Gini Dietrich

Bah Humbug! New Study Shows PR Industry Lacks Creativity

By: Gini Dietrich | December 4, 2012 | 

Boy, it’s a tough time to be in PR.

First, the web (and particularly social media) has upended what the industry has done for more than 50 years, leaving us to scramble and fight for social, content, crisis, reputation management, influencer relations, and more.

Now a study by the Holmes Report, NowGoCreate, and Ketchum shows the industry is lacking in creativity, big ideas, resourcing, and creative talent.

Creativity in PR surveyed more than 650 PR professionals in 35 countries, including corporate and agency, to discover whether or not the PR industry is creative enough to successfully sway marketing budgets and develop game-changing ideas on a consistent basis.

The answer is a resounding no.

“I do feel we are not taking ownership of the fact that we have always been an ‘ideas’ industry — and are absolutely capable of breakthrough creative thinking,” said one executive at a U.S. PR firm. “Too many people in the field seem to be silo-ed in terms of what they feel they are allowed to do — versus advertising agencies that seem to approach their business as if they can take ownership of anything, and any discipline, they want.”

Break Down the Silos

Ahem. “Too many people in the field seem to be silo-ed.”

Never mind the fact that everyone in the industry should read Marketing in the Round to figure out how to break down those silos and how to take control of their own destinies when it comes to competing with advertising, marketing, search, web, and mobile.

We belong at the executive table, but it’s not going to happen as long as there is the perception that we can’t measure our efforts to true business results, we’re not creative, and we’re not big thinkers.

Last week, we took a hard look at the types of metrics (both soft and data-driven) we should be tracking in order to measure our efforts to business goals.

Now, combined with that, we need to prove our creative worth.

A Quick Story

When I worked on The Catfish Institute (don’t laugh; it was super fun!), our goal was to get catfish on the menu of white tablecloth restaurants. You see, catfish are bottom feeders and are known to be the most tasty when fried.

But when farm-raised, catfish not only eat from the top of the pond, they are a lovely white fish that take on the flavors in which they are prepared, making them fairly versatile for chefs.

In order to raise awareness and reach our goal, we invited up-and-coming chefs to participate in a cooking contest using, you guessed it, catfish.

It was Iron Chef before Iron Chef existed. And it worked.

Not only was it super fun work to do, we reached our goals. And then some. All because it was creative, it was fun, it was measurement-bound, and it had a clear vision.

Creativity for One; Creativity for All

This year, I’ve judged award entries for PRSA and for Ragan. I know creativity is out there, but it seems to be only among the clients with big budgets.

This is a problem.

Most of you went into PR because you hate math. Which means most of you are right-brained by nature. So why no creativity? It comes naturally to you, yet 60 percent of our clients are disappointed in our lack of creativity.

You don’t have to have big budgets or celebrity chefs or even a year-long campaign to be creative. But you do need to be reading the blogosphere, reading fiction, reading the news, and listening to podcasts and watching videos to have new ideas.

Sure, you might have a new and creative idea shot down by the client or by your boss. But that doesn’t mean to stop trying.

I challenge each of you to take a creative idea to your client or boss once a month. Can you do that?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Justjeffpls

    @ginidietrich @SpinSucks Ever watch a farmer work his fields? Same way year after year. Article is more verbose but still the same.

  • First of all, this: “Most of you went into PR because you hate math.” Exactly right.
    Second, I think creativity is lacking because there is this fear that creativity is too much of a risk. Let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing so as not to rock the boat. We might not make waves, but at least we’ll remain on course.
    It should actually be easier to roll out a creative idea for a smaller company because there are less people to go through.
    But I agree that we need to be more creative. I like the idea of trying one “out there” idea every month.
    Good post!

    • @bradmarley But creativity doesn’t even have to be big ideas. It can be something new or different that hasn’t yet been tried. Maybe it’s the introduction of email marketing. Or it’s adding a new social network. Or it’s different kinds of content. It doesn’t have to be something huge.

      • @ginidietrich Yeah, the whole small vs. big is a good point. Start with baby steps so the large ideas don’t seem so outlandish.

