Two things will drive the future of consumer PR - data and human creativity. As an industry we are investing hugely in one, but not the other.
Fewer than ten per cent of senior bods in the PRWeek Power Book have 'creative' in their title. Training is largely limited to brainstorming techniques. The old 'but everyone should be creative' argument holds water with too many agency bosses. A recent Holmes Report study showed more than 50 per cent of PR professionals felt PR creativity levels were 'ordinary or worse'.
We need more senior people filling genuine creative director (CD) roles, and we need our people to better understand what original thinking is.
In the past the CD role wasn't quite so important: we were locked in a box marked media relations, we were the poor relations of the agency gang, clients had low expectations etc.
In today's complex, data-driven, insight-led, fragmented, neutral comms world the role is an absolute requirement. It's required to have a grown-up conversation about semantics and semiotics with an ad agency CD with whom you're collaborating; to explain to a chief marketing officer why your idea is the perfect response to the discoveries of the planning phase as eloquently as his or her ad agency CD. It is required to educate a new generation that the old rules don't apply. It is required to get beyond the obvious, to pull initial concepts apart and reassemble them meaningfully, to spot the nuggets and turn them into gold bars.
To think differently marks you down as old-school.
Creativity isn't something anyone is born with; it is a learned skill. Improving our teams' skills in this area can wear many different guises, and many are down to the individual's own desire to improve these skills, but I'd argue agencies can do the following:
Encourage the addition and connectivity of dots
Steve Jobs said: 'You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.' The dots are experiences and we need more people who seek out new experiences.
Rethink creative development
Great ideas don't come in your boardroom on a wet Tuesday afternoon, they come when people's conscious brains are focused on something mundane, allowing the subconscious to mull. We need more than hour-long brainstorms.
Understand what a Big Idea is
We have a clear model of what a Really Big Idea looks like, developed through the experience of our senior team.
How would we know we had one if we didn't agree on what one is?
Embrace those who disagree
PR people tend to be pleasers but I'd advocate seeking disagreement ... as Chime's Amelia Torode said: 'PR agencies need more arguments and more balls.'
Encourage our people to get beyond liking or disliking work
Ordinary punters say 'I like that ad/YouTube channel/Facebook page' - but we need to be capable of analysis and judgement of whether it works.
Rapidly grow understanding that PR is a process
There is no reason why you should not be just as comfortable suggesting an app, a flashmob, an ad or a song as you are recommending media relations.
Lots of agencies are investing heavily in digital and planning, but to be seen as serious rivals to our ad agency cousins, original thinking is key ... and we need to invest in this every bit as much.
Nick Woods is deputy MD and head of creative at Cirkle
Views in brief
Which TV programme title best captures the culture of your agency?
24 ... if only you knew ...
Which consumer PR campaign that you have not worked on has been the most successful at generating audience interaction in the past year?
Gnashional Trust ...25 per cent increase in family memberships, brilliant.
What about one that your agency has worked on that also attracted significant audience participation?
Remington Men's Health. We've built it into a branded shaver that is selling well.