Advertising agencies like to think of themselves as the creative geniuses of the marketing world, but there are dazzling PR campaigns that demonstrate that PR agencies are no slouches themselves. But at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity last month, advertising agencies dominated the PR category of the awards.
Does this prove that PR is not a creative discipline? Graham Goodkind, founder of consultancy Frank PR, thinks not. He says the PR industry should not get too hung up about winning awards at Cannes: “The Lions have been, and for the foreseeable future will remain, an awards ceremony designed to showcase the advertising industry. I’ve always felt that Cannes has reluctantly included PR.” Goodkind says that in his view, the Lions agenda is: “all about the advertising so we’ll let our PR agency cousins get involved, but we’ll still give the PR awards to the ad guys to prove that PR is still in the shadows of the ad industry.”
Tristan Pineiro, MD consumer brands, at PR agency Grayling, is also adamant that PR is creative: “The perception that PR is not creative enough is wrong – on the contrary, every day I see big thinking and planning that could be game-changing.“
However, Pineiro adds that clients don’t always give PR agencies a chance: “One issue is that clients too often think in traditional marketing silos where PR supports the lead above-the-line campaign and is execution focused, which means that many clients don’t give PR agencies the opportunity to come up with ideas early enough in the process.“ Pineiro says that one solution is for agencies to do a better job of showcasing their creative capabilities and approach clients with ideas good enough to shift this thinking.
PR shouldn’t become obsessed with creativity to the detriment of its other strengths. Pineiro says: “Creativity is pointless if it isn’t built on genuine audience understanding and doesn’t answer clear business objectives – there are plenty of examples of wildly creative campaigns that didn’t make any difference in the real world, and PR agencies know that there are times when straight talking and practical solutions might deliver change more effectively.”
Top tips for coming up with original ideas
Brian Ahearne, managing director of PR agency Parker, Wayne & Kent, offers brainstorming advice:
1. Don’t evaluate ideas until the evaluation stage – this is the iron rule of ideas generation. The mantra must be: "There is no such thing as a bad idea".
2. Give people a briefing document prior to the session – ideally the afternoon before..
3. The ideal number of contributors is six to 12 people – smaller numbers can still work, but more than 12 gets difficult.
4. Suspend seniority and dump egos – the intern’s contribution is as valuable as the boss’s.
5. Try to involve the client – as long as the client can suspend their seniority. Consultants should feel comfortable suggesting ideas in front of the client. If they don't, there may be something wrong with the client/consultancy relationship.
6. Define the challenge you are faced with at the start – is it a need for more publicity; a change in public perception; to generate new revenue; to address an under-performing product line?
7. Start the session with an assessment of what participants know and feel about the issues to be tackled – if they have something that they want to get off their chest, get it out as soon as possible so their minds can move on.
8. Get people in the frame of mind for comfortably contributing their ideas by using an ice breaker.
9. Don't just stand there and say: "OK what ideas do we have?" – use structured brainstorming tools.
10. Each idea emerging from the group must be written down – regardless of the facilitator's feelings about the idea .
11. When the session ends, remind contributors that the process hasn't ended – creative ideas don't just emerge in structured sessions. They happen on the tube, in the pub, in the shower.
12. Last, evaluate ideas – start with basic criteria such as practicality and cost, but don't omit a risk assessment.
Jodie Welton, founding partner of agency Connected PR:
“We encourage travel to inspire creativity; our policy is that as long as you have your laptop, phone and a wifi connection then you can work from anywhere, anytime. There’s nothing quite like the sounds, sights and smell of a new city to get the creative juices flowing.”
Lisa Watts, freelance PR consultant:
"There are many demands for creativity in PR: you have to create ideas for companies ranging from finance to food. You also need to create a news angle when there is no news. For example, thinking of ways to get a new product brochure into the press. Although the marketing professionals are creative in designing the brochure, the real test comes in gaining coverage.”
Written by Daney Parker