Gini Dietrich

The True Art of PR is Combining Creativity with Results

By: Gini Dietrich | December 11, 2012 | 

Last week, we talked about the idea that many of our bosses or clients think we’re not creative enough.

It created a lot of really good conversation about why we’re not creative enough, what being creative really means, and how to bring that back into the trade while remaining focused on measurable results.

Then Alex Wood sent me an article from an Australian media and entertainment online publication called, “Accountancy May Be a Profession, but PR is an Art.”

It’s an interesting piece in which author Graham Goodkind (awesome name!) talks about how art that looks like it took 30 minutes to create can be sold for $95,000. He goes on to say it’s amazing how artists can ask for what they think the piece is worth, and not base it on how long it took (or didn’t take) to create it. They quantify the input, rather than marveling at the output.

He then relates that idea to PR and says (rightfully so) a brilliantly executed campaign or a stroke of creative genius can turn around a brand.

And it’s true. Both of those things can, and do, happen.

But here’s the rub. He calls for PR to stand as an art form and thinks we should put the “professional stuff on the back burner if we want to get back on track.”

The Back Burner

For far too long, PR has been seen as a little bit black magic. You know if it works and you know if you’re missing it, but you don’t know how it comes together. Which is why we’ve always been seen as a nice to have and not a true investment in the growth of an organization.

When it comes time to cut budgets because of a failing economy or declining profits, PR is almost always the first line item to go.

We lament, we cry, we stress, we wring our hands. But if the professional stuff is put on the back burner and we focus only on the art of the profession, we will always seen as an expense (and a big one) rather than an investment.

Whenever I talk to prospects, they always say to me, “The other firms I’m talking to have told me it’s a $5,000 per month retainer and they can’t promise me any results.”

I hear that all the time. So when we come in with non-retainer based billing and measurable results, they raise an eyebrow at us. Some really like the idea and others think we’re trying to pull something over them because we don’t sound and look like our competitors.

Can We Have Both?

But the industry has to go to measurable results combined with creativity.

Goodkind goes on to say he heard about an agency who was getting rid of the daily newspapers, as a sign of what’s to come.

He says:

But the ritual of skimming through the daily papers, picking up on the zeitgeist, getting ideas, and then going to clients with ways to commandeer the news agenda to their advantage is really fundamental to the art of PR.

I don’t disagree. Last week, in the blog post about creativity, I called for the same: Read as much as you can because that’s where the creative ideas happen.

But you have to be able to tie those ideas back to the things that matter to the executive suite. We’ll never be able to commandeer money for creative ideas in the business world. We may have a piece of the art world in us, but we also have a piece of the business world.

The true art is combining them to become an investment, rather than an expense.

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!

  • belllindsay

    Re: great names. I watched a documentary about hurricanes yesterday, and one of the leading hurricane scientists’ last name was ‘Landsea’ – amazing.

    • @belllindsay That is an awesome name for a hurricane scientist!

  • ElissaFreeman

    So true! I always tell people who start working for me:  read, read, read. Everything. Professional news, tabloid news, Vogue…publications that set trends.  It all helps.

    • @ElissaFreeman It’s my favorite interview question to ask. People who say, “Oh I don’t have time to read” don’t get a job.

      • ElissaFreeman

        @ginidietrich Not to mention they are probably incredibly boring…

  • I think my heart skipped a beat when I read his line about professional stuff taking a back burner :(. I advise the students I mentor to take business classes as electives if not a minor as they need to be able to ‘speak the language’ and understand CEO / CFO concerns to keep their budget and thus their jobs. And, like @ElissaFreeman ‘read, read, read’ is the other advice where you can’t go wrong.  And, this post just became required reading 😉

    • @tressalynne  My heart did the same thing! I would love to be paid for our really creative ideas, no matter how long they did or didn’t take. But the big issue PR has, in general, is we don’t know how to measure our efforts. Putting that on the back burner is a bad idea.

  • Lulz at prospects looking at you funny because you have the audacity to measure your efforts. 😉

    • @jasonkonopinski I’m sure there are other reasons they look at me funny.

  • Great post. I think PR is very underrated as both a “profession” and as a “creative art.” Being a graphic artist by trade, I know too well of what Graham speaks of (with art, people look at the end result, not how long it took to create it.) Sometimes “art” in any form takes minutes – sometimes it takes days.
    As someone who has been trying to do her own PR, I’ve learned that it’s not as easy at it looks – it is an art – and requires multiple talents.

    • @spinchick I don’t disagree with his philosophy of getting paid for the idea, not the hours it took. For instance, when I worked on the Ocean Spray business, the campaigns we created one year were used for nearly 10 years. But we only got paid for those few hours it took us to come up with it. So I get wanting to be paid for the art, but it can’t be in favor of measuring efforts.

  • Hey Gini,
    Great post! I wrote something the other week about finding business people / managers that are both effective and efficient and this feels like the same sort of conundrum. Where do you find creative people that are truly creative, can articulate ROI through numbers and are still able to communicate and sell this value at the mahogany table? PR is an art form but it also requires a strong business mind to ensure it’s not the first department on the chopping block when the going gets tough.

    • @GeoffReiner Perhaps those who can do both are few and far between. I don’t consider myself a creative person, but I can come up with some pretty nifty ideas, based on experience, that are measurable to business goals. I think it comes down to who you have on your team and where the strengths support the weaknesses.