  • OK – I know you’ve heard me say this before, but this: “Most of you went into PR because you hate math.” I am SO tired of hearing that line from PR pros! You’ve heard my measurement spiel so I won’t go into it (too deep :)) but if someone can add 2+2, they can do the math needed to show SMART measurable results. And that’s where creativity comes in too, not to fudge the numbers, but to come with with smart and CREATIVE ways to get attention, drive action, etc.
    I wonder if people have gotten so lost in technology they’ve forgotten how to use their brains? And I’m not being snarky, I’m genuinely pondering that question.

    • @Shonali I am with you 1,000 percent. That’s why I linked to the metrics post I wrote last week. It’s NOT math. It’s data. And it’s very useful in everything you do.

      • flemingsean

        @ginidietrich  @Shonali 1000%…? And you said you like math. 🙂

    • @Shonali Thanks for the ‘math hatred’ defense! I am not sure if we’re lost in technology, have some odd fondness for the tools (I remember for a long time how being able to use MS Office was a ‘skill’ on a resume, b/c not everyone could run PP) or if IDK, we’re so swept up in the hype, we expect the technology to do the work for us? I don’t think we’ve forgotten how to think, but maybe the crutch of some of the tools (and sorry, some of the big data) has blinded us to seeing past all that at some hard realities. Tools and tech won’t make money – unless we’re in the tools-selling business. Numbers won’t, creativity won’t – unless that’s our endgame. 
      So I guess this is my reply to @ginidietrich too b/c I’m not sure it’s not a lack of creativity on our parts. Know from experience it’s very much also a product of clients’ limited thinking and yes, my inability to make them see my vision. It’s 2012 and every business I have ever worked for, large or small, has rightly cared about one thing: the bottom line. They may play lip service to being about ‘people,’ talk sunshine and roses about their products and services, take pride in their lofty reputations — end of the day, if something else give more black ink in the ledgers, that’s where they go. So IF a wild and crazy ‘creative’ idea will get them there, then maybe you can sell it but otherwise.. they want to buy an ad, mail a flyer, or run some (cheaper) automated tool and think the phone will ring. (Think of publicity campaigns that may have gotten plenty of ink and SEO, but don’t move the needle.)
      ITA with the need to 1) bust open the organizational labyrinth charts and integrate already (Word.) and 2) get more creative (Word!). And no that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go carte blanche, but we do need to open wallets and minds to some different ideas, from different people.. even us ‘non-math’ communications pros. FWIW.

  • ginidietrich

    @MargieClayman You are nuts

    • MargieClayman

      @ginidietrich Hmph. Well I never.

  • ginidietrich

    @RemarksByMelis Thanks Melissa!

  • One of the best statements I’ve ever read was, “Imagination goes beyond budgets.” I try to take that to my work daily.

  • Agreed you don’t need big budgets to be creative. In fact, often projects with smaller budgets have to be more creative because clients still expect them to have an impact and get the attention of their intended audience. Regardless, if you can’t show the impact to your client, you’ll see the budget shrink or disappear faster than you can read this blog post.

    • @EdenSpodek I don’t know if that’s the case for a good majority of clients. Your clients? Yes. Our clients? Yes. But that’s because we both focus on different ways of doing things. Most clients, though, still want the front page of the NY Times and to count media impressions. That’s not very creative and talks to @stevenmcoyle unfortunate experience.

      • @ginidietrich  @stevenmcoyle Maybe it’s also a Canadian thing because our budgets are typically smaller than our U.S. counterparts, especially when working on global accounts. 😉 Unfortunately, there are still many agencies and clients here too that still want front page coverage on the NY Times or Globe and Mail.

  • This is a big reason why I transitioned from PR into Integrated Marketing. Every job I had during my PR phase lacked room for creativity. I was confined to media pitches, blogs and social media tactics. There was no planning, insightful campaigns or events. 
    Unlike most of my counterparts, I love math. I’m a strategic thinker and I like to solve problems. Sadly, my experience in PR involved me being someone’s work horse.

    • @stevenmcoyle I’m like you. I love numbers, data, and how they both work to drive real results. Your PR experience sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.

      • @ginidietrich It was learning experience. It’s important for me not to be confined to one silo (see what I did there), and now I know exactly where I want to go in my career.

