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Is AI writing an agency’s friend or foe?

The communications world has been abuzz with discussion about the impact that AI-generated content may have on their roles.

Some agency owners are concerned about tools like ChatGPT taking away revenue from their businesses, while others see those same services as an opportunity to increase efficiency and profitability.

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss the questions that they have been hearing from agency leaders and share some of their insights on where the technology stands today — and what the future may hold.

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Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “Where we add the value is in the storytelling and the engagement. And the process that it takes to engage and nurture somebody from a website visitor to a customer. That’s where we add the value from a content perspective. And this AI doesn’t do that.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Agencies should be focused on working with their clients on longer term plays to try to figure out how do we create engaging content that creates a relationship with the reader that draws them in, that shows off our actual individual expertise that we have within our organization. And if you’re doing those things, then AI is not nearly as much of a threat.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “This is an opportunity, just like when social media was launched and when blogging was launched, and we’ve had all of these changes in the last 10 or 15 years that have affected the way that we run our businesses. And it hasn’t created this whole crisis where we all go out of business.”
  • Chip Griffin: “It’s sort of like when we brought along combustion engines and if you were going to be determined that all you were ever going to do was run a horse and buggy, well, you’ve probably got an issue there.”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Gini, today I think we’re gonna be artificially intelligent, because let’s face it, we can’t be intelligent on our own.

Gini Dietrich: No, we cannot. I agree with you.

Chip Griffin: Right after this.

So we’ll call this the, uh, the NutraSweet episode, of the Agency Leadership Podcast.

Gini Dietrich: I love it.

Chip Griffin: Does NutraSweet even still exist?

Gini Dietrich: I don’t know. I was just gonna say, I think you just aged yourself. I don’t know that. I don’t know if it does.

Chip Griffin: I remember as a kid that was, they were the pink packets, right?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I, yeah, I think so.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Yeah.

Gini Dietrich: It might still exist. It might.

Chip Griffin: It, I, you know, I, I’m sure it probably exists right along. I mean, Sanka has still gotta be out there too. I remember all of the grandparents and that sort of thing, drank Sanka, which was just super nasty. Instant coffee.

Gini Dietrich: Well, she loved it. Ugh.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. So Sanka with Nutrasweet. Mm, tasty.

Gini Dietrich: Good for you too.

Chip Griffin: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. No, but we are, we are gonna talk about, Artificial intelligence because it’s something that you and I are getting asked a lot about by agency owners, and so this way we can just have an episode and point them here so that we don’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over and over again because there are a lot of people who are freaking out over ChatGPT, which is, if you’ve been living in a cave. And, and I suspect that most of our listeners have heard of ChatGPT, but if you haven’t, ChatGPT is artificial intelligence with an asterisk. I don’t like AI as a term in most cases, but it will write things for you. It will do other things, but largely it writes things for you.

So you can say, give me a 750 word article on some topic and it will spit it out at you in just a couple of minutes. If, if even that long.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, it’s, it’s fast and it can take on almost any topic. And I mean, for first draft it’s pretty credible.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s not bad. I mean, I’ve tried it on a couple things and you know, it’s, it is, I, I would say it is, it is workmanlike in what it produces.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Chip Griffin: I would, for the things that I’ve seen, I would describe it as sort of Wikipedia esque as far as how…

Gini Dietrich: yeah, that’s a great, that’s right.

Chip Griffin: …it puts things out. It’s not, it’s not particularly entertaining. I’ve seen some people ask for it to write things in a more entertaining form. Eh, it feels kind of to me like a computer wrote something that it thought was entertaining.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I feel like, so I actually last year now, 2022, I did a Spin Sucks podcast episode on it, and I had it write the first half of the script. And I asked it about writer’s block. So I asked it, you know, what is writer’s block? What are some symptoms of writer’s block? What are some things that you can do to get around writer’s block. And it was actually pretty good, but it was definitely, you could definitely tell a robot a computer had written it. And so the second half of the, the episode I talked about how, you know, it’s a great first draft, but there it’s missing many things. It’s missing context, it’s missing storytelling, it’s missing personality, it’s missing sources.

It doesn’t cite sources. So you start to get into a little bit of trouble with it because, especially if you’re using that as your final draft, because it’s not something that can be used without human interaction in it as a final draft. So it’s a great place to start and if you do have writer’s block, it’s a great place to get started so that you have something on the page, but it’s not something you would end with.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and, and I think a, as far as something to, to get you unstuck or to, to just get you started. Absolutely. I, I think it’s got some real value there and it may help you unearth some things that you hadn’t thought of that maybe you want to include in a blog post, article, press release, what have you. But at the same time, I think you also need to be careful because I’ve seen a number of stories where it has made mistakes, right?

