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How to find the next big idea

Forget brainstorms, if you want to come up with a Big Idea for your next PR campaign, you need to put time and effort into it. Being creative is hard work. But to make your life a little easier, here are eight suggestions for coming up with genius solutions from some clever PR people who appreciate great ideas and understand how hard they are to come up with.

Don’t brainstorm

Mark Perkins, creative director at agency MHP Communications: “First, don’t rely on brainstorms and blame your colleagues if they don’t deliver – no matter how much was invested in Haribo. None of the best campaigns I’ve ever worked on have come from a traditional brainstorm format.

“Creativity is a discipline and, trust me, there is such a thing as a bad idea. Getting the right idea requires tricks, techniques, applied research, insight, emotional triggers, asking lots of questions and most importantly time. Time to think. It requires being always on.

“I use every opportunity to look at great campaigns from around the world for inspiration; similarly looking at work in other creative disciplines such as advertising, art or design because there may be some learning about its impact you can apply to your own work.”

Take time

James Wright, account manager at agency The PR Office: “Creativity, admittedly, is not something that I would admit to being great at in a short space of time. My general thoughts on creativity are that it remains an absolute skill of concentration.

“Artists spend years with a canvas or guitar which allows them to develop the skills to produce something truly great. Whilst time is never on side, I feel that four people studying a problem, to hit on a solution, aka the big idea for an impending campaign really does work. You need to do your background research, you need to study the problems at hand, and you need to look at what is already out there to become nothing short of a mini expert in order to bring a solid viable solution to a problem and create that big idea we are all so destined to achieve. I feel that thinking BIG requires us to think more carefully about the small stuff first.”

Work backwards

Helen Frear, PR, social media and content executive at agency The CommsCo: “When it comes to big ideas for PR campaigns, a really useful approach is to start from the end point and work backwards: What do you want the headlines to be? What do you want the campaign to achieve? This way, you can tailor your research initiatives or creative process towards that end goal, within an agreed time frame. It’s important that the outcome for your campaign is measurable, and of course, achievable.”

Use genuine insights

Scott Dimbleby, head of creative at PR agency W Communications: “It is always exciting to be in charge of creating big ideas for clients, but these come with significant risks. So we always strive to mitigate such risks by marrying our creative concepts with genuine insights. This means our strategy is informed by consumer data and media appetite. Research is absolutely key to ensuring maximum impact and an end result that does not feel like gratuitous marketing and is deeply disconnected from the brand’s messaging and strategic campaign objectives. 

Don’t flog a dead horse

Isabel Hope-Urwin, senior account manager at agency Acuity PR: “Launching a big campaign that isn’t clear on its purpose will go down like Boris Johnson on a zip wire. Once you’ve had fun being creative, it’s then up to the people closest to the brief to hone the ideas and make them work.

“The biggest challenge is knowing when to change tack. Whilst nailing an idea is nothing short of cathartic, there’s no point flogging a dead horse. Having smaller general sessions often, alongside bigger ones on-brief, will help alleviate pressure and ensure there’s a constant channel of new thought fuelling your work and keeping the team inspired.”

Let the product sell itself

Andy Brown, managing director at agency Reality PR: “I can remember vividly when Apple introduced the world to the new iPod nano. The ad featured the product in a person’s hand showing how small it was and then a pencil to emphasise how slim it was. It was compact, slim and shiny and it stored 1000 songs. I was hooked and I had to have one. The ad was simple. It showed the product for what it was and that was more than enough to grab our attention, nano’s designers made sure of that.

“PR works in the same way. Sometimes a story sells itself and you don’t really need big ideas, you just tell it how it is. You just know when you’ve got something that’s easily PR’able.

“Every PR campaign requires a different approach, some need really big ideas while others tell their own story. Whatever is needed to get the desired effect, the end result, ie, lots of media coverage, is always the same.”

Remember three rules

Julian Cirrone, creative director at PR agency Lexis: “Great ideas and great creative ideas come from an amalgamation of three things. Insights that give you expert knowledge. A skill set that enables you to extract and identify good ideas from the creative session, and most importantly, a motivation to step out of your comfort zone. I have three top tips for coming up with Big Ideas: First, prepare the right focus questions which are narrow, but open-ended to allow creative freedom. Have as many as possible, that way you can change direction if you original question isn’t inspiring creativity. Second, listen to your subconscious – increase heart rate, a spike in energy levels, your body is incredibly adept at telling you you’re on the right creative path. Third, always ask what if? What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail? The best ideas always look crazy at first!”

Don’t set limits, but stick to the brief

Dan Whitehouse, director at agency Jam and Spoon PR: “I have always been an advocate of the Big Idea; thinking small has simply never made sense. Why on earth would you put limits on your imagination? Yes, I understand there are clients, budgets, boxes to tick, red tape to untangle and all the rest of it, but these things should not be in your head at the initial ideas stage; the sky should be the limit. In my experience, I find it is much easier to rein in a Big Idea than to try and expand on a small one. The most common constraint is of course a financial one, but people approach this with a negative attitude. The client may well have said the budget is limited to X, but remember clients are often fairly unimaginative, hence them hiring agencies in the first place.

“If you put an amazing idea in front of them – one which they could not possibly have dreamt up themselves – but it exceeds the budget, you will often find that figure X will grow to accommodate your idea accordingly.”

“One thing you should always do, though, is stick to the brief.”

It would be great if Big Ideas could just magically appear when you need them, but as life is never that easy in.PR, you have to accept that sheer brilliance takes time and effort. And a client who appreciates a great idea when it is presented to them …

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