By Mark Pinsent, Managing Director Europe, The Hoffman Agency

I’ve been mulling the idea of creativity in public relations lately. It was prompted by a decision not to enter an award scheme specifically focused on creativity, not because I don’t think we do creative work — far from it — but because the awards sponsor stated that they aimed to reward “those who create the ‘big idea’ and make it happen.”

I’ve nothing against the big idea, and the creative thinking that goes into it. But I do think too much focus is given to single creative ideas, as opposed to the ongoing need for creativity that forms the core of many (maybe most) PR and communications programmes.

The ongoing need for creativity in public relations

Take a media relations campaign, for example, or ongoing content creation for a corporate blog. While there will certainly be some key themes within these that align to the client company’s business strategy and focus, there’s not always one central creative idea that everything else hangs off. Rather, there’s a relentless need for constant creativity, aligning the external business (or political, economic or cultural agenda) with the client’s business, shaping compelling stories that engage the audience creatively, while delivering some clear messages.

Now I’m biased, obviously, because more of our work takes this form than looking for the single big creative idea (though not all). But personally, I think that as much creative energy needs to be applied in this structure as in finding one winning creative concept, although it can be difficult to present in an aggregated form as creativity (for instance, in an award entry).

Tips for structuring a creative PR programme

In ongoing campaigns — whether designed for media relations or owned content creation — I think there are a few processes and behaviours that can definitely help:

  1. A clear strategic framework. Creativity for creativity’s sake isn’t useful; it needs to be directed. A well-defined strategy focuses the creation of stories and content on subjects that align to the organisation’s objectives, allowing creativity to roam free within the borders of the strategy.

 

  1. Constant review of external inputs. One of the strengths of good PR people is the ability to place our clients’ businesses, products and solutions in the context of external factors, be they economic, cultural, ethical or political. It comes through decades of needing to convince journalists of the value of a story, and is equally as useful in creating owned content. But it requires a passion for consuming other content.

 

  1. A culture of discussion and debate. Great creative ideas can come in isolation, of course (riding a bike, walking in the park, taking a shower), but often they come through sharing and discussing the inputs highlighted above. That can happen naturally amongst a team, depending on the layout of an office and proximity of people, but defining times and places for it can also be useful.

 

  1. An editorial workflow. The ongoing process of creating stories and content requires management, and acting in a similar way to a publication’s editorial team — with regular meetings to discuss ideas and document their progress from conception to publication — is a good way to ensure that individual ideas are captured, checked against strategy and progressed (or dismissed). Plenty of tools exist to help, with Trello being one of our favourites.

 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course, and handily enough I have some for you. The tips listed above are those we employ in the work we do for our client, Axis Communications, for which we were lucky enough to win a recent award. And also lucky enough to have a client who blogged about it herself. It’s nice to see an award scheme that rewards an ongoing process for creativity, as opposed to the single big idea.

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