Should PRs roll over and accept ad agencies are the creative kings?
In short, HELL NO! Yes, they have the massive creative departments, the biggest budgets and are seen by most clients as the strategic and creative lead. But why? A hangover from Mad Men-esque days? Just because that’s how it’s always been?
The reality is 70% of consumers don’t trust advertising*. PR delivers authentic, culturally relevant, third-party endorsed content, whether through journalists, influencers and/or the consumers themselves. And even ad agencies must see the true value of PR, seeing as many are coming up with PR-led campaigns these days.
Surely, depending on how you look at it, PR is one of the most creative of disciplines …when there is no new news, we have to persuade an already brand-cynical media to write about our client’s brand and products, free of charge. Plus, we have to ensure consumers are going to buy into what they read, hear and see. We don’t have paid support, guaranteed views and control over placement…we have to rely entirely on the strength of our PR offering.
And on an average PR budget…(for which every penny we are, of course, grateful, it’s just never going to be ad agency status) it could be argued we have to be even more creative with how we use every penny.
The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of creativity is ‘The use of imagination or original ideas to create something’. In the communications industry, and even more so in this day and age, it has to be so much more than simply creating something new.
Long gone are the days of rolling out a random celeb to get cut through in a meaningful way or believing a name check in a survey story is impactful coverage. A head-turning PR stunt or wacky event isn’t going to cut it without an ownable and/or deeper message behind it, and it can’t just be about the impact it has on the people who attend or happen to walk past.
The starting point to create strong, creative PR campaigns has to start with the target audience and understanding what that audience wants to hear about; wants to be told; is interested in; how it will stir emotion amongst them and match this with genuine consumer-focused insight.
The Real Mr Darcy – a Dramatic Reappraisal, commissioned by TV channel Drama to celebrate Jane Austen Season, was born from the insight that Mr Darcy is the most admired romantic fictional character of all time, and is always played by tanned, dark and handsome men. Working with leading academic experts, it was revealed that in-fact Darcy would have actually been a pale, long haired, pointy-chilled chap. This surprise reveal and tapping into women’s genuine interest in the character generated blanket coverage and millions of social media impressions.
It’s not always about creating the conversation. Sometimes, tapping into consumers’ existing conversations in a relevant and authentic way is the best route to resonate with them, especially if you don’t have any new news.
A campaign for lingerie brand Freya tapped into the medium of choice for its target women and their existing daily conversations. An eight-part podcast series was created called When Life Gives You Melons, hosted by TV & radio presenter Maya Jama with female guests and discussed real-life issues that genuinely affect the lives of busy young women, including work, sex and boobs. It was positioned as the perfect addition to the daily commute and this seems to have worked – breaking into the iTunes Top 10 for culture podcasts within 24 hours of release.
And, of course, calendar hooks can provide a great reason to talk to consumers when they want to be spoken to. However, it can be a bun fight getting cut through amongst the crowd of brands after the same bite of the cherry.
When a lot of supermarkets were trying to say the same thing, albeit in a different way, Tesco took the risk to jump on a different festive conversation from food and gifting – Christmas tree light untangling. Research revealed untangling the fairy lights is one of Brits most dreaded jobs. So, Tesco employed the UK’s first Christmas tree light untangler to help. Blanket national and lifestyle coverage followed, including a discussion on BBC One’s Have I Got News For You.
Influencer engagement is vital in any campaign targeting the millennial audience. And yes, 99% of the time payment is now unavoidable. However, this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a creative approach to working with these people. In fact, a pay and display tactic e.g. a Kardashian with yet another teeth whitening or diet product in hand, is proven to be counter-productive with savvy consumers seeing through it. We should always be thinking about the end assets that will be created, the challenge the influencers undertook, what they experienced to pass onto and resonate with their followers.
And it’s not just consumers who deserve some creative sparkle in their lives. What about trade media and their readers? We should approach trade in a much more interesting way – treating them as we do consumer media. Recently, on behalf of Heineken we conducted research to advise on and off trade customers how they can maximise sales. This was brought to life at an event more usually expected for consumer engagement, inviting the media to a staged shop and bar to bring the research to life, rather than just read about it in a press release.
And helping clients to align engage on and off trade is all part of the integrated approach to help their brand stand out from the rest.
In our world, we should always be looking for sprinklings (ideally mountains!) of creativity to engage and entertain, from simply how we deliver products to media through to key brand awareness. That’s the beauty and fun of PR after all.
Five tips for creative success
- Think consumer first – what does the audience like/want to know/expect to feel?
- Media are looking for more than just a press release. Does the idea travel – whether through other channels and/or inspires the need for multiple engaging assets?
- Capitalise on existing conversations in the news agenda, trends on social media etc. to creatively and authentically join them – add fuel to the already flaming fire
- People love cheekiness, originality and risk takers. Be bold
- Honestly feasibility test and interrogate the idea. It may be THE most creative idea EVER…but does it authentically represent the brand and cut through with consumers (oh, and check it hasn’t been done before!)