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Weber Shandwick's Quantum Leap: AI Accelerator Ushers in a New Era for Marketing

TWSC skips the 'Why AI?' question and heads straight to client needs that other agencies have yet to identify

By Creative Salon

The Weber Shandwick Collective (TWSC) has introduced the AI Accelerator, a groundbreaking initiative poised to redefine the landscape of generative AI applications in communication and marketing. This innovative offering empowers organisations to actively leverage generative AI tools, representing a significant shift in the industry.

Chris Perry, the Chief Innovation Officer and Chair of Weber Shandwick Futures, leads the initiative, bringing valuable insights from advising over 40 clients across diverse sectors.

After a year of collaboration with emerging technology and a dedicated AI consulting unit, the AI Accelerator has orchestrated a strategic restructuring of pilot teams. These teams, spanning client service, creative, strategy, and production, have now amalgamated into a unified cross-discipline AI organisation. This strategic move reflects TWSC's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements.

Gail Heimann, CEO of The Weber Shandwick Collective, underscores the disruptive potential of generative AI, stating, "Generative AI will be far more disruptive, far more impactful than anything we’ve seen before." This sentiment sets the stage for the AI Accelerator to emerge as a comprehensive solution, extending beyond technical training to address structural and cultural changes essential for seamless integration into market-facing business functions.

The AI Accelerator encompasses an "AI On-Ramp," facilitating understanding of AI opportunities and risks, an "AI Studio" for pilot and prototype development, and an "AI Redesign" to reshape historical communication structures for optimal AI integration. Perry emphasises the need for a shift from theory to application, stating, "Our AI Accelerator is all about application versus theory," underscoring the importance of actively using and understanding AI.

As AI continues its transformative journey across industries, TWSC's AI Accelerator positions itself as more than just a technical training programme.

To find out more we asked Perry to talk us through the initiative and where AI is leading us all.

What universal truth has the team uncovered in the process?

Chris Perry: We've uncovered a universal truth in our work: despite extensive analysis and discussion, there's a noticeable lack of action.

A distinctive service in our portfolio involves incorporating our in-house lab expertise directly into client meetings. For instance, we recently dedicated an entire day to collaborating with a client leadership team and business leaders, structuring the day as a comprehensive briefing.

Another crucial aspect is our approach to demonstrations. Rather than solely focusing on defaults like chat GPT or DALLE, we present a diverse range of generative AI tools. This allows us to provide hands-on experiences, demonstrating and working with approximately a dozen different generative APIs.

The third, and arguably most vital, element is our collaborative creation process. Each client actively participates with an iPad in hand, utilising our comprehensive prompt books. We leverage their content to collectively rebuild or extend existing programmes, incorporating the tools demonstrated in the middle part of the session.

Do clients question the reasons for adopting AI, considering both the 'hows' and the broader 'whys' with diverse implications for businesses and sectors?

Perry: The rationale behind our approach is crystal clear; we skip the "why" question. It's about elevating our work and enhancing our ability to discern trends in media networks. Generative AI has already revolutionised search, and utilising these tools allows us to make, design, create, and develop campaigns with undeniable value.

In the demos, the transformative nature becomes evident—it's a game-changer that's immediately apparent when applied to our work. Some clients initially focus on the productivity and efficiency gains, but from our perspective, actively engaging with the tools reveals that considerable effort still goes into crafting effective communications. It's a shift in operational style, but the outcomes and the inputs driving our work are fundamentally transformed by generative AI tools.

Are you offering a unique AI service that distinguishes you from other agencies?

Perry: We've noticed a gap between our clients' needs and what they're getting from other agencies. Many management consultants assist senior leadership teams in strategic thinking, but clients are often dissatisfied with the outcomes, finding the advice too general. This frustration is particularly relevant for communication, marketing leaders, and those in unique fields like drug development or autonomous vehicles.

Our solution is highly tailored for marketing, communication, and HR leaders, focusing on practical implications for their work. While general management consulting falls short for communication and marketing leaders, agencies often overstate their AI capabilities. We go beyond superficial promises, offering a genuinely transformative approach to business operations.

We've created the Weber GPT sandbox, a secure space for teams and clients to experiment with tools without data leakage. This tool facilitates practical work during collaborative sessions, instilling confidence in clients. Applets guide teams and clients in using tools for persona development, red teaming, and message testing, transforming our approach and collaboration on campaigns. The sandbox provides a tangible workspace beyond abstractions, actively engaging clients and transforming our work together. Clients initially may be sceptical, but by the end, they understand the benefits and limitations, allowing us to adapt our work effectively.

What implications do you foresee for companies like Weber in terms of investing in people, tools, or shaping the business model over the next five years?

Perry: If I were sitting in a firm assessing agency services through a historical lens, I'd be quite concerned. The effectiveness of digital media, as practised in the last 10 to 15 years, is approaching a roadblock. Just look at the shifts in social media over the last six months; it's tricky to figure out how to market and communicate on these platforms given the changes and the rise of TikTok.

The ability to create one's own AI agent is now accessible to everyone, bringing about a transformative shift in our perspectives on knowledge, creation, marketing, and communication. Regarding job implications, there are efficiencies gained by employing these tools for image creation, writing, and synthesis. Nevertheless, human input remains crucial for overseeing these tasks.

Looking ahead, approximately 20 new roles may emerge in the next two or three years to manage novel aspects within this field. Our stance emphasises that the goal is not to automate our existing processes but to enhance and expand how our clients present themselves in a world marked by polarisation, conflict, and potential weaponisation of communication. The current environment is distinctly different, presenting both challenges and opportunities.

We hold an optimistic outlook, with our firm actively pursuing leadership in addressing the evolving landscape. We believe there is a chance to fill gaps that other agencies and consultancies may not have identified or addressed yet.

How can the available tools be effectively utilised to minimise biases, particularly those emerging in AI, and alleviate their impact on certain communities on social media?

Perry: Unlike LLM companies such as Google, OpenAI, and Stability, we do not fall into that category. These major platforms need significant work to ensure their models accurately reflect the world, a task they currently do not fulfil. Our unique position as a communications agency, rather than just a digital agency, allows us to engage with clients and provide counsel on policy implications, social consequences, and the navigation of challenges, including those related to climate issues.

Our objective is to guide our clients in understanding the responsible application of generative AI. We aim to offer insights into the implications of AI becoming more prevalent. Looking at the landscape of communications in the media, it is poised to undergo fundamental changes from what we experience today.


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