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How to be creative in PR

Across the PR industry there is an increased premium being placed on creativity. Some express it as the need to find rare insights. Others look for the out-of-the box ideas. Few recognise the multiple steps necessary to find and deliver great ideas. How then can an in-house team – or a consultancy practice – organise themselves to deliver a strong flow of fresh thoughts in an impactful way? 

Does the traditional brainstorm still hold value? Put simply, if you are ‘not in the mood’ new ideas just won’t emerge. Equally, it is naïve to believe a group of ten people in a room with beanbags will always come up with top-trump ideas. If you create a natural playful environment, resist the temptation to formalise sessions and don’t judge too quickly you can get off to a good start.

Debates still rage about the extent to which you need to brief for a brainstorm. Neatly typed, intricate research notes rarely impress. Yet, the psychologists tell us that boundaries are necessary for us to stay focused and avoid wasting time. Plus, if we have had some time to think in advance in the shower, or on the journey into work, we can join a creative session with our neurons in full connective swing. 

Jung suggested that we tend to be either extroverts or introverts. The former, confidently share ideas, talk loudly and are very thick-skinned. By contrast, the introverts are quieter, ponder ideas and need time to accept new thoughts. Both will deliver half-baked and random ideas – and are equally creative – especially in the hands of an expert facilitator.

It is fashionable to think that handling too many ideas at once causes ‘cognitive overload’. However, in the evolution of ideas it is often the early thoughts that lack originality. Follow-up ideas are often derivative and recycled. Aiming for 100 ideas in 30 minutes is a good target – everything recorded – nothing judged. 

Susan Cain, in the book Quiet, suggests introverts come to the fore when you give them a raw idea and ask them to think about it for a couple of days. During that time they think deeply, tease out contradictions and frame new angles. But we cannot rely on them alone.

Frequently, West-coast creatives demand every new idea should be tested to destruction. They dismiss the brainstorm as an out-dated advertising approach. For them animated, no-holes-barred interrogations are a prerequisite prior to presenting new ideas. Is this the key? Probably not. Why? Because great ideas also need to fit with the plethora of channels now available to us, classic or digital.

In turn a new PR role is emerging, the communications planner. Their role is not about teasing out insights – a role still found in the advertising world. Instead they intricately match creative ideas with the right channels. Touching customers at the right time with powerful thoughts and entertaining content is their goal.

The search for great ideas is endless. But the way PR professionals do it is constantly open to evolution.

Article written by Kevin Read, chairman of PR firm Bell Pottinger

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