’ll first say just a little bit about what I think makes me stand out from a PR perspective on the AI topic. I have extensive, I have extensive experience working with a variety of AI companies through the work that we do in crafting AI narratives even if it’s not an AI specific company. I think all of our clients have AI stories and so I’ve been central to developing those and I’m not a technical expert in AI And to be clear, I’m quite familiar with the space. I’ve offered several articles on AI’s influence on PR in potential regulatory implications and more. I’ve also been talking a lot about AI at industry events. I’ve spoken to Reagan, I contribute to the Drum. I’ve spoken to, I’ve randomly spoken to the Department of Energy for some reason. They had me about the value of AI in marketing and communications and the way in which the communications industry is evolving on the topic of AI.

Chris Harihar: Moreover, I use AI tools, I think this is the most important thing particularly ChatGPT quite a bit to enhance my work and the results that I deliver for clients. And, I think I started using it probably in late December of last year, kind of fiddling with it trying to understand whether or not it would actually deliver quality product and outcomes. And I was shocked at the level in which and the sophistication that I would get from the writing.

Chris Harihar: And so it went from being sort of a grand experiment for me to being something that we’ve implemented at scale at Crenshaw in a more professional and formalized way to the point where all PR well, to the point where all press release writing, for example is now started using tools like ChatGPT keeping in mind, of course, client sensitivities related to data, information, et cetera. And so, it’s been quite a ride I would say since December.

Chris Harihar: But, I’m happy to beat the drum about how valuable it is, obviously from an agency perspective, but also ultimately and how it helps the client get more bang for their buck in terms of their spend with us and ultimately more exceptional results in terms of outcomes and work product. And so, we’ve seen a lot of value from it. And, I feel like OpenAI should put me on the payroll and I should be like the VComms influencer about the topic because it’s just so critically important I think, to the future of our space.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I agree. It’s awesome that you’re one of those first movers at the end of December. Cheryl Boehm, who’s the producer for this podcast she also started immediately testing out AI and ML tools not just for the podcast, but for our other agency work.

Tessa Burg: And so it was interesting for us, like on this call and in this interview to hear feedback that oh my gosh, AI and ML is going to change everything and wouldn’t it suck to be a writer? And you’re like, here’s what it’s going to replace first. And oh my gosh, if you’re a writer right now, you must be so worried.

Tessa Burg: And people really lost or didn’t understand, I don’t know if they lost it or they never understood that the value of writing goes way beyond what the words on the page are. And the roles of writers are so much more valuable than just what’s been typed or what’s been organized. Can you tell us a little bit about, how has using ChatGPT impacted the value of the work that you’re doing now?

Chris Harihar: Yeah, and all of these are great questions and I think the context that you gave is great. I think I’m happy to dive more into the specifics on how we’re using the tech. I think like at Crenshaw, our belief in gen AI is really, it’s, I would say that it has it is now deeply ingrained in Crenshaw’s philosophy starting from the very top.

Chris Harihar: So, I’m a staunch advocate for the tech and truly believe that it has the potential to revolutionize the comm space accelerating the pace of work, enhancing quality optimizing time usage, and so on and so forth.

Chris Harihar: And I think there are PR people who don’t believe in this technology and aren’t embracing it fully in the same way. And to them I say, “Good luck, you’ll be left behind, in this space as you preserve things that need not be preserved.”

Chris Harihar: I think ultimately this is technology that absolutely should be championed in every organization. And we’ve made that a clear at Crenshaw where everybody has a ChatGPT+ account, for example, that we pay for. And we’ve created specific guidelines and best practices about how to leverage these technologies to ultimately get the best value.

Chris Harihar: And so I think this false binary of sort of based in sci-fi around, it’s us or them it’s like the robots or the humans is a false dichotomy. And it’s really about, this is always going to be a human job. There’s not really a way for AI to replicate the connection that I have with a reporter and the expertise that I have from a strategy and messaging perspective. You just can’t get that from an AI. But my value is augmented and made better through, tools like AI, ChatGPT, Midjourney Stable Diffusion and others.