And so you need to make sure that you’re not taking whatever comes out of it as infallible because it writes things in a very authoritative way and, and it sounds like an expert, but it may or may not be correct. And a couple of examples that I’ve seen recently. One was someone had asked it to put together a playlist of 20 songs.

I believe it was artists from New Jersey, and, and it said, don’t repeat the same artist more than once. Well, first of all, it repeated an artist more than once, and, and I’ve seen it having some difficulty with these simple instructions. I asked it to write a 750 word article and it gave me a 600 word article, for example.

Yeah. You can say, well, that’s only 150 words, but that’s 20%. Right, right. So it’s a substantial difference in what was a pretty simple portion of the request. In this particular case of the, the playlist, it repeated the, the artist, but it also confused towns in New Jersey in the United States with towns with the same name in England.

Okay. And so, so that’s, that’s a problem. I, I saw, I saw someone who had asked it to write something on political philosophy and it confused the views of two different philosophers who were often mentioned in tandem in a lot of academic writing. And of course, as we know, academic writing is sometimes not the most clear, can be a little too verbose.

And so, natural language processing may have some difficulty in properly understanding the nuances of philosophical beliefs. And so you need to be careful that whatever you take out of it, you’re checking and don’t just assume that it says, you know, so-and-so is from New Jersey. Confirm that so-and-so was from New Jersey before you publish it.

Or you share it with a client for them to publish.

Gini Dietrich: Right. And, and to the, the, the political philosopher standpoint as well, make sure that you’re quoting the right philosopher or expert or thought leader before you publish it.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and that’s why it’s important, particularly the, the more…the more expertise driven an article is, or piece of content is, the more you need to make sure that someone with that level of expertise is reviewing it and/or you’ve actually done the research to back it up yourself.

Yeah, so, so this is, while it can be a, a shortcut to getting started, it’s not an overall shortcut because you still need to be confident in everything that goes in the file product.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. So I mean, if you’re creating things like listicles or how-tos or things like that, I think it’s probably a great place to start.

But like I said, and, and to your point as well, you have to cite sources. You can’t just write content and then, and not cite sources or quote people. You, you can’t do that. You can’t have quotes in there and not say who they’re by. You. It, it doesn’t have any storytelling or personality to it. So you have to go be able to go in and add that.

So there’s a lot of nuance, I think, to it in terms of being able to say, okay, here it is. But is it a great place to start? I think it is. Like it’s, it, it gives you a really, I mean, a lot of people have writer’s block and they stare at a blank page, and it’s a lot easier to do something and go in and add and, you know, correct or change once you have something on the page. So it’s a great place to start from that perspective. You have to also ask it really smart questions. You can’t just be like, write me an article about writer’s block and expect that it’s going to be something perfect, that you’re gonna have 100% done.

But if you ask it really smart questions to get to that point, then I think it gives you enough to at least be able to go in and start editing.

Chip Griffin: Yep. I’ve talked with a, a number of agency owners who have enthusiasm about what this platform means for them as far as being able to give them this start and to, to help them out in creating content because we’re all facing this challenge to feed the, the content beast for our clients.

And so finding ways that can. Reduce the amount of labor hours that it takes to, to achieve that is helpful. On the flip side, I’ve, I’ve also talked to agency owners who are freaking out about this. Yes. And saying, oh my God, you know, we, right now we do lots of writing for our clients. If, if this is, if this is out there, our clients aren’t going to need us.

Or they’re not gonna pay us as much because they’ll figure we can just use this and, and they don’t need to pay for quality writers or writing. It’s just, we just need this. So, Are you seeing people freaking out? And if so, what are you telling them?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I, I am seeing people freak out about it. Not just, not just clients, but also friends on social media.

But here a, a couple of things. So 10 years ago, I remember meeting a business owner who told me that they didn’t need any marketing or communications because they just had a firm in India go and scrape content off of their competitor’s websites. And then that’s the content they used on their website.

And I was like, is that so? And he’s like, yeah, so why would I pay somebody to do that when that’s what I can do? And I was like, well, I, for all of these reasons. Let’s start with the fact that Google won’t allow it. And he’s like, no, it’s great. It’s fine. His website eventually did get shut down, because of that practice.

