How do you encourage creativity in PR?

Do you need someone in charge of creativity in your business? Some say you do, others that you don’t. We say “fight!”. Agencies with creative heads do battle with those without. Plus we offer tips for generating award-winning ideas.

Those in favour

Steve Strickland, head of creativity at PR consultancy Weber Shandwick, believes that a creative director helps to bring out creativity in everyone: “The most creative person in the office depends on the brief you have in the door. It’s true, my job title suggests I’m the most creative, but I am only as good as the last brainstorm held, the team around me and the brief we are working to. I am lucky enough to concentrate the majority of my day on creative output. However, the dual role for a creative director is to help staff develop better creative thinking through training and techniques, and to challenge teams to think about ideas generation”

Sandy Lindsay, group managing director at agency Tangerine PR, says that a creative director is vital for managing creativity throughout an agency: “When you appoint a creative director, you expect creative thinking and good ideas of course, but that’s not all. The creative director’s job includes developing a culture where everyone is encouraged to contribute. You have to manage that inclusiveness though. There’s no point in asking everyone in the agency to participate in every brainstorm. You end up with a mob of 30 or so people, where some are shouting to make themselves heard, some are hiding in the crowd and the rest are wondering why they were invited in the first place!

“Structure is important too. Creativity is not a black art and great ideas can result from good processes and disciplined thinking as much as they can from flashes of inspiration. Our brainstorms and meetings are structured so that everyone who attends has to participate. The creative director’s role in the process is to help the group develop ideas to the full, use them to spark off new ones and ensure that all the ideas stay on message for the brief.”

Those against

Graham Goodkind, founder of consultancy Frank PR, believes creativity can come from anywhere: “The good agencies either engineer, or better, just naturally foster and nurture an environment where ideas take centre stage and the passion for great thinking shines through. Therefore, I don’t think that having a creative director achieves this. In my mind, it can inhibit the creativity of a group of people as it assigns the role of being creative to one person.

“Being creative and coming up with ideas is the best part of being in PR. It’s fun and it energises those involved. Brainstorms and creative sessions for all our staff is a massive part of agency life here. We don’t need a creative director to do that, just a creative culture.”

Chris Klopper, CEO at agency Mulberry Marketing Communications, agrees with Goodkind that great creative ideas can come from any member of the team: “In fact, often the most spectacularly creative or left-field ideas are from younger professionals who haven’t yet had the sense of wide-eyed wonder and adventure knocked out of them by getting their ideas rejected. However, those with more experience are also vital in being able to build the business case that turns that gem of an idea into a sellable concept.

“I also believe that creative people are born not made – it is something that you essentially have in your DNA string or not. Having said that, someone who is naturally not creative, but does have a genuine passion and understanding for the client campaign work, is often capable of coming up with the best ideas.”

Top Tips for generating ideas

Holly Jeffries, account manager at PR agency Launch Group, offers brainstorming advice:

1. Don’t rush in – Creative facilitation sessions should always be planned, ensuring you have spent time dissecting the brief, developing the strategy and selecting the most appropriate facilitation methods to get the best results from your team of brainstormers.

2. Smaller is smarter – It may be tempting to invite lots of people thinking that more heads mean more ideas. However, a group of no more than eight people allows everyone to contribute and you won’t miss a pitch-winning idea in all the noise.

3. Liquid lubrication – A 1 per cent fall in hydration levels leads to a 10 per cent drop in performance levels – so a few jugs of water on the table could improve idea generation.

4. Find your inner child – You won’t get the best ideas out of people if they are half thinking about their to-do list, how they will get home through the snow or secretly checking emails on their BlackBerry. Help your brainstormers get in the creative mindset with a warm-up exercise.

5. Allow thinking time – Silence does not necessarily mean there are no ideas – it could be that they are just being formulated.

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