Vanderbilt Did What? Beware of AI for PR

Even after 25 years of working with higher education clients, accelerating in recent years, it can be some of the most challenging PR work possible.

Audiences are varied, have high appetites for information and expect fast, if not instant communication about a wide range of content areas. The sector is experiencing tremendous changes and crises like it has never seen. But none of that excuses straying from the mission of higher education, which is exactly what some higher-ups at Vanderbilt University did recently when they – and I can’t completely believe I’m writing this, but here we are – used artificial intelligence technology as a shortcut to writing a message of what was supposed to be empathy about what happened on Michigan State’s campus. Here is one of the more complete reports about this situation.

Yep, you read that right. They actually did that. Everyone was wondering what would happen when students start doing it, but the grown-ups beat them to it.

There are a few initial takeaways, obvious to even non-communicators. It’s clear that it sucks. But, more specifically, it’s cold, callous and just flat lazy. It’s a horribly-written world salad, insulting to its audience.

I’m familiar with approval chains at universities and can’t believe this one made it out. Was it hasty? Or was it an assignment that someone didn’t think needed to be done, so they mailed it in with as little postage as possible? Those secrets will probably be safe in personnel files and otherwise hidden because the private university is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Higher education has long been a victim of overcharging by the greedy largest PR firms. We have written about this multiple times. But even that doesn’t excuse replacing what should have been the most human of messages with the least human way that currently exists.

With all of the AI coverage in recent weeks, all of us who make all or part of our livings with words have wondered how our careers might be different once the technology takes hold. But for those of us charged with matching messages with audiences in precise, effective ways, these scoundrels at Vanderbilt may have just bought us some time. This is living proof that professional communication is not only significant, it is vital. And it’s worth the price, especially when that cost reasonable because the cost of cutting these corners can be enormous.