      • @ginidietrich  Absolutely! I rely on my team so much especially for their experience. I”m with you. I’m typically the one that says “what about this” or “could we pull this off?” and then my team politely brings me back down 😉
        Having a supportive and dynamic team is so important!!!!!!!

  • John_Trader1

    Can’t be overstated about the importance of constantly reading. I find though that some of the most creative ideas for me are borne from reading things outside of my industry or specialty and spark comparisons I can make to the verticals that I cover. Reading “outside the box” if you will. Most people think “reading” just means flipping over to Mashable, reading industry periodicals and trade journals, and appropriate blogs and media outlets for creative ideas. Reading for me is much more than that…it’s observing first, and then setting aside the standards in favor of the obscure. Mixing in international trade pubs that cover parallel markets, identifying foreign bloggers who write about topics that have comparisons to what I cover for example. 
    Creativity takes time.

    • @John_Trader1 Very good breakdown of how to read. Yes, flipping through Mashable is not reading. Reading Spin Sucks is, though!

  • rustyspeidel

    I have found that what works with the C-Suite is a sense of context–helping them see how their business can change the world or an industry for the better. That means reading about their industry and knowing how their unique value can be extracted and communicated. 
    I appreciate the need to measure everything, but sometimes the need to do it can undermine the “softer” aspects of what we do–providing a compelling story. Peppering a good one full of SEO keywords really messes with the rhythm, you know? 😉
    These days it’s hard to “market” anything. You have to inspire action through transparency, quality work / products, good value, and yes, evangelism. Those are hard to measure, certainly hard to digitally associate to sales or revenue. And yet they are often the difference.

    • @rustyspeidel I don’t disagree, but to put the “professional stuff” on the back burner and only focus on the “softer” aspects is the wrong approach. So, even if the C-suite has a sense of context as to what you’re helping them do, if they aren’t reaching their business goals, they won’t care about the evangelism and transparency.

  • maryanneconlin

    The only thing I would think to add to this post is integration. PR cannot be stand alone…nor can any other piece of the marketing mix. Selling clients on how PR integrates into the rest of the marketing program actually makes measuring results easier as the entire campaign rather than the incremental PR aspect is measured, as it should be.

    • @maryanneconlin Totally agree. So much so, I wrote a book about it! HAHAHAH! You’re right – it’s MUCH easier to measure efforts to real results when you have an integrated program.

  • Gini, thank you.  For being a believer in demonstrating your value. I posted this thought on Marcus Sheridan’s blog the other day.  I talk to far too many clients that pay very much in return for something very little.  I’ve had more than one suspicious look thrown my way when I explain things.  
    It really sucks to be the one to tell clients they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes and educate them on what they need vs what they’re paying for.  I love being in the role of educator because it makes them feel more knowledgable and in the end they see my value and are happy to pay for it.
    I don’t think you necessarily have to sacrifice professionalism to be creative but you do need the ability to be creative AND professional.  KPI isn’t going away but you can find ways in which to be creative in spite of KPI and ROI and all the other letters that get thrown around like candy during a parade.

    • @chelpixie “in spite of KPI and ROI and all the other letters that get thrown around like candy during a parade.” LOL!! And…amen!

  • alexwood15

    Grat post @ginidietrich . Thank you for taking the time to analyse and put it together. Am really heartened reading the comments to see the acknowledgment for a combination of both creativity and accountability to deliver, I guess, TRUE value. I agree. If more PR leaders here (Aus), the US, UK, everywhere, can work to raise those boardroom eyebrows with as you said, non-retainer based models with measurable results, we can all play a part in changing the ‘expense’ perception, to that of not only investment, but necessity. 
    PS. So wonderful to hear the community roar for ‘constant reading’ as the key to success.

    • @alexwood15 Love that you sent this article to me – thank you! It really got me thinking. I don’t disagree with the premise that PR is art and we need to recognize that, but putting the business stuff on the back burner only inhibits the strides the industry has made in the last couple of years.

  • Great post, Gini! The “art world” to me means being passionately curious. When we’re curious we tend to want to learn. And when we want to learn, our minds are geared to wanting to get results. Not always. Maybe it’s a bit of a push outside the comfort zone for some. But it’s possible.
    What I’m saying is that the creative process needs to come full circle – ending smack dab in the hot seat with analytical, results-oriented eyes glaring. If we know that’s where we’ll end up, why not prepare and be accountable from the start?

    • @itsjessicann I wholeheartedly agree! I don’t think PR will ever be known for its art form nor will we get paid because of the things we create. We’ll get paid for the things we create IF they result in, well, results.

  • <Some really like the idea and others think we’re trying to pull something over them because we don’t sound and look like our competitors.> What a great freakin’ point of difference – among your others.

    • @barrettrossie It’s pretty funny to have conversations with prospects. Some look at me like I’m completely insane. I mean, well, I am, but not because of that.

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  • ThePaulSutton

    Personally, I’d just give you kudos for trying to do it differently. I can understand, when you talk non-retainer and results, some prospects looking at you like you’re ever so slightly insane…hell, it’s YOU after all, @ginidietrich 😉 But then I’d guess at the end of the day that maybe those guys aren’t the clients you really want to be working with anyway?? I’m sure there are plenty out there who appreciate the different approach.

    • @ThePaulSutton Of course you’re right (and I really hate to admit that), but it is disturbing to think we’re the unique ones.

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