PR’s creativity conundrum

PR’s creativity conundrum
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Seriously, PR people, what is the big idea and where is it coming from?

I recently challenged some PR professionals to name the best PR-led campaign of the year. The responses were underwhelming. No-one could name a creative idea that took on a life of its own through the media and social media like Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best job in the world’, now almost five years old.

I was, however, overwhelmed with reasons for the dearth of examples – from client reticence to think big, budget constraints and idea-hogging agencies through to heavy workloads, media cynicism and a Tall Poppy Syndrome that demands we don’t put our clients’ heads too far above the parapet.

The response, and an acknowledgement that the PR industry is suffering a creative deficit, saddens me.

In smaller markets like ours, Australian operators have historically been clever with limited budgets. We have been skilled at pioneering. We have ensured cut-through by generating campaigns that the media and public simply couldn’t ignore.

I don’t subscribe to beliefs that ad agencies have a mortgage on creativity because of their bigger budgets, stronger client relationships and business structure, where strategists, creatives, suits and buyers are all expected to innovate.

Superb storytelling, content creation and audience insights – the key factors that drive creative marketing campaigns – are as much the domain of PR practitioners. Our client rapport is traditionally strong too, given the tight spots we often help our clients out of.

Australian PR practitioners need to stop looking at external factors and take a good look in the mirror when decrying the lack of creativity in our industry.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. PRers see creativity as a fundamental skill, a core component that everyone has and utilises each day, much like writing or pitching a story, creating and implementing a social media strategy or staging an experiential event. To a large extent, that’s true. But when the pressure goes on and workloads increase it’s too easy to say “I’m too busy to focus on creativity, I just need to get this done”.

Consultancies can also be hindered by hierarchy. Our teams often have an account director who is supported by an account manager and/or executive. The ‘boss’ generally determines the strategy; the ‘workers’ are implementation drones. Positive two-way communication can at times be limited.

It’s also another reason why creative directors don’t fly in the PR sphere. Account teams are often sector-specific – for instance, health specialists don’t tend to juggle finance, technology and entertainment clients as well – and the AD is deemed best to drive creativity given their enhanced product/service knowledge in that particular industry.

The process of idea-generation can also be flawed. Nine times out of 10, a group brainstorm is the go-to approach, often at short notice with extreme deadlines, a rudimentary brief and in a sterile environment that does little to get the creative juices flowing.

Then there’s the fact that creativity generally isn’t rewarded in PR. The response to a campaign is cherished more than the actual idea that generated the noise.

It’s time to get real in addressing PR’s creativity conundrum. We can’t just say we’re too swamped to focus on creativity. We need to create the right environment for big idea generation.

First off, nurture creativity. Brainstorm at the right time in the right environment, but mix up the group dynamic with other idea-generating techniques – outside people, morphological matrixing, mind-mapping, random stimuli and the like. Create an ideas library and add fresh eyes to your account teams to hunt for areas of opportunity.

Secondly, research creativity. Put together a list of your favourite campaigns (IBM at 100, Old Spice Man and Dove Real Beauty are good starters) and examine why they resonated with the media and public. What was their purpose, what benefits did they provide ‘end-users’ and what channels and mechanisms did they use to reach their audience?

And, finally, celebrate creativity. Rejoice in left-field idea generation and recognise and reward innovation.

Media releases and social posts come and go. Creative campaigns endure. We just need to give ourselves the time and resources to appreciate what’s most important for us, and for our clients.

Jackie Crossman is managing director of Crossman Communications. 

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