C-Factors Survey: Creative currency

CEOs, CMOs, and other C-suite leaders who responded to the C-Factors Survey from PRWeek and Allison+Partners say creativity has manifested itself within their organizations.

CEOs, CMOs, and other C-suite leaders who responded to the C-Factors Survey from PRWeek and Allison+Partners say creativity has manifested itself within their organizations. 


“Using social media much more than we ever did to reach everyone we can.”

?“Fostering collaboration in our company, which has historically operated in separate silos.”

?“Giving employees X number of hours a week to try a different job within the organization.”

These are just a few of the ways CEOs, CMOs, and other C-suite leaders who responded to the C-Factors Survey (creativity, collaboration, and culture) from PRWeek and Allison+Partners say creativity has manifested itself within their organizations.

Regardless of the form creativity takes in the way companies conduct business, the survey underscores its ascent “as a vital currency in today's hypercompetitive global economy,” says Scott Allison, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners.

“Creativity gives companies the efficiency to move their brands much faster and more cost-effectively than they ever could a decade ago,” he asserts. “Brands who fail to embrace that face the risk of falling behind.”

?Survey respondents agree: 96% say creativity is one of the top elements of success they hope to harness in advancing their business in the years ahead, an increase of 18% from a similar survey the firm conducted in 2011. In addition, 92% of respondents say they rely on creativity as an agent for building future market share in traditional markets, while 91% view it as critically important for success in emerging markets.

The demand for creativity also extends to the very top levels of organizations, with 94% of respondents placing great emphasis on creativity-inspired leadership from the CEO and CIO, with 92% expecting it from the CMO.

??The age of engagement?
Eighty-five percent of respondents agree the world is entering a new engagement economy, which is defined as a marketplace in which consumers connect with brands on emotional and social levels, rather than purely through transactions. This realization is fueling an unprecedented push for creativity across all business functions.?Some relatively young brands are truly leading the way in bringing this concept to life.

Despite launching when the economic downturn hit five years ago, Virgin America has expanded its footprint to 18 cities across the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean. In some markets once dominated by legacy brands, such as San Francisco, it has become the second-largest airline.

Abby Lunardini, just-departed VP of corporate communications at the airline (who joined Mercury Public Affairs last month as MD), says the brand has embraced creative thinking and has enjoyed success as a result. Engaging online influencers through the creation of cost effective mobile- and social media-based campaigns has played a big part in that.

In its Flight for Chicago effort announcing new service at O'Hare, Virgin paid for tickets on a rival airline.

To announce its service at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport last year, for example, Virgin launched a Facebook contest in which the winners would receive complimentary return air travel for two from Chicago to Los Angeles or San Francisco (its home hubs). The airline paid for their return tickets on its inaugural flight to the Windy City, but in a twist paid for their tickets to the West Coast on a rival air carrier.

Winners were encouraged to then compare the two experiences online. Some posted photographs of themselves cutting up their old frequent flyer cards. In total, Lunardini says the Flight for Chicago campaign generated 1,400 entries, 13,400 voters, 14,000 engaged fans, and 66,000 visitors.

This kind of creativity has also helped establish Virgin as a brand consumers can count on for experiences that last well beyond the point of purchase. For the bottom line that is vital, as 100% of survey respondents see building winning experiences as a key to the success of a business, which, in turn, should facilitate a more holistic approach to communications with limited silos between marketing, advertising, and PR.

“Creativity is in the DNA of the company as a product, so it feels natural to approach communications with the same innovation in terms of how the Virgin story gets told,” asserts Lunardini. “Given the fact the airline is not in every city and doesn't have a lot of money for paid advertising, it is essential to think more creatively.”

?In a fiercely competitive economy, creativity has leveled the playing field, Allison notes.

The Respondents

Level: 55% are executive level (CEO, CFO, CMO, EVP, MD, CCO, chief talent officer), 45% are senior level (SVP or VP)

Region: Respondents represented 39 of the 50 states. 21% come from the Northeast; 19% from the West; 17% from the Southeast; 13% from the Mid-Atlantic; 11% from the Midwest; 7% each from the Central and Plain States; 3% from the Northwest

Staff size: 52% of respondents come from companies with 1,000 or more employees; 26% from those with 500-999 employees; and 22% from those with 200-499 employees

Company revenue: 38% work for entities with $200m-plus in annual revenue; 16% $100m-$199m; 16% $50m- $99m; 13% $20m-$49m; 5% $10m-$19m; 4% $6m-$9m; 6% $1m to $5m

Sector focus: The industries in which respondents work are broken down as: Financial services 20%; Industrial/manufacturing 20%; Healthcare/pharma 9%; Retail 8%; Tech/ Internet 6%; Government/public services 3%; Food/beverage, travel/tourism, arts/entertainment/media, telecoms (2% each); Education, sports (1% each); Other 20%

?“Twenty years ago, if you were a startup company with a relatively small budget you were pretty trapped in terms of how you could build awareness,” he notes. “Your PR channels were also relatively limited to a handful of trade publications and the general news cycle. If you couldn't capture the imaginations of those channels, it was kind of game over.”

