Deciphering OpenAI's Post-Altman Communication Strategy

The firing of Sam Altman at OpenAI isn't only a major event in the tech industry but also a fascinating story with lessons for public relations and corporate communications.

Dear reader,

Even if you’re not following the AI industry at all, I think this is a corporate crisis communication case study in the making.

The firing of Sam Altman (now ex-CEO) at OpenAI last Friday isn't only a major event in the tech industry but also a fascinating story with lessons for public relations and corporate communication professionals.

First reaction of Sam Altman on X

This isn't about examining a corporate restructuring just to dissect it. It's an opportunity to explore the important role of communication in the misunderstood world of AI and technology.

A critical point of contention, as reported by industry sources, was the board's perspective on Altman's communication style. The board expressed concerns that Altman was "not consistently candid in his communications with the board," leading to a loss of confidence.

The silence of OpenAI: more than a missed opportunity

In the wake of Altman's dismissal, OpenAI's decision to keep a low profile speaks louder than words. The organisation's reticence created a void that was immediately filled with speculation and rumour.

For us in public relations, this is a clear example of a strategic mistake. When a story is ignored, it tends to take on a life of its own. OpenAI's strategy, or lack thereof, reminds us that if you don't communicate clearly, others will build your story.

The reaction of Nick Dobos, creator of the world’s No. 1 most used custom GPT

Technological oversight.

In the IT industry, fueled by great minds focused on invention and development, the importance of strategic communication is often overlooked. The Altman episode reminds us that even the most cutting-edge technology needs a voice, a narrative, and a context. This is where our experience comes in handy.

The importance of corporate communication.

Transparency is key. Transparency is critical in a world where trust is a valuable commodity. The scenario at OpenAI emphasises the importance of clear, consistent communication, especially when dealing with difficult leadership transitions.

Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, only found out about the decision to remove CEO Sam Altman one minute before it was announced to the public. This underscores a significant gap in strategic communication and stakeholder management.

Harmonising visions: the conflict between OpenAI's non-profit roots and its for-profit ambitions is a delicate dance. It's a delicate balance that requires deliberate, purposeful communication to ensure everyone involved is on the same page.

Proactive crisis communication: follow the golden rule of being proactive rather than reactive. OpenAI's response to leadership change is a textbook example of how silence can exacerbate a problem.

After Sam Altman’s dismissal, Jakub Pachocki, the director of research; Aleksander Madry, the head of a team analyzing AI risks; and Szymon Sidor, a long-standing researcher, informed their associates at OpenAI of their decision to leave the firm. OpenAI cofounder and president Greg Brockman also said he was stepping down from the company following the announcement.

Beyond technology: AI ethics

Ethical concerns are just as important as scientific progress. We must do more than just share information about what is going on. We start by explaining why. It's about structuring the narrative to reflect the inevitable fears, hopes, and scepticism that AI brings.

This isn't just another corporate issue. We need to bridge the gap between technological advances and public awareness. We need to be strategists who are able to navigate the complicated interplay of ethics, profit, and innovation.

The story of Sam Altman and OpenAI is more than just a change in leadership. It's an example of the critical role of communication in the technology industry. It reminds us that it's our job as PR professionals to construct stories, work with perceptions, and guide clients through difficult situations.

We should use the lessons from OpenAI's debacle to emphasise the importance of our work. In a technology-driven society, the human element of communication is more important than ever.

What do you think?

A corporate crisis case study in the making?

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