How to make PR more creative

PR is often not given much credit for creativity. This is either because it is not being judged fairly, or because it just isn’t as creative as it could be. In the view of Simon Shaw, chief creative officer at PR agency H+K, London, the fault lies with PR itself: “We will get the credit when we produce the work. The industry’s lack of success at Cannes Festival of Creativity reinforces this.” PRmoment has written previously about the differences between creativity in advertising and PR, and how the Cannes Lions Awards struggles to reflect this.

Discussing why PR fails to deliver creativity, Shaw says the solution is to put insight at the heart of PR work: “We need to use data and analytics to guide us. We need to learn new and more sophisticated tools to become master storytellers. Only then will we create the right environment for creativity to flourish and grow.”

“Whilst doing this we must build on our unique skills; our ability to understand and communicate with multiple audiences; our ability to create engaging stories; our ability to share our stories with the world; and our ability to iterate and work in real time.”

“Combine our existing skills with new skills and we will be uniquely placed not only to be part of the creative agenda, but to lead the creative agenda.”

To promote a more creative PR culture, according to David Gallagher, chairman of PR firm Ketchum London and CEO of Ketchum Europe, the most important thing is to find and define your purpose: “Ask yourself why my agency exists? Why should anyone care? Ultimately, what is our higher calling?”

“Once you’ve answered these questions, other big things fall into place. You become more strategic. You become more decisive and you become more creative. And I don’t just mean creative in an arts-and-crafts way.”

“They may never win at Cannes, but it’s often some of the most hard-boiled corporate campaigns that are infused with the greatest creativity.”

Gallagher believes that creativity is the lifeblood of any communication agency because clients expect both skill sets: “They want people who can identify insights and tell compelling stories across paid, earned, shared and owned media. But they also want people who can apply an uncommon perspective and help them connect the dots.”

So how do you make your agency more creative? Gallagher says: “Creativity can’t be bolted on to an agency by buying a few more designers. Neither can you switch it on, or outsource it to a creative director.”

“Instead everyone has a role to play. You have to find this weird, fuzzy mix where all employees feel they can be disruptive, without building teams that can’t meet deadlines. In the end you have to hire the right people, explain what is possible, and set them free.”

Tips for making your business more creative

From Andy Turner, founder of agency Six Sigma PR:

  • Have the right recruitment policy. Be less conservative and more diverse in who you hire.
  • Encourage and support creative endeavours. Signal that you value creativity when setting employees’ personal development plans.
  • Make sure senior people are supportive. Manage how senior people react to seemingly outrageous suggestions from below: put-downs, especially in public, are a creatively killer.
  • Get out there. Expose team members to new and novel ideas, thinking and activities.
  • Have a creative chief. Make someone senior responsible for collecting and sharing award-winning creative work so that people know what creative means.  

Tips for making your work more creative

From Helen Campbell, founder of agency Campbell Brown PR:

  • Start with images. Use pictures from newspapers and magazines, or even flashcards to spark ideas. If you have a picture of an elephant at a zoo in front of you instead of a list of KPIs you may feel that your ideas flow more freely.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Pick the identity of someone you want to influence and get your colleagues to do the same. Suddenly you are brainstorming as a journalist, a blogger, an MP, a customer, and the head of a charity instead of a team of PR and marketing people.
  • Think about your senses. Disneyland’s hotel in Paris smells like sweets; Goodwood Festival of Speed is filled with the noise of engines and the scent of motor oil; there is a restaurant where you can eat in the dark (Dans Le Noir). Experiencing these brands is not something that is best described through a paper press release alone … there are other ways to taste, touch, smell, feel and hear a message.
  • Write the headline. If you can’t write the story you want to see in the media, chances are the journalist won’t write it either. Begin with the headline and work backwards.
  • Make people laugh, or cry, or feel frightened. If your reaction to your own story is “so what?” that is likely to be other people’s reactions too. But if you can barely interview your case study for giggling or holding back tears then either you are over-emotional or you have a great story on your hands.


How PR must nurture creativity

Gavin Lewis, creative director at agency Hope&Glory PR:

“Too often in business we are guilty of forgetting to enjoy what we do. Part of the key to fuelling creativity is celebrating the fun and joy in it. We are in an industry that thrives on being able to comment, change and sometimes even shape popular culture. You can’t do that without knowing what’s going on. To inspire culturally relevant creativity we encourage the team to look for stimulus everywhere. Great ideas come from great experiences and meeting interesting people. We actively encourage people to get out there.”

“Bravery is key to a creative business. We try to create a culture where you can’t be scared to have a go at the unknown. In fact we celebrate it and make sure that there are experienced helping hands around to mentor and point the team in the right direction if things are going pear shaped.”

Emma Hazan, deputy managing director, UK at PR agency Hotwire:

“The best examples of creativity in PR come from a deep understanding of the content and tactics that will really strike a chord with your target audience. There’s nothing wrong with basing a campaign on solid data and while it may not sound that exciting, insights, analysis and measurement should be the foundation of any PR campaign. What’s important however is to get the balance of logic and magic right – too much of either and you are unlikely to ever generate the best possible results.”

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