Archive for May, 2010

Has Creativity Become the “C” Word?

Friday, May 21st, 2010

We recently completed a new dashboard for the internal PR department of a large company, the goal of which is to measure the value, contributions and success of their programs for internal clients. It was well received, but the feedback included deleting “creativity” as a measurement.

Then, we participated with our client and agency colleagues in a “brainstorming” for a brand we all support. The point of the meeting was to get the juices flowing so we could, together, land on the next BIG IDEA. Back in the day, this exercise would have been called a “creative” session.

Is creativity gone from our vocabulary, and no longer considered a must-have?

Personally, I revere creativity in almost everything in life, professional and home. Jeremy and I always talk about how the most creative advertising comes out of the UK (where Jeremy is kinda from), and we never fail to marvel at those clever Brits. But we have come around to the idea that creativity is no longer the holy grail it once was for our clients here. The BIG IDEAS that get funded are those that are on strategy, pull through core messages, make a connection for the audience with the product and deliver results. Creativity is optional.

So, how do we keep the spirit of creativity alive in our work while delivering against business objectives?

  • We respect but are not restricted by market research about customer needs or desires, keeping in mind what Henry Ford said: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
  • Contrary to popular opinion, we believe there are new ideas in PR. Yes, national surveys and celebrity spokespersons generate news coverage, but when the right opportunity surfaces, we look for other ways to make a brand relevant for our target audience and worth covering by the media. <
  • We’re careful not to fall too much in love with our own creativity – what we think is a provocative theme, or new take or a cool twist to convey a brand message. Creativity for its own sake, without a balance in strategy and potential to deliver against objectives, is meaningless.
  • We satisfy our creative impulses with other “c” words when we brainstorm comms solutions: how do we use PR to connect the media and target consumers to our story? How can our PR program capture attention? What kind of program can we develop to create positive, gentle collisions in the everyday lives of our audience and the media they consume? What context can we place our story in to make it more relevant?

A few days ago, a former consulting client of ours, Panera Bread, launched its first “pay-whatever-you-want” café. There’s the same menu, same service but no prices, no registers. Instead customers put whatever amount they want into a “donation” jar. Or pay nothing at all. Pretty cool, huh? The story has been national news for days. Talk about your reputation builder.

In the hallowed hallways of jacobstahl, we like to think that’s the kind of idea that probably came out of a “creative” session.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Not sure how many people remember that line from the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind when I was on a call the other day with a client. She was talking about the needs and interests of “the new, young crop of marketers,” and how they tend to pigeon hole PR for managing a crisis or when there is hard news to announce. They all “believe in” PR in concept but are fuzzy on how its deliverables, outside of those two areas, contribute to their business objectives.

Does PR need to evolve or do we need more evolved marketers?

I had a similar discussion in December 2008 with a guy I‘ve worked with since the mid-80s. He’s been in PR at the same research-based, multi-national forever. In his position, he’s maximized the services of all kinds of agencies large and small, and seen the “hot trends” in our business come and go. A smart, seasoned professional. But that December, he was lamenting the seemingly relentless pushback from his internal clients about the PR value proposition. The three core challenges: 1) besides data releases and brand announcements or issues management –areas where PR was well respected, desired and always supported—what else could the discipline really deliver? 2) What’s the ROI? 3) Why is PR a “need to have” rather than a “nice to have?”

His conundrum turned into a very interesting assignment for us, and something we continue to think about. It’s an ongoing issue, really, telling and retelling the PR value proposition story to skeptical marketers who want “good PR” but can’t really get their arms around what that really means.

PR is one of the oldest communications tools in the bag. It is a very effective discipline for disseminating information and so far, there is no other element in a conventional marketing mix that comes with a higher credibility factor. Consumers of this newspaper or that magazine or this website or that TV news station choose it, trust it and rely on it for the content of the articles. At its most basic, PR is the way into that content. When there’s hard news to offer, great. If not, you need a PR plan that delivers meaningful messages and utilizes the most efficient channels. PR success in media consumed by the target audience is a beautiful thing even by the standards of the most jaded.

As to the ROI question, most agencies –including our own– have developed models, metrics and dashboards which clearly show the effectiveness of the discipline in all its myriad executions. We designed ours, called ROPRI, to hone directly in on today’s PR value proposition. At the end of the day, though, we don’t think the way to convince a skeptic is a new ROI model, no matter how impressive the graphics. Indeed, if there’s a magic answer that works every time, we haven’t yet found it.

PR is about connecting with key publics – through media and other communications channels — and activating them by providing the information and motivation they need to go the next step, whatever that may be. The definition gives us permission to be wide-open in our thinking, to break out of traditional comfort zones and evolve our ideas so we’re offering “need to have” communications value in ways that hadn’t been before considered. Perhaps reminding ourselves of this and then acting on it is one way to keep marketers from putting PR into a corner and/or letting ourselves linger there because it’s the easy win. By continuing to do what we do best AND stretching ourselves in new ways, PR can evolve and help the new breed evolve their perceptions.