Gini Dietrich

Creativity in PR: Three Ways to Feed the Inner Beast

By: Gini Dietrich | February 5, 2013 | 

Growing up in the traditional PR firm world, I learned there were (at the time) two types of agencies: Public relations and advertising.

At the ad agencies were the creative guys. They were the ones who had the colorful markers and the cool computers and the fancy software.

They got to wear jeans to work and arrive late and stay late. They got to have three hour lunches, sometimes fueled by drinks.

After all, that all enhanced the creative spirit. Wasn’t it Ernest Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober?”

My perception of my ad agency brothers was exactly that sentiment. When I later joined an ad agency to start their PR department, I learned I wasn’t so far off. It was there I also learned PR professionals can – and should – be creative.

Sure, we’d had the really creative campaigns when I worked at the PR firm (hello Ocean Spray art tour and celebrity chefs cooking catfish), but the way we went about getting – and selling – those ideas wasn’t a standardized process. It was usually someone who had an inkling of an idea in a brainstorm and it took off from there.

Last November, the Holmes Report conducted a study of PR professionals to determine whether or not the industry  is creative enough to successfully sway marketing budgets and develop game-changing ideas on a consistent basis.

It revealed more than 50 percent felt PR creativity levels were “ordinary or worse.”

Ug! Stab in the heart! What is wrong with us? Why aren’t we seen as creative as the boys with the colorful markers and cool jeans? Why is the perception of us one of clacking women in high heels, short skirts, and Blackberry-carrying snobs?

I’m cool and creative! I have lots of colorful markers, spend more on jeans than on suits, and carry around my MacBook Air like it’s a baby. In fact, most in the industry are like me (darn that Hollywood for painting us differently!), but the creativity issue remains.

Amelia Torode, the head of digital and innovation at the Good Relations Group, says there are three things we need to focus on if we want to win a role in creativity.

  1. Curiosity. This one is easy. If you’re curious and have a lifelong quest to constantly be learning, you have accomplished the first step in being creative. It’s not that creative people have to drink themselves to death like Ernest Hemingway nor do they have to smoke a lot of pot to come up with the best ideas. Most are seemingly creative because they look and learn outside of their industry, which helps them develop ideas for their work. It’s like blogging. When you blog every day, you are constantly looking for content ideas, in everything you do. Curiosity feeds the creative beast.
  2. Constraints. This is an interesting one and goes back to what I was saying up there ^^^. Ad agencies have what’s called the creative brief. You cannot talk to an art director or copywriter until you’ve completed one so they can think about the problem within the constraints. The example Amelia uses (and it’s a good one so I’ll repeat it here) is to think about Michelangelo. What if he’d been told to paint whatever he wanted in the Sistine Chapel? He likely wouldn’t have come up with the masterpiece because the field was too open. Have you ever been asked to write a guest blog post for someone without constraints? It’s almost impossible. But when they give you two or three topics to consider, the ideas begin to flow.
  3. Conflict. When I went to work for the ad agency, I quickly learned it was full of conflict. You have the suits, the jeans, and the planners. Those three groups of people are all very different personality types, which leads to lots of debates (and sometimes downright arguments) and lots of hot heads, but that’s where some of the best ideas come from. In PR firms, all of the people are the same and we all think the same so it’s hard to have that conflict. Think about where you work. Are there other personality types who are willing to debate other merits of your idea? Find those people, throw them the idea, and open your mind to other possibilities. When you begin to disagree is where the magic happens. It’s not always pleasant and, if you’re like me, your cheeks may burn a few times a week, but it’s worth the pain in the end.

Because of my career experience, I never really considered myself a creative person. I’m much more analytical and love numbers too much. But I’m also insanely curious and, sometimes, even though I don’t think I’m being creative, because I have an idea no one else has had – simply from something I read or saw cross my stream – other people consider me creative.

What about you? How do you think PR professionals can steer their creativity?

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, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.