  • I once worked on a communications team where everyone would get scared(!), awkward, and uncomfortable when new ideas (that were specific and measurable) were brought up. I eventually stopped thinking outside the box (with this particular organization) because the herd mentality unfortunately took over. I felt like a crazy person –  I just couldn’t wrap my head around why I was becoming so awkwardly afraid of new ideas. 
    This experience was one of many that fueled the fire to break out on my own. I knew there was a better way of thinking that challenged the “lizard brain” as Seth Godin likes to call it. Whether you consider this creativity, or pushing the envelope, I no longer sacrifice this trait to “fit in” to a particular organization or to work with a particular client. It’s a part of me (and my business), and if people think I’m “crazy” for thinking a certain way – so be it! 🙂

    • @itsjessicann Who says you’re not a crazy person??

  • ginidietrich

    @belllindsay No, you’re not!

    • belllindsay

      @ginidietrich 🙂 you must admit, I am getting better

      • ginidietrich

        @belllindsay I will admit no such thing

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich Spoil sport.

        • ginidietrich

          @belllindsay Brat

  • flemingsean

    I wrote about this. On Saturday. How very zeitgeisty….

  • flemingsean

    My three cents on this issue…. creativity will never get a seat on the board.  Never.
    Results will.
    Results need to be measured though.  They can be delivered by dint of amazingly creative ideas, but if you don’t know what to measure (because that little rascal is not the same for each and every client and/or campaign) and you don’t know how to measure it, and you aren’t able to put the measurements into a succinct and compelling format, no measure of creativity will stop you from being disregarded as fluffy or nebulous.
    Money talks. Bull-poop walks. Or so the saying sort of goes.
    Run a PR agency…? Hire teams of people, get them to work as teams. Scrutinise the gaps in individuals’ capabilities and in team performance. But do not do so looking for failings. Do it so that you can identify what your people need from you in order to become better.

    • @flemingsean Oh I know results are what gets the seat at the table. My only point was, now we have to measure our efforts to real business goals, figure out where all this new stuff “belongs,” AND be creative.

  • It is not just PR, it is all over. There is a reason why the studios continue to remake the same movies and television show and it is not because people have run out of ideas,

    • @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes And here I thought it was because our generation loved our movies so much we wanted to remake them for our kids.

  • ginidietrich

    @LouHoffman Fiefdom is such a great word!

  • ginidietrich

    @AshleyMassotti I’m so happy to hear it! Thank you!

  • HowieG

    Doesn’t the PR industry create Press Releases all the time? Isn’t that creativity in it’s rawest form?

    • @HowieG You get the “Big Spoon” award for stirring the pot.

    • @HowieG I hate you.

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich @barrettrossie in all seriousness…like for reals….I had a few exchanges with Olivier Blanchard of a similar theme but for advertising. When you see the huge blatant in your face flaws with your peers/businesses and you wonder why people make believe it isn’t there. It is because the money is rolling in. WPP to announce 2012 a record year. I have to believe the powers that be are content as along as the money is rolling in. And the clients don’t demand more because they are scared to, thinking they need the agency or marketer to succeed…reinforced always by the agency/marketer who gives fuzzy math and scares them all the time.

  • rustyspeidel

    I just went into a client who shared the same mindset and basically mapped out for the C-suite EXACTLY what they should do for marketing net year. They pushed back, I defended, and they were thrilled. 
    We have to take control through the power of our ideas, organization, professionalism and persuasive skills. These guys NEED guidance. Over-deliver first and ask forgiveness later. We get in trouble when we wait for permission to add value at the executive level. Believe me, if they don’t want your advice, they’ll tell you. But they’ll never tell you when they do. For that, you must simply act in their best interests.

    • @rustyspeidel I love the ask for forgiveness mantra. I do this with one client all the time and sometimes he says, “What were you thinking?” but he’s always pleased with our efforts.

  • A little bit of a different perspective, maybe: A lack of creativity can stem from a lack of true understanding of the customer. 
    If you know what the customer thinks and feels — deeply feels — a lot of ideas occur that would never have occurred otherwise. They may not even seem ‘creative’ by many people’s standards (wild, crazy, funny) but they respond directly to what the customers and prospects need. And therefore are different and truly creative compared to the rest of the crap out there in the marketplace. 
    From an advertising POV — so many ad people have their heads up their butts trying to dream up “great ads” (“great” to people in the ad industry) that they completely lack curiosity about the customers, what would truly move them and how to create a connection between the brand and the customer. To me, this is one of the biggest things that separates truly great marketing people, regardless of discipline, from the rest.

    • rdopping

      @barrettrossie Amendment brother. I have been talking that language to the design industry since the dawn of time. Ok. Maybe the last few years.
      Without knowing your clients how else are you going to create something of value?

