The creative paradox is this; the more rigour with which we deliver the humble, daily activities, the more time, space and licence we’ll have to create
I participated in PR Moment’s ‘Creativity in PR’ seminar this week1. My roundtable discussion was scheduled for the final session of the day, which provided me with the rest of the day to prepare (i.e. borrow ideas and inspiration from the other delegates!).
A rough definition of Creativity from the various delegates could be summarized as “ . . . the ability to achieve a set of objectives by a different, alternative route, one which replaces (or complements) traditional or conventional practices . . .”.
My particular view is that creativity is the essence of “attaining objectives in the face of unusual or particular constraints which would otherwise compromise a conventional approach . . ”. Such constraints could range from limited budgets or timeframes, to compliance/regulatory issues or internal expectations; all of which would require a ‘creative’ approach to achieving the objectives.
So, creativity is not an ancillary option reserved for good times or when budgets are flowing; it is an essential quality in days of plenty and when the pressure is on. In PR, creativity can be as simple as proposing an alternative set of journalists within the same target media, or adding search engine optimized (SEO) phrases within the release text and then tracking the impact on line. Neither approaches would face much opposition from client and both could directly impact the results. Both are examples of creativity in PR.
One of the biggest ‘creative’ myths, particularly within a PR context is the link with budgets, or “ . . .the client is not paying enough for us to be creative . .” (am I the only PR professional who has ever heard this?). As the above examples demonstrate, there is absolutely no link between alternative thinking and budget; in fact, for clients with limited resources, creativity is fundamental . . on a daily basis to generate ideas, opportunities and coverage.
Feedback from CMO delegates during the day also highlighted the opposite effect; large budgets (particularly ATL/TVC campaigns) actually reduce clients’ appetite for alternative approaches. When the stakes – and budgets – are high, conservatism reigns. Feedback from many former global colleagues even confirms the perils of ‘over production’ – Web content which is simply too well produced to be perceived as authentic, particularly by brutally perceptive Gen Y and Z audiences.
PR’s comparatively smaller budgets (“what’s left over from the TVC . . .” as one delegate CMO panelist revealed), actually increase the scope and opportunity for us to be creative; it’s only loose change, after all!
I would also like to cite a wonderful insight from Nikhil Taneja, head of development for Y Films, the company behind Web hits such as Bang Baaja Baaraat2 and Ladies Room3; “We make the films first, and then approach companies for partnerships or sponsorships . . . ”. This ‘pure’ brand of creativity is not driven by, or limited to current clients. If public relations is the art of storytelling, we should encourage our teams to do just that; tell stories. If we have a client that fits, great; if not, let’s go and find one!
Finally, one area of tangible frustration within the PR community here is the freedom afforded by our clients to pursue alternative approaches; ‘securing approvals’ appears to be the biggest barrier to creativity facing agencies. Having spent considerable time with clients (as well as working in house) I can assure you that the best was to secure credibility and the trust of the client is to deliver the routine work impeccably, before suggesting creative approaches. I believe that, in reality, the separation of daily rigour from creative approaches represents the biggest barrier to creativity in PR.
The two are inextricably linked; clients are far more likely to approve creative thinking, if we also proof read our (traditional) press releases before they are issued!