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Does big data destroy creativity? Asks Graham Goodkind, Frank PR

17th February 2014


The best idea I ever had was to ask my wife to marry me (16 very happy years ago this April in case you’re interested). We had been going out with each other for only a few months, but I just knew that she was the one for me. I trusted my instincts and listened to my heart. I went with my gut.

But then I read the other day the words that “unless creativity is driven by data it is all for nothing“. Similarly, I have been hearing for the last year or two that if PR agencies don’t get to grips with “big data”, invest heavily in it and place it right there at the start of the creative process, then they will be out in the cold and no doubt go the same way as dinosaurs. Or advertising folk as they are also sometimes known.

Basically, many PR experts seem to be saying that you can’t have an original thought or make a good decision these days unless you’ve churned through and analysed a mountain of data. Hello gobbledygook, goodbye gut.

So, in the ensuing panic, loads of agencies have plunged head first into procuring lots of new swanky technology, probably quite expensive planning directors and the like (and the departments that go with them) in the quest for an analysis of lots of data that will then spark off a great idea. In the fear that without it, their creative juice source will be dry. Then they go about justifying this investment, telling everyone else how clever they are.

I love technology and what it can do. I get what big data is and I like planners, don’t get me wrong, but to say that you can’t be creative without them is a bit like saying that you can't have sex without foreplay. Err, can you?!

Personally, I think the best ideas are instinctive and natural. Creativity is a factor of emotional intelligence and empathy. It’s a force in itself. It’s impulsive and very powerful. In my opinion, it has always been the energy source that makes PR special. And really valuable.

And to generate those light bulb moments, rather than fixate on big data, there's nothing that beats good old-fashioned listening. In real life and in real time. Listen to your client about their brand, learn about its place in its market and the category. Listening to the brand's customers, to its lovers and its haters too. Getting a proper feel for the brand and completely immersing yourself. Asking good questions. And as a result, developing an insight that will be the magic spark for a creative route for the brand that you have managed to conjure up out of the ether.

Then, once you’ve done that, maybe look to the big data as support and validation of why it is a great idea. But please don't take the human element out of the creative process and turn us into data junkies. Creativity and idea generation comes from the heart. The best ideas come from flashes of PR inspiration, not hours of data delving perspiration.

Too much information is not always a particularly good thing. I get a bit upset as I sometimes get the feeling that the PR industry is plunging towards a data driven mind-set and turning its back on the gut feel and instinct that is its real strength. The beauty of simplicity and the bigness of big data are not the best of bedfellows. Unlike me and the missus over the last sixteen years.

Graham Goodkind, founder of consultancy Frank PR



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