    • @barrettrossie Devil’s advocate (a little bit): I’m not even talking about big, grandiose ideas. I’m talking bringing something new to the table, such as email marketing or content or even social. Something new and different that will set them apart. Something their competitors aren’t doing. Something that matters to the people who buy.

  • arikhanson

    @ginidietrich Was said survey commissioned by the advertising industry 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @arikhanson Ha! You would think so. But no. Of our peers.

  • On this topic I’ll create my own Yogism:  For PR people to be more creative, they have to be more creative in their thinking about being creative.  Huh?  What I mean is that 21st century clients need a lot more services.  If you’re thinking the same old, 20th century PR services model, that won’t be seen as very creative. You need to think (creatively) about other services that you can provide to supply your clients’ needs.  What’s great is that you don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) do it all yourself.  For example, I’m a veteran journalist who just started a media consulting firm.  If media training is not one of your skills, why not make a deal with someone like me to train your clients…then offer that to your clients as part of your package of services?  Or if you’re not well-versed in social media, maybe you find a college student who’s a whiz at that and for a small investment, you can give your clients something they need that you never were able to provide before.  My point is you don’t need to learn new skills or kill yourself doing extra tasks to show clients you can give them what they want.  And you’ll look…well…very creative!

    • @wgmccoll I like your own Yogism! And I totally agree. When we announced, in 2009, we were no longer a PR firm, the conversation completely changed.

  • lulugrimm

    @ginidietrich Gals like us can change that:-)

    • ginidietrich

      @lulugrimm Yes, we can!

      • lulugrimm

        @ginidietrich 🙂

  • aimeewoodall

    @shonali @ginidietrich Nonsense.

  • ginidietrich

    @CookerlyPR Mmmmm…catfish

  • ginidietrich

    @DenVan Right?

  • wickedjava

    rt @shonali Seriously!! >> Bah Humbug! New Study Shows #PR Industry Lacks Creativity via @ginidietrich

  • All marketing professionals–PR folks included–shouldn’t be creative just for the sake of being creative. The ideas need to make sense given the business and communications objectives. I sometimes see clients going for what they perceive to be the most creative idea, but they’re sacrificing their brand personality or ignoring their true goals. (I know that’s what you meant, @ginidietrich )
    On a slightly different note, I believe my creativity has expanded since I started blogging. Part of it is reading other blogs and being exposed to new ideas. Part is just forcing myself to write almost every day and reading lots and lots (fiction, non-fiction, newspapers and more). With my new knowledge about blogging, social media & inbound marketing, my team is taking new ideas to clients that we never would have considered a year ago. And you know what, clients are buying into them.

    • @Shelley Pringle That’s exactly my philosophy! The more we read, the more we learn. The more we learn, the better our ideas. The better our ideas, the more “creative” we seem to our clients.

  • MollyBorchers1

    I loved this post. It inspired me to think of new ideas for my clients! A few comments:
    I think being “creative” is getting more and more tricky with each passing year. Because there is SO much information overload, I think it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to grab people’s attention. Plus, there have been so many great ideas already that it can be daunting to think of the next big thing.
    Like one of the previous commenters, I too have worked for organizations/people who became uncomfortable every time creative ideas were suggested. I think the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’ is being unafraid to take risks. Even if that means there will be failures along the way.
    Thanks for the great read, Gini!

    • @MollyBorchers1 I agree, Molly. There is SO much information out there. It’s hard to focus and to grab the attention of others. That’s why I think we have to be even more creative in order to do so. Otherwise we may as well not exist.

  • wickedjava

    @mikenealis @shonali yes to both

  • Really enjoyed this post, Gini.  I feel *many* commoners, like myself, don’t bring creative ideas to their bosses because recommendations for internal change/improvement are often ignored or poo-pooed.  This is discouraging because many of the great companies in our country were built with a creative vision. Bah Humbug is right… Obama should appoint me as the National Creativity Czar or something.

    • @TonyBennett Are you a commoner? Who knew? Can you imagine if you took some of your Instagram ideas to your job? OMG.

  • ginidietrich

    @Philip501 LOL!

  • ginidietrich

    @Philip501 I have clones

  • ginidietrich

    @Philip501 LOL!! That’s way better.

