It was just a feeling I had, but I was pretty sure there had been a creeping trend of creative directors being appointed at PR agencies in the last year or so. To check my hunch had some substance, I did a sample survey of the top consumer PR agencies out there in UK PR-land and it backed up my gut feel: more than half have a creative director or a creative department nowadays.
And I'm not sure this is the right way for agencies to go. Because, although this might sound contradictory, I think a PR agency with a creative director or creative department is bad for its creativity. I also think that it makes PR executives working in those agencies less well-rounded as practitioners. I’ll explain why.
For me, a perfect PR person has to have a fusion of three different skills: ideas generation, client handling and media liaison. If you take out one element, then you lose the ability to do either of the other remaining elements as well. It’s harder to advise a client on what is a good idea for them if you don’t really know that client, both strategically and personally. And it is much harder to sell an idea to the media if you weren’t involved in coming up with the idea (we’ve all come across the not-invented-here syndrome).
Add to that the fact that all the PR practitioners I’ve come across love the brainstorming and ideas generation part of the job, usually more than any other part. It’s a brilliant opportunity to come up with some cutting-edge thinking and to have some good fun in the process. When everyone is responsible for being involved in creativity the energy of that rubs off on the whole place and becomes part of an agency’s DNA.
To pin all your creative hopes on a creative director is quite risky in my opinion. Good ideas can, and do, come from anyone in a business. They certainly don’t have to be coming down from director level. In a funny sort of way, I could argue that far away from director level is better as a source of ideas. You want people coming up with ideas who won’t put the limitations on their thinking that those who have been doing the job for years might. Naïvity is a fantastic quality, and the older and allegedly wiser you become, the less naïve you are. Young, connected, passionate, excited, intelligent people with fresh minds are the holy grails of where you’ll likely get your best thought starters. We’ve even brought our finance and admin people into these sessions, just to get a completely fresh perspective sometimes. It works.
There’s also the whole structural impact of having a creative director and/or creative department that I don’t buy. It smacks a bit of trying to follow the advertising agency model, and look where that got them. Call me old fashioned, but when I hear the words “creative” and “director”, I think of a job you gave to an over-indulged boy who could sit in swanky Soho offices enjoying prima-donna status, generally throwing his toys out of a pram and then being only introduced to clients with a public health warning and big fat disclaimer that his behaviour could well offend (and not to take it personally, he’s like that with everyone, but that’s OK as he’s “creative”). That sort of role doesn’t sit comfortably within a modern PR set up in my opinion.
Everyone has got creativity coursing through their veins, the best agencies bring that out of all their people. Ideas being generated from every direction, that’s the best recipe for creativity. Not a creative director.
Graham Goodkind, is the founder of Frank PR.
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