April 10, 2019

MediaPost | Andrew Koneschusky

As artificial intelligence and machine learning advance at breakneck speed, almost no other industry has invested in the technologies as heavily and aggressively as automotive manufacturers. With outlays second only to the tech sector, automakers see AI as a fundamental component of transformation across four critical pillars—autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility—with a projected value of $215 billion by 2025.

And though the auto industry has already spent tens of billions of dollars on AI development, a new survey reveals that this massive investment may be subject to previously unforeseen risks to brand reputation. 

A third-quarter 2018 review by a new industry AI Risk Index developed by the Omnicom Public Relations Group reveals poor stakeholder engagement is driving negative sentiment that will have a direct impact on brand reputation if left unaddressed. While automakers rightly focus on improvements in the technology itself, many are overlooking or undervaluing the importance of a communications strategy grounded in data-driven research and seasoned insights, an oversight that could prove to be extremely costly.

Even the most cursory scan of headlines will reveal the risks of researching and developing these technologies in the spotlight, with no communications policy to support them. From the fatalities caused by self-driving vehicles, to concerns about AI’s impact on jobs, data privacy and the economy, the risks span from the individual to the global.

Whether due to a lack of understanding of the stakeholder landscape, insufficient focus on brand perception or lack of expertise required to effectively address the public’s concerns, the auto industry has done a poor job communicating the benefits and managing the risks of AI adoption.

As a result, the industry has created a void which has allowed media, consumers, activists, legislators and other stakeholders to shape the narrative surrounding these billion-dollar investments. And even when auto companies strive to communicate effectively, their messages are often not received by stakeholders as intended.

The AI Risk Index reflects a substantial gap between what is intended and what is perceived by critical stakeholders. The results are stark—especially in the context of substantial investment and many more years of public scrutiny as AI is improved—and reveal a growing crisis of trust.

Though an average of 62% of Americans are familiar with companies in the transportation industry, only 35% have a positive opinion of them (compared to 43% for non-automotive manufacturing and 41% for retail companies) and only 37% trust them (compared to 44% for manufacturing and retail companies).

Even more concerning is that the transportation companies most heavily involved in AI technology drive this sense of distrust, more so than traditional carmakers. That may explain why only three out of eight transportation companies analyzed during the third quarter of 2018 mentioned advancements in AI at all—indicating that auto companies are either communicating poorly or not communicating at all. Avoiding the conversation  will only compromise the opportunity that automakers have to undo negative sentiment and influence neutral perceptions.

Over the next several years, automakers will have to introduce extremely complex, transformative technologies to a public that is deeply skeptical about the innovations themselves, and even more wary of the companies creating them. Only about one-third of Americans think that companies in the transportation industry are visionary (39%), innovative (41%), create more jobs (38%), will use automation to be more efficient (39%), will use AI to be more efficient (36%), care about people’s safety (41%) and can be trusted with their personal data (32%). Just 39% think that AI generally will have a positive impact on companies in the transportation industry.

That is a tough sell for any industry, much less one that has spent nearly a century associating their products with personal freedom and a defining sense of self expression. As AI is further developed for commercial and consumer automotive use, it is critical that automakers close this chasm of engagement. Like any effective communications strategy, this begins with a deep immersion into data-driven research that maps and contextualizes the relationship between carmakers and their stakeholder audiences to identify gaps and misperceptions. And not only must this communications strategy address perceptions of automakers, it must also gauge sentiment around tech companies, and the alignment of the two industries. It is a communications landscape as complex as the technologies they hope to align and deploy.

Over the past several years, a global audience has grown intensely wary of a technology industry that prided itself on moving fast and breaking things. As automakers increasingly partner with tech companies to realize the benefits of their substantial AI investments, they will need a much more intelligent, informed and insightful communications strategy if they hope to persuade consumers to strap themselves into products that are moving fast. Regardless of how much the auto industry believes in it, without consistent, effective stakeholder engagement, AI could remain a risk most drivers aren’t willing to take.

August 13, 2014

For anyone who’s seen the 1995 movie Outbreak, or even for those who haven’t, the thought of intentionally importing a deadly virus with no known cure into the US is terrifying.


Yet, as two American doctors infected with Ebola made their way to Atlanta in recent days, the news coverage was relatively measured, devoid of the sensationalism that could have easily accompanied these rare events.


Credit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and officials at Emory University Hospital. While often it’s easy to recognize when communications efforts go awry, it’s not so obvious when high-stakes situations like these are handled well. In this case, officials have been making all of the right moves.


Read the full article at PRWeek here.


April 29, 2014

There were tons of great questions this morning at the Public Affairs Council’s workshop on Managing Coalitions and Strategic Alliances.

Tom Zoeller, Communications Director for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and I spoke about how to structure coalitions and alliances for success, with a focus on when coalitions are necessary, what makes for successful partnerships and how to develop and maintain a coalition’s momentum.

Tom drew on his experience rallying allies around the goal of reducing, and hopefully one-day eliminating, the incidence of impaired and distracted driving. I spoke about the lessons we’ve learned at CLS Strategies from our decades of experiences managing coalitions and alliances on behalf of clients such as the life insurance industry, Sirius/XM radio and, more recently, the unmanned systems industry as we march toward the goal of integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – more commonly but inaccurately called “drones” – into the UAS airspace.

As many advocacy professionals know, when it comes to influencing policy, you can never have too many friends. Coalitions and alliances are critical components to many successful public affairs campaigns because a broad group of supporters can often accomplish what may be impossible alone.

Of course, when it comes to structuring coalitions that are built to last, one size fits all just won’t work. To truly be effective, you must identify the right potential partners, find the common interests, create a mission statement and objectives that everyone can agree upon, and engage organizations or businesses in ways that they are comfortable and willing to participate. Without question, tailoring and fine-tuning is always needed based on the issue, the goals of the coalition, the types of allies joining forces and the expectations of the coalition members.

Yet, there are some common elements that serve as the foundation of all successful coalitions and alliances, namely a clear understanding of the mission and objectives upon which everyone can agree. When building upon that foundation, one surefire ingredient for success is bringing together “strange bedfellows” under the coalition’s umbrella.

As today’s conversation indicates, building coalitions may be the easy part; keeping them going is often the biggest challenge. What questions do you have about creating, managing or sustaining coalitions and strategic alliances? 

Tweet your questions to us here.

It was a pleasure to join the Public Affairs Council and Tom Zoeller this morning, and to make a few new friends too.