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Q&A: The Impact of AI on Media and Marketing, With Pete Pachal

By Kersa Haughey

While there is certainly no official AI roadmap (yet), many of us in the media and marketing spaces are focused on gaining a deep understanding of AI’s strengths and weaknesses to help shape what its future in our workplaces might look like.

At INK, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years experimenting and grappling with how AI might support our work, discovering new ways to use it effectively, and thinking critically about its limitations.  

A few things we’re sure of so far? Stay curious, continue testing, and listen hard; what we knew about AI yesterday will have another layer of nuance today. The biggest favor you can do for yourself during this time of flux is to keep learning.

To do just that, I sat down with journalist and longtime INK friend Pete Pachal to hear his perspective on AI’s impact on marketing communications and media strategies. Pete is the founder of The Media Copilot, a newsletter and podcast that covers how AI is transforming media, journalism, and content creation, and offers AI training courses for marketers and media professionals.  

For our full conversation, keep reading:

The Evolving Role of AI in Marketing

Kersa Haughey, Director of Business Development: We believe AI can be a powerful tool for supporting our research, creative ideation, and workflows. However, it can’t replace what people bring to the table, like novel perspectives, first-hand experience, and critical thought. Is this sentiment widely shared across the marketing and communications industry? How do you see the role of AI evolving from here?

Pete Pachal, Founder of The Media Copilot: I think that perspective is largely correct, although it’s also tinged with a dose of pessimism since AI seemingly promised so much: transformed workplaces, freedom from drudgery, and agents that act as “digital twins.” Now that AI’s weaknesses are more apparent, there’s less fear but also more skepticism. One marketing agency used the term “lethargic” to describe their team’s attitude towards AI. 

That’s understandable. As good as public services like ChatGPT have gotten, they’re bad at telling you how to use them, and chatbots aren’t a natural part of most workflows. That said, generative AI can speed up marketing and communications work as long as you understand that AI is an assistant, not a functionary. 

However, not everyone has the patience to be a prompt engineer. To really unlock productivity gains, you’ll need new tools and workflows where AI is integrated at key stages, and prompting is abstracted away. 

The New SEO Game

In your newsletter, you’ve discussed how Google’s AI Overviews could significantly disrupt publishers. What do you foresee as the most significant impacts on publishers, and what does this mean for the brands pitching them? Also, how do you think this will shift the competitive landscape between earned and owned content to rank and be cited in AI Overviews?

Although AI Overviews will certainly result in less web traffic to publishers, it’s not going to zero. There will be citations, just fewer of them, and there will be blue links, just further down the page. Practically, what that means is a new version of the SEO game will emerge for AI search — publishers and brands will compete to be the primary sources cited in AI summaries. Everyone else will fight for the scraps that are left below the fold on the search engine results page (SERP). 

It’s not the most optimistic picture, but business models will be forced to evolve. Publishers are already adapting for drastically reduced referral traffic — both search and social — by turning to tactics like paywalls, memberships, events, and commerce to survive. AI will help a bit now that OpenAI has begun paying larger publishers to license their content. 

Visibility in an AI-dominated Search Landscape

In response to the introduction of ChatGPT and Google’s incorporation of AI into search, we’ve emphasized the importance of original content, thought leadership, and alignment with Google’s E-E-A-T criteria. What additional strategies can brands adopt to maintain visibility and engagement in an AI-dominated search landscape?

First on the list: prioritize relationships with the publishers who sign deals with OpenAI. I know that sounds pretty mercenary, but ChatGPT is still extremely popular, even though usage has leveled off. If it can pull off a good search product, that means tens of millions of AI-savvy users searching with it every day.

More broadly, you need to start thinking about content differently. Often, AI isn’t looking at an article in its entirety, but crawling for parts that match the pattern of a prompt. It’s similar to search, but with inference of meaning rather than keywords. Someday, someone will write the definitive guide to optimizing for this. Until then, I’d suggest prioritizing original thoughts and new information and packaging them within articles that broadly align with a popular topic. Old SEO tricks like paraphrasing aren’t going to cut it anymore — you’ll need fresh ingredients to stand out. 

Content and Pitch Writing With AI

We’ve seen a growing trend of marketers using AI for content optimization and audience targeting, which raises questions about ethics and how to discern content written by AI. What are your thoughts on receiving pitches with AI-generated or AI-supported brand content?

There’s an undeniable stigma attached to AI-generated content. The initial experiments of certain media brands publishing AI-produced content that was poor quality, and sometimes flat-out wrong, did a lot of damage. However, there’s nothing inherently wrong with AI content as long as it’s factually correct, although pure AI writing has a certain “grayness” to it. If you write alongside AI — as opposed to having it write for you — you’ll get the efficiency of AI with human flavor: the best of both worlds. 

The danger comes from the bias that the stigma creates. AI detection is slowly being built into more publisher workflows, and more AI policies forbid AI-generated copy than allow it. Any pitching needs to consider those realities, which might limit the practical use of AI copy.

Navigating the Evolving News Media Industry

The news media landscape is evolving, with platforms like Substack and TikTok becoming more prominent news sources and more journalists leaning into their individual brands. Can you share your experience building The Media Copilot and what these shifts mean for brands that want to connect and collaborate with independent journalists and influencers?

They say that if you already have an audience and platform, going solo can be easier, but it’s hard work no matter what. Having a large number of readers doesn’t necessarily mean success, and people are very selective about where they spend their money and time. The key is understanding the value you’re bringing to your audience and optimizing for that. You also need to be very deliberate about where you spend your time: You’ll never have a shortage of ideas, just minutes. 

Collaborating is one of the more fun aspects about going solo, though many creators and writers are rightly selective when it comes to the brands they work with. However, there are usually ways to thread that needle, especially if the person doesn’t directly cover your brand.

Key AI Skills For Marketers

With all these significant shifts, your upcoming course on AI fundamentals for PR professionals is very timely. How did you determine what to include in the syllabus, and what key skills do you think marketing communications pros need to stay ahead?

Our fundamentals class has evolved a lot since we taught our first group in November 2023. Almost everybody has the basics down, but we are still level-set to quickly get everyone on the same page. Prompting still matters a lot, but many are predicting it will start to fade to the background. We actually split the difference. We have several tips and techniques for better prompting, but we also teach how to create your own tools that reduce AI prompting to a button-push. We’ve also been doing this long enough to have a curated set of AI-powered tools for our main clientele: media folks, marketers, and PR pros.

To really take AI skills to another level, we encourage exploring tools for automation (like Zapier) and understanding how to use APIs. While that might sound complex to many, all kinds of platforms will let you start doing those things without knowing a lick of code.

The Future of AI and Media

Anything else we should know about AI and the future of media, journalism, and marketing?

On a macro level, we’re all nervous about what AI is doing to our information ecosystem, and what place the content we create will have. I’d strongly encourage everybody who has a stake in this — whether you’re a large company or an independent creator — to stop waiting for the big tech companies and publishers to determine your future. You can start taking control today. If you’d like some help with that, feel free to email me at You can also enroll in our upcoming course, AI Fundamentals for Media, Marketing, and PR, on June 20, 2024, at 1:00 p.m. ET.