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.


Amy graduated from the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College where she earned her undergraduate degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and Legal Studies. During her time there, Amy worked with Ithaca College Event Services as an Event and Marketing Coordinator where she managed various student organization and admission events on campus. Prior to CLS, Amy interned at National Cinemedia’s Ad Sales Marketing Department and at the Pace Women’s Justice Center as a student law intern. A native New Yorker, Amy is excited to experience post-graduate life in D.C.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

One of my legal professors acted as a mentor to me throughout my time at Ithaca. I enrolled in her Legal Environment of Business course my sophomore year, which initially sparked my interest in law and encouraged me to declare my Legal Studies minor. I took two other courses with this professor, and she inspired me throughout my college experience.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

I’ve been fortunate to have had great internship experiences so far. What I value most is being included in and working on meaningful projects. From past internship experiences, I’ve learned how to perform in a professional environment, collaborate with professionals and prioritize assignments. Contributing hands-on work that benefits the company makes interning worthwhile. My experiences have helped me figure out which subjects most interest me and allowed me to view my career path more comprehensively.

What are your long-term career goals?

My long-term career goal is to join a company that works on inspiring projects and allows me to do meaningful work in social justice and activism. I hope to make a difference and contribute positively to the overall environment wherever I am. Specifically, I am considering pursuing a law degree in the future, but for now, I want more work experience under my belt to better inform my long-term career path.   

What has surprised you so far about your journey towards your career goals? 

I’ve been most surprised by the vast spectrum of careers in the communications industry and the niche markets that exist within it. As a result, I am excited to work for an organization that combines my interests in many different disciplines and apply skills I’ve learned from various fields. 

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

My Integrated Marketing Communications major at Ithaca had a heavy focus on public relations. In my Public Relations and Writing for Public Relations courses, I learned how to write press releases and other content for mainstream and social media. Applying classroom lessons to real-world situations in a business setting has given me a well-rounded view of the importance of public relations. It’s intriguing to me how much public relations can shape a company or individual’s persona, and how that impacts their overall success.  

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

My previous internships and academic experiences in Public Relations has allowed me to start my CLS internship with some knowledge of Cision and other common PR tools and trends. This background knowledge has slightly eased the learning curve and given me confidence in my abilities.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

My biggest challenge so far has been joining long-term projects and putting them in context. Oftentimes, I jump into a project in the middle of an ongoing scandal or lawsuit. Therefore, in order to catch up, I’ve had to quickly educate myself on the cases by conducting outside background research and scanning previous work the CLS team has provided for its clients.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

I just moved to D.C., so I’m enjoying exploring the city and all of its unique and historic neighborhoods. I love art museums, and D.C. has an amazing collection that I’m excited to tour, including the Renwick Gallery and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

On our website, we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. I studied art history in London the Spring semester of my junior year. While at the Royal Academy of Arts one morning, I came within inches of Queen Elizabeth II.
  2. I’m very interested in fashion and design, and I spent three summers at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
  3. I’m a Jeopardy enthusiast and love going to trivia nights.

NadiaNadia Kendall is an entrepreneur and designer who uses her creative and artistic strengths as a hobby, career choice, and ultimately a voice. Nadia attends Howard University as a senior, electronic studio art major. Her extracurricular activities include Assistant Designer for the Hiltop, Howard University's Newspaper, designer for Howard University’s Resfest,  VP of Marketing for Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity, and a Multimedia Volunteer for WHBC 96.3 HD3. Nadia has also interned with The White House Historical Association, For our Future Super PAC, Morehouse College, and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. In addition to her extensive graphic design and social media experience, Nadia owns an apparel line, The Balloon Effect.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

In first grade, my teacher made us write narratives and add clipart to accompany the stories. My favorite part was adding the art. That was when I discovered my love for graphic design, and I believe my experience at Howard University has given me the strength to pursue my entreprenuial goals.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

I look for internships that will help build the strongest portfolio possible, so when it’s time for me to look for an actual job my portfolio will be at its fullest potential.  I also look for internships that I will enjoy and learn from.

What are your long-term career goals?

After graduating, I plan on pursuing my entrepreneurial endeavors. I want to design sneakers and streetwear apparel as well as open a chain of shoe stores.In 10 to 20 years, I plan on building recreation centers in under privileged communities that emphasize sports for kids to experience. My last goal is to build an amusement park!

What has surprised you so far about your journey towards your career goals? 

The number and variety of industries I can work in with my major has surprised me the most.

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

My interest in public relations stems from the fact that I can design for multiple companies and clients.

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

I think my ability to come up with design ideas from what’s explained to me is the easiest.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

Although it’s easy for me to come up with ideas, they don’t always align with the brand. I made an effort to incorporate the necessary constraints so the message could be communicated effectively.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

I enjoy the vibes that my school and the surrounding areas bring. I also appreciate the numerous opportunities.

On our website we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. I won a free trip to study in the Galapagos Islands.
  2. I came in 2nd place at my first tennis tournament.
  3. I was the star of a local television commercial.