Chris Harihar: And so, I think that’s really the way that people in this space should think about it. And, I think clients most agencies aren’t having explicit conversations with clients about this grand sort of thinking around how AI is reshaping comms. But I do think that the clients sort of implicitly recognize that there has been positive impact and benefit through these tools whether that’s seeing a press release be delivered five days earlier than it typically would’ve been pre-ChatGPT or, seeing more uniformity in writing across the work that they do with an agency partner and other partners that they work with. They might have multiple agencies, multiple partners or even if it’s seeing, an award or conference submission submitted in record time. I think there’s there’s a lot of value that they tacitly sort of recognize, but it’s not really, there’s not an explicit conversation necessarily around that. So, it’s been an interesting time for sure. And I think the way in which we philosophically approach artificial intelligence as a comms industry and agency by agency really should be centered around receptiveness and embracing, the value that you can ultimately get.

Tessa Burg: Yes. And you mentioned earlier that when you’re using ChatGPT, you’re careful that you’re not exposing client information. So, let’s dive a little bit into the best practices. What are some of the things that PR professionals need to do or keep in mind as they’re using Gen AI in their workflow?

Chris Harihar: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. I think ultimately, and I’ve experimented a lot with use cases, so I think it first starts with all of this is just mass experimentation. I mean like the comms industry just for quick historical context, there has been a lot of BS talk about AI within the space for years. I think we saw it early on in the space.

Chris Harihar: I think folks talk about media monitoring and that AI was seen as a tool to enhance media monitoring and that would make it more easy to track content that might include clients. There was also more, there was also a lot of thought around sentiment analysis and AI’s impact on being able to provide more of a nuanced understanding of public sentiment I think at scale.

Chris Harihar: And then there’s measurement which has always been sort of a bugaboo for the comms industry, which is largely honestly, it’s a little bit more of an art than a science sometimes. And I think there was thought that AI would play a bigger role on the measurement side. And that’s typically how, folks have talked about AI within the comms space but a lot of it was amorphous and a lot of it was just thought leadership for thought leadership’s sake when there was no actual AI implementation within the comms field.

Chris Harihar: Honestly, before ChatGPT, I don’t think anybody could say that there was true artificial intelligence implementation or execution within comms. And so now that we have these tools we’ve seen a lot of experimentation, which has led us to some of the best possible use cases for the technology which I think then guides how you, your decision making on what you should and should not do with it.

Chris Harihar: So for us, I think there are around seven use cases that are how we predominantly might use ChatGPT. We use it for, or in other tools. We use it for press release writing, we use it for copy editing, we use it for pitch support. We don’t write full pitches necessarily through ChatGPT but we can help make them shorter, we can help ideate on language use, we can help come up with really, we can come with some really interesting subject lines through the use of ChatGPT and AB testing some of those subject lines. I think also plan support. If a client wants a media training memo you’ve written one media training memo you’ve kind of written them all, there’s a lot of opportunities sort of optimized on that front.

Chris Harihar: Data analysis has been a really interesting use case. A very cool example is recently for a prospect they wanted to have an understanding around they wanted a sentiment analysis around a technology that they were launching. I actually just took a hundred Reddit posts about the technology, I stuck it into Google Doc then I anonymized it, then I stuck it into ChatGPT and I actually had it come up with a pattern analysis of the sentiment that it was seeing within the conversations on Reddit.

Chris Harihar: So, I think data analysis was really cool use case and then awards and conference submissions are another way that we’re using it. And then also I would say ideation at a large scale for, where we’re just trying to like figure out new angles and think about ways to connect topics that maybe we haven’t thought of before.

Chris Harihar: And so those are the primary use cases. And then I think when it comes to how do you operate within each use case, there are no clear best practices necessarily for anyone. There’s nothing written by the PRs say, saying here’s how you should definitively use AI tools to write a press release to do a client memo, et cetera. And so a lot of it’s experimentation.

Chris Harihar: I think the key things to keep in mind are data sensitivities. You want to exercise caution with the data you input into AI tools. We have a great client called Copyleaks that specifically focuses on this as a business. They provide tools at an enterprise level that will actually block an end user from inputting certain words into ChatGPT and other gen AI services. Kind of a new technology, I think really a good example of what you’re going to see more of in the space.