  • LisaBarone

    @AndrewGirdwood @overit Ha, I know you’re right. BUT ITS SO HARD

  • LOVE this, Gini! I cannot agree more about the reading/listening. When I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, like I’m currently doing, I can literally see I am getting smarter and more creative. It’s evident in the feedback I receive from my colleagues and clients. There really isn’t any excuse to stop reading and learning. It pays major dividends in the creativity department. And who doesn’t want to stand-out in their industry? OK I’ll stop preaching now 😉

  • ThePaulSutton

    I agree with everything you say here, Mrs Catfish. Well OK, to a point (you know I don’t do ‘full agreement’). I’m fully behind the call for creativity, but in my experience there’s sometimes an issue getting that creativity from the Powerpoint it’s presented to the client on out into the world. I agree there’s a divide when it comes to large and small clients, but I don’t think it’s got anything to do with budget. It seems to be (as a generalisation) that larger clients are simply more open to more creative, interesting and risky work.
    Many SMEs (not all) LOVE the ideas on paper but then baulk when it comes to implementation. So you’re contracted because of your creativity and then end up doing run-of-the-mill projects that have far lesser elements of creativity. There are exceptions, obviously, and we’re working with one challenger brand at the moment that is getting fully behind some out-there stuff. But I do see it a lot.
    And that’s REALLY frustrating. I don’t necessarily believe that creativity is lacking among PR people (at least the ones I know) and I think it’s unfair to tarnish them/us with this. But equally, I don’t have an answer as to how to circumvent (is that even a word?!) this issue.

    • @ThePaulSutton I actually agree with you. BUT. Let’s think about creativity differently. What if creativity isn’t those big, fancy ideas like my catfish example, but it’s just a new tactic to be included in your strategy? Not doing email marketing? The client will think you’re creative if you suggest it and it works. So I think it’s less about these incredibly big ideas and more about something new that helps build on an existing strategy.

  • I keep thinking about the current state of things, and I have to agree with the statement “I know creativity is out there, but it seems to be only among the clients with big budgets.” Creativity does belong to all and everyone can find that within themselves if they look for the spark. I am thoroughly dedicated this year in coming up with a solution for small business people , like most people I know. to do effective campaigns on less money.
    I am still lacking a programming friend to join me though 🙁

    • @susansilver I’ll bet you can find someone. I’d share mine, but I’m pretty selfish.

  • My oldest daughter wanted my fried catfish for birthday dinner for years – just sayin’! Love the pre-Iron Chef creativity.

    • @dbvickery Ewwwwww.

      • @ginidietrich C’mon now – I guess that means you wouldn’t like the tabasco, and some of the family eat it with ketchup! Remember, I’m Texan…and grew up on a river catching those catfish. The best tasting ones are 3-5 lbs, but we once caught one that was 72 lbs!

  • DonBates1

    CREATIVITY, LIKE PLATO’S BEAUTY, IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER and what he or she understands the term to mean. Is one painter any more creative than another simply because he discovers something in the act of painting that is different from or better (at least in the minds of critics) than  everyone else? 
    From where I sit, everyone is naturally creative but not necessarily in the way this study means – i.e., for PR purposes.  To be creative in PR or any professional communication fields, you need to read and study ideas and concepts for developing creative programs or messages. Maybe take a course on the subject.
    Most important, you have to practice, practice, practice, because the kind of creativity we’re addressing here is generally learned from experience in the trenches and having a deep understanding of the profession you’re in, what makes it tick, what makes it work, what makes it succeed.
    Typically, this practice entails tapping your imagination by applying well-known techniques backed up by a lot of knowledge about what worked well in the past that has implications for today.  Here are a few obvious tools, all of which have detailed explanations on the Internet.  Start with Wikipedia.
    –six thinking hats
    –blue ocean strategy
    –mind maps
    –fishbone diagrams
    –reversal technique
    –PMI – plus/minus/interesting
    –nominal groups
    –brain writing
    –day dreaming
    –lateral thinking
    –perceptual maps
    To find scores of techniques, visit
    Two writers on creativity who are easy to read and who taught me a lot are: 
    –Edward de Bono
    –Tony Buzan
    There are obviously many more.  Read at least one over the holiidays.
    In the meantime, replace “beauty” with “creativity” in the following statement from Plato’s “Synposium” and think about the inherent wisdom.
    “Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.”
    FYI, this is the quote that was incorrectly transformed into the more famous “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

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  • YES! That’s all!

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