How PRs can be more creative

In this guest post, Russ Tucker, creative director at Eleven, Fleishman Hillard & TBWA Sydney, shares his five tips to making your agency more creative, and profitable.

I’ve had the pleasure of working in creative roles across several different ad agencies, digital businesses and PR specialists – all operating different creative structures and models.russ-tucker-cd-eleven-fleishman-hillard-tbwa-sydney-bandw

All good creative businesses care about the idea and often there is a debate around who owns the idea. Does it come from the creative department, the PR specialists the planners…the client?

The answer is simple – ideas come from anywhere, it’s how you work with them that counts. If advertising is about telling a brand’s story, PR is about getting a brand’s story into culture.

As a creative who works with PR agencies, here are my tips for what PR agencies can do right now to be more creative:

Step 1: Create culture, not just news

PRs need to think beyond a headline. It’s one thing to leverage a moment in time and create news off the back of it. It’s completely another to take a trend, turn it into something new and create culture off the back of it.

And by culture I mean the stuff people care about – it fills your social feeds, gets talked about by your mates and of course, winds up in the media.

To create culture, PRs need a lens through which to do it and, importantly, a model that moves fast, as does culture.

There’s no one way of doing this. Eleven has a model called ‘Disruption Live’ and Fleishman works to ‘The Power of True’. Both look to create culture but, importantly, both buck traditional agency processes that take up time and drain creativity.

Try this:

Ditch the traditional client brief – pages of detail written in the hope of generating a great idea. Culture isn’t complicated, it’s simple. So keep it simple and write your brief as a Tweet. If it can’t be briefed in a Tweet, it’s likely too complicated, can’t be activated quickly and you can’t create culture off the back of it.Woman with loudspeaker

Step 2: Ditch the whiteboard

Brainstorms are normally a terrible waste of resource. Lots of loud people shouting out ideas that aren’t well thought out. You then normally have one person left at the end of a brainstorm trying to scrape together a good idea.

Creativity is about doing something different. So take a different approach to your brainstorms.

Try this:

Ban Post-It notes and whiteboard scribbling where people blurt out bad ideas for an hour. Instead, try a ninja session (fast, silent and accurate – like a ninja).

The rules are as follows: There’s a territory to start from (thanks to a sharp creative brief in a Tweet), a ticking clock (to keep ideas quick and coming) and every idea has to start with “What if…”.

Sounds simple, but try a silent brainstorm where people write, not talk – you’ll find out quickly the best thinkers might not be the loudest.

And, finally, get everyone in the habit of writing ideas, not just blurting them out.

More on that here.

Step 3: An influencer isn’t an idea 

PRs are really good at understanding the role that influencers, from big name talent to niche social media talent, play in adding flair to a brand, giving it kudos and reach.

And I won’t argue – influencers are super-important in getting your message out there at time of activation. But an influencer doesn’t make an idea, and there’s scope to go beyond this for expansive creative thought.

If culture comes from taking trends and upping it, then there are many more partners beyond just influencers that can add their weight to a brand and give it the creative might that catapults in into culture.

Try this:

Be brave and ban the influencer in the initial stages of planning (don’t worry – they’ll come back in later). Then ask your team to go beyond people and look at brand partnerships that aren’t just mutually beneficial, but give each brand a new, creative way to talk about themselves. Best example in my opinion is the McWhopper.McWhopper_Main_05

After you’re done with brand partnerships, think technology. I’m not suggesting that every creative PR idea should involve VR or the like, but rather, think about how an idea can be made better through the use of an innovation – new or existing – that takes it to the next level.

Step 4: The packaging is just as important as the product

PRs can learn a thing or two from their ad agency mates about how to really sell an idea. I’ve seen lots of great PR ideas fall flat in a client meeting because they simply haven’t been expressed the right way.

Yes, there needs to be an insight, an idea, and the guts of what it is you’ll then do. But if PR is about going beyond just making news, and instead, creating culture, then the sell needs to tell that story.

Try this:

It’s a small thing but it goes a long way: invest in bringing ideas to life. Show a client that it’s worth taking a punt on a brave thought because you’ve given good thought as to how it will actually look, in physical form, both as headline and Tweet. Seeing is believing.

One way to do this is to go the extra mile and get a designer or artist to mock up your idea so a client can see what it’ll actually look like.

Step 5: Hire more misfits

Caveat: I started off by saying that these were my tips for PRs to be more creative, right now. This one’s obviously a stretch for next time you need to hire.

Playing it safe is creatively the most dangerous thing you can do. This goes for the hiring policy just as much as the creative output.

I’m constantly amazed at how often PR agencies play it safe when it comes to hiring – the same types of people, normally from competitor agencies, yet expecting different, new thinking.

Try this:

If you’re feeling brave, make your next hire an out-of-category choice, and see what benefit that brings creatively. Within the broad marketing talent pool, there’s a bucket load of transferable skills. You’re not just buying into a person, but a new way of looking at things.

PR is an interesting, creative industry right now with more and more brands competing for people’s attention – particularly in social and earned media.

Russ Tucker is the creative director at Eleven, Fleishman Hillard & TBWA Sydney


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