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“Creative communications start from insight” says Ruth Yearley, director of insight and strategy at Ketchum

20th November 2017


For work to be effective, motivating and memorable, for a communication to touch people, it has to have at its heart something people recognise, something they can relate to, something they connect with. I believe that it is insight that makes that connection. Insight not only gives connectivity between the situation and the solution, it makes a vital connection between you, the communicator, and the audience. Luckily I love insights, they enthral and fascinate me. I love my job – unearthing insights and using them to create great work.

However, recently I have started to feel like creative communications version of a honey bee. I am buzzing through life – visiting my flowers – the things that inspire and feed my insight store. My legs are sticky and I am gathering up my pollen sometimes without even knowing. The insights, the truths, the things that are interesting and worth exploring. I store them away, not sure when they will be useful. But I know they are the raw materials used to make the good sweet stuff – the insights that will lead to creative and compelling communications.

Changing environment

And then just like the honey bee, my environment changed. And the way I do things is under threat. The reason things have changed and my way of working has now become less regarded, and I would even say, less trusted, is that the way the industry generates insights has evolved and most importantly the source of those insights has shifted. Whilst I have been buzzing about… a revolution has happened. A research and data revolution.

We no longer have to go out of our way to get information. The whole research landscape has altered. How we find things out has changed. We are surrounded by information. Everybody has the most massive data and information source at their disposal – the internet. Specialists have valuable real-time information about huge populations or small esoteric niche target audiences, available to them at the touch of a button. And that data has become the raw material for our insights.

Facts are not insights

At the same time there is a tendency for people to mistake information for insight. And this is a problem. Facts are not insights. They aren’t even observations. Sometimes they are just interesting research. And calling them insights and trying to build something creative from them, will not end up with amazing work

In our post-truth society – we as creative communicators and our clients are nervous of anything that they can’t be totally sure of; anything that we can’t justify absolutely or prove with data.

The crush on data

This isn’t just about the downgrading of instinct as a talent and a tool – but the emergence of the crush on data. Data that used to be the boring geek of the marketing world has suddenly become the rock star, or at least the big burly reliable minder. It’s got our back, it protects us and it also potentially stops anything interesting and out of the ordinary getting in.

It is a well-respected business mantra: that if it can’t be measured it can’t be managed. And instinct can’t be measured and it can’t be managed. And why should it be? It could be argued that the important things can’t be measured. This makes some people uncomfortable. People don’t like to feel uncomfortable. They like to feel sure and certain and protected – and that’s what data does for them.

Instinct is vilified

Whilst I am passionate about instinct as a valuable business tool, this isn’t an anti-data stance. Of course I acknowledge that data has merit. However I find that is not a courtesy that is afforded to instinct. Increasingly instinctive and creative planning is vilified and looked down upon by people preoccupied and perhaps over reliant on data and proof. They are not comfortable with that which isn’t empirical and so they dismiss it. I believe that the comfort that people get from data could end up leading to complacency. And complacency never leads to creativity.

Article written by Ruth Yearley, director of insight and strategy at PR firm Ketchum London



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