Chris Harihar: But data sensitivities are key. And so you want to make sure that data security is paramount and that you’re not putting in sensitive information. And if you are putting in information that might be related to a sensitive topic you want to make sure that it’s anonymized or that you’re using dummy names for example.

Chris Harihar: But disclosures I think are important. Deciding what to disclose whether to clients as an agency or to teammates in-house is really up to the agency. It’s again, there’s not best practice there but I think debates around ethics and standards and AI use for PR somewhat comical on like we’re seeing a shakeout on how to disclose more of these use of these tools to clients. and there are a couple of other things that I think you have to keep in mind regarding, like basically adoption within.

Chris Harihar: I would say adoption is one of the biggest challenges within this space right now. There are a lot of folks that just don’t believe in this technology so you have to get buy-in for both clients and partners to use it, and hopefully they see the value. But those are just a couple. And I’m just going to go on and on. So go and jump in here, Tessa, because I could probably speak for an hour about it.

Tessa Burg: I think I really like these use cases and it’s interesting, only two of them are really about writing, you’re using ChatGPT and Gen AI to deliver value to give insights that before you may have not even had time to do that level of work.

Chris Harihar: Totally.

Tessa Burg: And what has been the response from clients on sort of not just seeing things get done faster but then also delivering analysis and insights that you wouldn’t really maybe expect from your PR company?

Chris Harihar: You know, it’s funny, I think the clients understand and recognize, I think implicitly that there has been value, but we don’t explicitly talk about it. I think I mentioned this before, but I think they just think that I’m a lot smarter than they thought I was.

Chris Harihar: No, but it’s just incredible that what you can do from a research perspective. I think that has been one of the really most awesome use cases of this technology. I was doing an analysis for a retail related client the other day where they provided me with basket affinity data. Basket affinity is if I buy one product, if I buy milk, I’m more likely to also buy coffee cream. And they gave me all of this data on basket affinity that they track through their technology. And to come up with creative, to come up with ways to link why one product might be connected to another at scale was difficult to do by myself.

Chris Harihar: I could spend hours and hours and hours doing that, of course, with a lot of research. But I brought ChatGPT into it and was able to really quickly, within five minutes, come up with some very clear and very obvious ways to connect the dots on the basket affinity data. And so, it’s a great example of like that would’ve taken me in another life maybe a week plus to work on with the tools now I’m able to do it within 24 hours. The client gets it in the fact, in a way that just inconceivably previously from a timeline perspective. If anything, it’s probably going to spoil clients in that.

Tessa Burg: Yeah.

Chris Harihar: In that now they’re thinking that you’ve got these accelerated timelines and that there’s like, this is easy work, Chris. And there’s a lot of behind the scenes work and embrace of really cutting-edge technology that I think it enables that. And we’re trying to talk to clients about that so that they understand whereas before it was like the raw human insight that you would provide would sort of be seen as your differentiator as a PR person and a comms professional. Now it’s that plus your ability to use technology in combination with your raw human insight and expertise to deliver even better outcomes, faster outcomes. And so I think that’s what we’re seeing.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. And I like that you said it’s the human plus being able to use technology and not every PR company is going to be awesome at using the technology. Like there’s a lot of human creativity that even went into your use cases on the best way to use these technologies. So how, tell me a little bit about like how did you get buy-in because we all work at a large company.

Chris Harihar: Sure.

Tessa Burg: To get everyone on board that this did you prioritize some of the use cases? Did you prioritize training, like feel about that change management to get everyone on board that, “Hey, this is something that’s going to help us bring more value to the clients.” It’s not replacing us, it’s not exposing their data it’s not doing damage to them. What was that process like?

Chris Harihar: It’s really funny you mentioned a large agency dynamic. What’s interesting about Crenshaw, we actually of course we’re part of Mod Op now and I think there’s awesome opportunity and resource now provided by being part of this larger entity.

Chris Harihar: What’s interesting about Crenshaw though is that we’re smaller. We were smaller, smaller to start, we were just under 30 people. And I think that gave us a first mover advantage and the flexibility we needed to really experiment, test out the technologies that we wanted to try and then bring that to the wider team for adoption and implementation.