DanaDana was born in Seoul, South Korea, and came to the United States when he was four months old. He was raised an hour south of Boston and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Science from Suffolk University after earning his undergraduate degree in history. Previously, he was a Communications Director in the Massachusetts State Senate before leaving the position to go to graduate school full-time. Dana is a self-described a history nerd, and a huge Boston sports fan.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

I’ve had some pretty influential professors and teachers that have shaped my goals. I think the most influential was my AP European History teacher in my sophomore year that got me hooked on history, which I would go on to major in for my undergraduate degree. He pushed me to not only learn about history, but also to apply the lessons it can teach to current issues. Political history continues to fanscinate me, especially as it relates to how social movements have led to legislation.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

When I started looking for an internship I wanted to go somewhere I could build upon my previous experience. Coming from the government side of things, I was excited to see what communications strategy looked like from the other side of the fence.

What are your long-term career goals?

I don’t have specific goals in mind as of yet but definitely want to do something in the political sphere. I’m kind of a policy nerd so whether it’s from a private sector or governmental side of things, I definitely want to do something that involves affecting policy for the better.

What has surprised you so far about your journey towards your career goals? 

I wasn’t planning to look for an internship in DC until I spent two weeks here for a seminar with The Washington Center back in May. I really enjoyed my time in the city and took advantage of the internship requirement for my degree to come back. I’ve always wanted to end up in DC but never thought I’d be here this soon!

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

My first experience with public relations came with my position in the Massachusetts State Senate. I had gotten into the office as an intern and I really wasn’t expecting to get a full-time position but they needed someone to fill the role. I really enjoyed the job which ranged from running my boss’ social media, drafting press releases, and organizing interviews with media outlets. When I left the position to get my graduate degree, I took a class in how lobby affects legislation and decided that I wanted to get experience in public relations from the other perspective.

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

With my previous experience in political communications, I was generally familiar with some of the media monitoring and lobbying aspects of the internship. It really helped lessen the learning curve.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

The biggest challenge has been the shift in mindset away from working for a legislator and toward working for our private sector clients. The main difference I’ve found is that the audiences that the communications strategies are directed toward are totally different. While in my previous experience, the audience was the voting public in general, the work that CLS does is often for a far more targeted and niche audience.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

I love the feeling that things are happening around me. I’ve spent most of my life in a small town where nothing ever happens so I’m really enjoying that change of scenery. All of the activity combined with the history of the city make for a unique experience that I’m doing my best to soak in.

On our website we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and a proud member of Ravenclaw House.
  2. I once waited 12 hours, overnight, in the rain to get tickets to SNL.
  3. My three favorite TV shows are: The Office, Breaking Bad, and Bojack Horseman.

Christopher Stein is a third-year student at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), majoring in Global Business and minoring in Mandarin Chinese. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before joining CLS, he interned with Chevron Corporation’s Policy, Government & Public Affairs function in San Ramon, California. At Georgetown, he serves as Director of Digital Operations at The Caravel, a student-run international affairs newspaper, and the treasurer of The Anthem, a literary and arts magazine.

Who/what has had the most impact on your academic or professional interests?

I can thank many of my high school teachers for putting me on the path to study international politics, economics, and law. Several of my academic advisors, faculty mentors, and teachers first stoked my interest in world affairs and encouraged me to apply to the SFS at Georgetown. My professors in the SFS have only honed this academic interest in the world and expanded its scope.

What do you look for in an internship experience, and how has this shaped your career goals?

When looking for an internship, I was really looking for a job culture. Some of my previous experience has been in volunteer-run organizations and at a large multinational, so in choosing CLS, I wanted to experience what it’s like to work with a small, nimble team doing fast-paced, dynamic work. My internships have showed me many different sides of the private sector, given me a better understanding of how different companies do business, and taught me how to operate in a professional environment.

What are your long-term career goals?

I want to work abroad someday with a strong preference for China, Taiwan, or the United Kingdom. As for what I want to do, I am interested in management or human capital strategy consulting for a multinational or foreign corporation with significant and complex operations abroad.

What has surprised you so far about your journey toward your career goals? 

I’ve been most surprised by how corporate culture shapes every aspect of how a company operates. Some companies are, by nature, agile, creative, and risk-taking while others are careful and conservative. Adapting to these different cultures at different companies enables you to be effective, but I’ve found that some companies’ cultures do not suit all people.

Can you expand on your interest in public relations?

There is a lot of power in words and in perception. Some 83 percent of the value of the top U.S. firms can be attributed to intangible assets like brand, so I’m fascinated by how PR tools can be used to protect, transform, and build brand value and public support.

What comes easiest to you as an intern at CLS Strategies?

I’m a very thorough person. At CLS, I’ve brought this thoroughness to bear on research projects for our clients to make sure we don’t miss any relevant information and that the research is placed in the proper context, thus enabling our clients to make better decisions.

What has been your biggest challenge as an intern at CLS Strategies? How do you address that?

My biggest challenge at CLS has been to stay in-the-loop on fast-changing client needs while only working part time. I’ve addressed this problem by carefully reviewing all communications from days I wasn’t in the office. I’ve been able to keep up to date this way.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington, D.C.?

The best thing about D.C. is the fact that most of its cultural institutions are free admission. I love to go study in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery or slip into the National Gallery of Art for a quick trip. There is such an amazing concentration of incredible art and culture in D.C., and most of it is accessible free of charge.

On our website we ask all of our staff to share three things about themselves. What are three things about yourself that we might not know?

  1. In high school, I broke my school’s community service record with more than 200 hours of service a year during both my junior and senior years. I was a 2016 recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
  2. Next year I will study abroad for three months at National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan. I have previously been to mainland China, but this will be my first time in Taiwan. I am business proficient in Mandarin Chinese.
  3. I’m both an Eagle Scout and a first degree brown belt in Kenpo karate.