But you are going to have clients out there that say, we can just use this. And that’s fine. Great. Okay. And from my perspective, not a client we want to have, because they’re not valuing the actual work that we do. If they’re creating content with ChatG… I never get it right. G P T?G T P?

Chip Griffin: Yes. G P T.

Gini Dietrich: G P T I never get it right,.

Chip Griffin: But now, now you’re making me second guess myself. Thanks.

Gini Dietrich: I know I know, I always change the letters anyway. If you’re using, if they’re using AI to create content and as their final product, everybody else in their industry is gonna be doing the same thing and all of their content’s gonna be the same. So there’s not gonna be any engagement, there’s not gonna be any thought leadership, there’s not gonna be any of the things that, as an agency, we add the value in.

And if that’s the, that’s what they wanna do, great. But eventually they’re all gonna look the same. They’re all going to sound the same and it’s not going to work. Where we add the value is in the storytelling and the engagement. And the process that it takes to engage and nurture somebody from a website visitor to a customer. That’s where we add the value from a content perspective.

And this AI doesn’t do it, do that. So if you have clients who are saying, we can do this, so be it. Like, okay, you go do your thing. Kind of like this guy that was scraping competitor websites for his own website. Okay? Like, I, I can’t change that. There’s nothing I can do about that. But where I can add value is in using the AI to make my team more efficient, and then adding in the, the value that we as human beings, as talented, creative, skillful human beings create.

That’s where we can add the value. So let it let it help you start, but it’s not going to be the end.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I mean, I do think that, that it does present a more clear and direct threat to certain kinds of agencies. So, SEO agencies that are more content mills. I think that, that this is a real threat to them because a lot of the content that many of them churn out is, not that different from what this AI is producing. And so to the extent that you’re putting out filler content, just because it’s got keywords in the headline and it more or less answers the, the question that a searcher might ask. Yeah. I mean, I think that if I were that kind of an agency, I would be concerned about what this means for me. That said, I don’t encourage agencies to be that way, because those are the kinds of agencies that are typically chasing the latest Google algorithm changes and all that. And I think agencies should be focused on working with their clients on longer term plays to try to figure out how do we create engaging content that creates a relationship with the reader that draws them in, that shows off our actual individual expertise that we have within our organization. And if you’re doing those things, then AI is not nearly as much of a threat.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I totally agree with you. And you know, I think this is an opportunity, just like when social media was launched and when blogging was launched, and we’ve had all of these changes in the last 10 or 15 years that have affected the way that we run our businesses.

And it hasn’t created the, this whole crisis where we all go out of business. What it has done is allowed us to find ways to evolve and to offer different and, and truthfully more valuable services to our clients. So, yeah, you’re right. If you’re just churning out filler content, and there are plenty of agencies out there that are quote unquote content agency, content marketing agencies, that they write the same content for every dentist in the country and every dentist’s website has the same content on it because they work with this content marketing agency.

That’s probably AI’s probably a threat to your, your business for sure. But for the rest of us that are working on things that are strategic and valuable and results driven, it’s not a threat. It’s going to make us more efficient. It’s going to make us more profitable, but it’s not a threat.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and I think the evolution that you talk about is absolutely critical for agencies at all times.

And I, and unfortunately, I think agencies, unlike many other businesses, oftentimes think that they can continue doing what’s always worked for them and they don’t have to evolve. Sure, sure. Not true of all agencies, but certainly there are some, particularly in the, in the PR space, where a lot of times I see agencies that say, you know, look, this is, this is how we’ve always done things.

You know, we’ll update a little bit for the, the, the present day, but we’re not, you know, we don’t see a need to, to change radically. I think most agencies need to be looking at much more radical change in the years ahead, in their service offerings and all of that. If, if AI can help you get there, great.

I mean, but, but don’t look at it as something that is a threat to your business. Look at it as an opportunity. And if you approach it from that direction, you’re much more likely to evolve than you are to run away from it. You know, it, it’s sort of like, you know, when the, you know, when we brought along combustion engines and, you know, if, if you were gonna be determined that all you were ever gonna do was, you know, run a horse and buggy, well, you know, you’ve probably got an issue there.

And so maybe you need to think about how to evolve your business to take advantage of the combustion engine. Or alternatively, lean into the fact that you’re a horse and buggy. Understand that your business model is now different though, and so you’re now appealing to somebody who’s looking for the nostalgia of a horse and buggy ride, right.

