Hey Google, what have you done?

Michael C

The PR industry and journalism has been like Rocky Balboa, taking on every punch the digital revolution throws at them. From the rise of the internet to the mobile era, and Wired boldly declaring 'the web is dead.' Then, just as we thought we understood the assignment, along came social media and influencers. Suddenly, everyone was following Mother Pukka. If that wasn't enough, Facebook decided to hit a curveball by deprioritising news outlets. It’s like the plot of a soap opera, but with less crying and more hashtags. And now comes along generative AI search results and, oh shite…

We know the way information is served and consumed has shifted dramatically. But it’s not just a journalists’ problem. It’s an ‘us’ problem.

Announced last week at I/O 2024, Google’s AI Overviews is our latest challenge. A potentially big game-changer, latest in a solid line-up. 

Ab Fab’s Eddie once said “I don't want more choice, I just want nicer things!”. Well, Google is answering that call and in doing so, will revolutionise the internet. Instead of directing users to URLs, Google will now “Let Google do the Googling for you,” curating an ‘AI Overview’.

Helpful? Maybe. But let’s not sugarcoat it—this move punishes publishers and content creators twice. First by creaming off content to expand AI knowledge; second, by upsetting the ad model, keeping users within Google’s ecosystem, and hammering the outward traffic that generates ad revenue.

Publishers are doing what they can: Last year, four in five told RISJ subscriptions would be their most important revenue source. Many are diversifying reach and revenue via social media—LADbible, with its impressive TikTok following, being a prime example of success in this space. And Google reassures us that "As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators”. Fabbu. Let’s hold them to that. 

Could Google AI Overviews be the innovation that finally brings down journalism? No doubt it will force change: “This will be catastrophic to our traffic,” says News/Media Alliance CEO, Dannielle Coffey. Meta seems sold, with its integration of AI that’ll produce instantly viral content, without real human intervention: "We are now seeing [content] being used for their own commercial purposes in what is effectively a transfer of wealth from small, independent businesses to Big Tech.” says Marc McCollum, of content creator consultancy Raptive.

As PRs, what will we have to change, to continue to achieve results? To influence consumers, we currently focus our energy on the gatekeepers—journalists and, increasingly, content creators. Moving forward, who will we build relationships with, and who will we pitch to? Will we inevitably find ourselves pitching stories to nameless, faceless algorithms? 

And will the KPIs our clients want today – reach, click-through rate, picture stories, brand love — inevitably change as audience’s move away from websites and other known, readily measurable, channels? Instead of a Guardian headline, will our benchmark be prominence on Google's homepage or a citation in AI-generated summaries?

Many users will appreciate a more personalised experience, but humans need humans to help us make sense of the world. I’m confident quality journalism is here to stay. But we can’t get off the hamster wheel now. We need to be open to new ways of working. We need to challenge ourselves to go beyond thinking about AI as a tool to quickly generate reports. Instead, we need to think about how AI is influencing behaviours that will rock the industry and journalism, and ask ourselves what we will do to be ready.

So, hey Google, thanks for keeping us on our toes. 


Find out more about MSL on LinkedIn

Michael Crosbie

Associate Creative Director