Are PR people creative?

The Holmes Report and NowGoCreate came out with a new survey this week, showing that 61% of the PR industry believes it’s fair to criticize the PR industry for lacking big ideas.

Coming on top of the poor showing for PR agencies at the Cannes Lions earlier in the year, it doesn’t make especially cheery reading. Yet, as the report itself acknowledges, part of the story is about the industry’s own aspirations in this area – 95% of those working in PR acknowledge creativity as a ‘fundamental skill’, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere that hasn’t beaten itself up a bit about how to ‘be more creative’.

Part of this is also about the jostling between different elements of the marketing mix. With advertising agencies adding PR arms and increasingly coming up with cross-media ideas, and the rise in digitally/socially driven campaigns, the ownership of ‘the big idea’ matters. It’s often far better to be in the position of offering creative leadership and direction, than having to implement someone else’s idea, which might not quite work in your medium.

PR can of course generate cracking creative ideas – look at a list of any recent Awards winners, or blogs like – many of which can justifiably be termed as ‘big’. But we also shouldn’t do ourselves down by confining creativity to ‘big ideas’ alone.

Working in an integrated agency, one of the real differences we noticed early on when trying to bring traditional advertising creatives together with PR teams, is that advertising is often about the ‘big idea’, the one uniting concept, whereas a PR campaign can be about coming up with 25 little things that work in slightly different ways to create an overall picture. Of course, those 25 things need to have a united central creative theme, and, of course, the best PR idea can sometimes be one really big, bold creative piece, but often different channels play different roles. Plus, we have the additional consideration that we have to persuade the media to cover our idea(s) in some way, which introduces a whole other set of parameters, and, in some ways, limits.

So, although I’m sure we’d all like to, creativity doesn’t have to lie in coming up with the next Gnome Experiment or Movember. It can also be about coming up with a way of creating news around a fairly static product, or staring at a case study for long enough until you can see the one angle that might persuade a target journalist to write about it, or working with a photographer to get a shot that lifts the mundane into the beautiful. Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t always challenge ourselves to do better, but does mean that we shouldn’t be kicking ourselves about what we do day-to-day.

At the end of the day, it’s not the scale of the idea that matters, it’s whether it does the job that your client or organization needs it to. After all, as everyone knows, size and effectiveness are not necessarily the same thing. Let’s try celebrating the small acts of creativity we make happen every day, rather than always lamenting the ones we don’t.

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  • Ben Gotto Smith

    What a cop out! Until PR people strive for that one big uniting idea they will stay scrabbling for budgets and a seat at the top table. Yes it harder to create a big idea that works for earned media but that’s exactly what needs to happen at the heart of any integrated, advertising or even media agency. I know it’s possible because I’ve done it a dozen times.

  • Lorna Gozzard

    Not saying it’s not possible, or isn’t something PR people should be doing when it’s appropriate – just that it’s not the only form of creativity, and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if that’s not the route we choose to go down every time. But you’re of course entitled to your view!

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