Chris Harihar: So, it really started with me as a partner at Crenshaw to essentially oversee everything within, this side of the house. And I was able to test the technology get buy-in for myself, and then I brought that to the team with specific use cases on how we can actually leverage this to make our lives easier and to deliver better client work ultimately. And so because of that, there was less friction.

Chris Harihar: I am seeing, we also work on a retainer basis primarily where clients care about outcomes and they care about quality of work that’s delivered to them ultimately. And there’s less concern over ‘Chris that you spend 15 minutes working on a media list and if you guys spend 20 minutes talking to a journalist, there’s less of that.’ And I think those are some of the challenges that you’ve seen in the communication space in general that have prevented the adoption of these technologies at scale.

Chris Harihar: You see, like the hourly model, for example which a lot of larger PR agencies operate under, ChatGPT and similar AI tools I think are rattling that traditional hourly billing model. They enable faster work completion. And which unnerves, I think a lot of PR veterans that are sort of clinging to the old ways. I think the hourly model will continue to persist of course from a comms perspective, but we’ll shift towards more high impact value driven tasks and priorities. So I think that’s key.

Chris Harihar: And then, I think there are just a lot of old guards who are sort of, like trying to preserve the sanctity of a press release in a way that just doesn’t make sense in this modern era where you have all these new tools. So if you looked at like the marketing side of the business marketing has been way faster in adopting, cutting-edge technology, comms has not been. And so we’re trying to change that not just from a perception standpoint but from actual implementation and use perspective. I think we’re playing our small role within the category to do that.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, there’s so much there. And we’re out of time but I’m going to just summarize some key takeaways that I heard you say I think are really important for anyone in communications and PR thinking about starting to leverage ChatGPT or Gen AI in their process.

Tessa Burg: And one to get started, they need someone like you, they need someone who is forward thinking willing to test and outcome driven because that’s really why you would use the tool. It is not to replace people, cut down on the hours you spend. It’s to do different things with the hours you spend on the client. Instead of everything being how much you’re writing, it’s getting creative about the insights that you’re driving, who you’re contacting, spending more time on that relationship building and how you’re pitching a story.

Tessa Burg: And I love that because to your point, the more human things you do, really the better the results because you can get higher quality coverage, more coverage, more eyeballs or spend more time on the feedback. And the things that the ChatGPT and really any I’m trying to think of any AI apps, they’re not going to be able to do they can always summarize it you can always automate different parts of the process but really humans own creativity written relationships.

Chris Harihar: 100%. This is a very, this is a fully human job that is supported through these technologies. We’re not made obsolete by them. So I think it’s really important to consider that false, this false binary of, robots versus humans is just, it’s not real. It’s more of an augmentative supportive relationship. And I think you’re gonna see a lot of this transactional PR communications work shift over to automation and through the use of AI which means that the focus is gonna shift to higher impact PR work that commands greater value and ultimately delivers better results for the clients, which we’re seeing.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Chris. It’s been a very interesting conversation. And if I were one of your clients would be pumped that you guys have incorporated this into your process and I’m really looking forward to collaborating and seeing more insights and work…

Chris Harihar: Sure.

Tessa Burg: from Crenshaw

Chris Harihar: No, thank you for having me. Excited to, to have this conversation and to keep going.

Tessa Burg: And if you want to listen to more episodes of Leader Generation you can visit Mod Op.com and click podcast. And feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn. If you have any questions you can find me at Tessa Berg and Chris if anyone has questions for you, where can they find you?

Chris Harihar: You could find me at Chris C-h-r-i-s at, actually, well I was going to say at Mod Op that’s probably not the case. C-h-r-i-s @ Crenshaw com.com

Tessa Burg: Awesome. All right. Until next time, have a great week.

Chris Harihar

Executive Vice President, Public Relations at Mod Op

Chris Harihar is the EVP of Public Relations at Mod Op. With deep expertise in business and tech media relations, Chris counsels clients at a high level while maintaining hands-on involvement in media relations and content strategy. He has developed and run highly successful programs for leading B2B and tech brands, from Verizon Media/Yahoo and DoubleVerify to Signal AI, IDG (now Foundry) and WeTransfer. Chris can be reached on LinkedIn or at [email protected].