Inside the Mix

PR has opportunity to redefine creative roles set by ad agencies to up integrated thinking

PR has opportunity to redefine creative roles set by ad agencies to up integrated thinking

For people aiming to work in advertising, there is a key decision that needs to be made, in many cases even before picking their undergraduate degree: creative or account management?

By contrast, when entering the PR industry, there are basically two decisions to be made: corporate or agency? Few PR pros say they entered the industry with a primary aim of scratching their creative itch.

This can mean that the PR agency is not immediately thought of as a creative environment. There aren't whole departments described as such, and few people in an agency (if any) have the word "creative" in their job titles.

PR agencies know that as they retool their priorities to gain a stronger foothold in integrated marketing, talking the language of the brand managers and VPs of marketing is essential. And the word that seems to resonate loudly in these conversations is creativity. For PR agencies, though, it's not as easy as dusting off the Clios and showcasing the TV reel. What defines creativity in PR?

Ketchum is one firm that's grabbing the issue by the horns and has set up something of a task force in a bid to own the creativity label for itself. Leading the fray is Jerry Olszewski, senior partner, international, who is endearingly passionate - and articulate - about the fact that creative PR is far from a foggy concept. While explaining that the root of it is synergy, he hits on a cut-out-and-keep definition: Creative PR means drawing on the full scope of your experience and bringing that in a creative way to a client problem or opportunity.

What Olszewski is saying here is that when you come to work, you are a whole person. You're not just a PR pro, you're a music fan, a sports fan, an avid follower of Japanese cartoons, or a Bordeaux aficionado. If you have the skill set to tap the depth of your knowledge and experience when it comes to seeing things from the point of view of your client's target audience, then that's creativity. And while other firms, too, have made strides toward creativity - Edelman, for example, has a real global creative director in Mitch Markson - it's particularly fitting for Ketchum to espouse this "whole-person" theory. More than most firms, Ketchum has a clearly defined view of who is a Ketchum person - and who isn't.

It's fair to say that some people are more tuned in to their own creativity than others, which is why it's important to put your truly creative brains into a leadership position to inspire others, whether it's running a brainstorming session or a department. "The last thing you want people to think," says Olszewski, "is, 'I write press releases, and the person down the hall does the creative thinking."

Which brings us back to the division at ad agencies. Does the fact that some people are called "creatives" stultify the creative thinking of the account handlers? If Ketchum is right, a client wants to feel that creativity is running through an organization. With such a clear division between the creative and non-creative staff, perhaps the traditional ad agency model might hinder integrated thinking. While PR might be coming to the creative game late, it is in an excellent position to reinvent the discipline.

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