Right. Versus the convenience and efficiency of a combustion engine. Yeah. And so you know , you can make an informed and intentional decision not to change, but make sure that it’s not because it’s the way you’ve always done it, but rather because you’ve got a strategy behind it.

Gini Dietrich: Right. One of the things that we’re thinking about inside my agency is we’re helping the younger professionals use it to get started. And then we’re, instead of them staring at a blank screen and saying, okay, how do I put this story together? We give, they’re, they’re using the AI to get started, and then we’re teaching them how to add in the storytelling elements. So they’re actually progressing their career faster right now, because that would be something we’d be teaching at three to five years instead of right after they graduated from college.

And right now because of it, we’re able to teach that now because they have the first draft already done. So they’re not having to learn how to do that piece of it. They’re learning now what they would be learning at three to five years into their career. And so from our perspective, we’re saving money because we’re not having to, to spend three years mentoring and coaching somebody.

And they’re happier because they’re progressing much, much more quickly than any of us did in our career.

Chip Griffin: Mm-hmm. Well, I think it’s also important as you’re using these tools to try to figure out what works best for each particular situation, both the individuals involved, the client and all that. And so in some cases it may be a good starting point that you can weave in the storytelling elements.

In some cases it may be good just to, to have it create something that you can read through and, and gives you some ideas for you to effectively start from scratch. So use it as, as research. Yep. Yep. Right. If I were using it, that’s probably how I would do it, because I hate editing someone else’s work and trying to, you know, mold it into something else.

I mean, I just, I’m much faster writing from scratch than I am revising someone else’s copy to get where I want it to go. And so for me, I might have it, you know, spit out 800 words that I can read through and say, okay, yeah, these are key points I wanna make sure that, that I don’t overlook. And now, you know, go off and, and write the piece directly. But however you use it, there are some real opportunities in here.

Yeah. You just need to know what the limitations are at the same time so that you don’t end up using it as a crutch and instead you’re using it as an aid to be better.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I, I don’t think there’s any reason to be threatened by it. I think that all of these, all of the technology that we have at our fingertips and that’s coming in the next few years is fantastic.

I think it makes us more efficient. Like I said, it makes us more profitable. And it helps us excel our teams much more quickly than we’ve been been able to in the past. So I don’t think there’s any reason for you to be threatened by it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and it’s, it’s gonna be fascinating to see how it evolves and, you know, does it evolve to the point where it can weave in more of the storytelling?

And so maybe, maybe that is something that it can do somewhere down the road. Frankly, it’s developed faster than I thought it would as far as AI being able to write articles that seem like intelligent articles as opposed to what we were seeing, you know, five or 10 years ago where, you know, it, it was basically a template that would fill in data.

Right. So the common usage was for sports stories where you could just, you know, pull from stats or stock earnings reports. There were a number of services out there that did AI generated articles. They really weren’t, they were really templates that just had data filled in from some sort of source.

So it’s, it’s certainly come faster along than I thought it would. Will it continue to, how will it evolve? How is it gonna handle the fact that lots of people are making similar requests? Is it going to churn out all sorts of identical or nearly identical content, or is it going to be able to evolve so that there is some uniqueness built into it in some fashion?

We just don’t know. And, until it’s really being used at scale for real world uses as opposed to what it’s being used for today, whereas most people are just going, kicking the tires saying, Hey, cool. Let’s see what this can do. Let’s see. Let’s have it write a podcast episode. Great. And let’s see. Is this any good?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Yeah. I have a friend who did an interview, with Carl Jung. And like, it’s actually pretty fascinating, just the idea that you can have this conversation with a, a dead philosopher, you know, just based on what it’s collecting from conversations, I think is fascinating. But yeah, for sure keep an eye on it. For sure figure out how to use it inside your agency. You know, for sure figure out ways that you can use it to help teach your younge professionals on how to craft a story. And, and pay attention. Like it, it probably is going to get to a point where it might threaten some of the work that we do, but at that point, because you’ve listened to this episode and you’ve, you’ve taken our advice, you will have evolved your agency and it won’t hurt.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely, because you’re using your actual intelligence, not your artificial intelligence. So with that, we will draw this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast to a close, and you go out and figure out how this AI is gonna help or hurt you in the future. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich: Help, help. And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And, and it depends.

Gini Dietrich: It does.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

 

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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