?“A business starting up today, however, can take an entirely different approach,” adds Allison. “There are so many ways to get a message out. The engagement economy is a great equalizer.”

??Creative destruction
Eighty-six percent of survey respondents view their organizations as more creative than they were two years ago. And, looking ahead, 81% expect their companies will place even more emphasis on creativity as the engage- ment economy matures over the next couple of years.

?For upstart brands founded in the social media age, creativity is in the fabric of their very being. However, for organizations with legacies of 10, 15, or more years, it is one thing to strive for more creativity from various departments, but quite another to find the pathways to make it a reality.

?The C-Factors Survey examined the practice of “creative destruction,” a phrase first coined by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe the evolution of a new economic order that destroys some of what came before it. Creative destruction in its modern business form – the act of tearing down the old ways of doing something and starting anew – is a vital way for corporations today to ensure they stay relevant. Indeed, the survey found a high recognition of creative destruction's value among the C-suite: 88% of respondents say it is critical to moving business forward today.

?Jim Adams, regional VP at Ray Morgan Company, a California-based provider of business productivity solutions, believes it is imperative for companies to reinvent themselves.

?“Business is more challenging than it's ever been,” he says. “It is like being in a football league. You have to adapt to the teams you are going up against. If you play exactly like you did in week one, you will eventually lose more games than you will win.

?“In my 13 years with Ray Morgan,” Adams continues, “we have reinvented the company at least three or four times to adapt to new products, ideas, and concepts that are being brought to the marketplace.”

When respondents were asked to name companies that are creatively driven and creatively destruct, Apple was far and away the most cited – a result that does not surprise Billee Howard, creative development officer and MD of the Brand Innovation Group at Allison+Partners.

“Apple is a great example of a company that has succeeded because it continually creatively destructs different areas of its business to stay ahead of the curve,” she explains. Conversely, survey respondents cited Research in Motion, manufacturers of BlackBerry, as a company that has struggled because of its recent lack of perceived creativity and innovation.

?Still, despite the high awareness of creative destruction, the survey found only 6% of people think about it in the realm of communications. Howard says this shows a fundamental disconnect within businesses: while 88% of survey respondents think creative destruction is needed for success in an engagement economy, most don't think it is imperative within the communications function.

?“Why are businesses failing to adopt and create new mechanisms with their communications to achieve success?” asks Howard. “Communication should be viewed as more than just a way to build awareness. It is a tool for innovation and brand reinvention.” ??

Advancements in technology?
Technology is a primary vehicle for creative destruction and it has fundamentally changed the business model for virtually every product and service sector. That is especially true in the hospitality sector, given an overwhelm- ing majority of travelers now book rooms online from any number of different websites.

Customers typically visit about 27 websites before they actually commit to booking a room, says Dorothy Dowling, SVP of marketing and sales for Phoenix-based Best Western International.

“In the hotel sector, your inner thought process must be more deconstructive,” she explains. “We can't expect what worked yesterday to necessarily work tomorrow.”

?As part of a creative deconstruction study with Facebook, Dowling brought together Best Western's three key agency partners in PR, digital, and advertising. The exercise aimed to help the hotel chain understand how to drive conversion on its Facebook widget, but also to break out of the traditional advertising mode of thinking in terms of what the social media site can do for the brand.

?To figure out how to best appeal to customers in the spring and fall, seasons that cater to the business traveler, the study revealed these individuals typically feel guilty about missing milestones of their friends and family.

Best Western created a contest on Facebook to make "heroes" out of business travelers.

That led Best Western to start creating Facebook content “that elevates the business traveler as a hero,” says Dowling. New content included a promotion offering a free night and a contest on Facebook in which Best Western Rewards members could build a vacation for their family and friends as a prize for their support of the “heroes” of business travel.

“In communications, it's not just about driving conversion, but looking across all the channels on that platform to figure out how to develop relevant messaging that will light up the social index with Facebook users,” she adds. “The study drove us to think about our business in a different way. You must think about engagement as the crucial measure.”

Other companies that have broken down how they traditionally communicated are finding technology provides more innovative ways for their brands to engage key audiences. ?

DreamWorks Animation has started to break down the silos within its studio, so marketing and publicity teams are collaborating with animation arms behind scheduled films in the very early stages of production. Anne Globe, CMO at the Glendale, CA-based animation studio, says this gives the marketing team greater insight into upcoming titles – from the messages that underscore a movie to the characters and their motivations.

DreamWorks introduced its augmented reality app seven months before Rise of the Guardians' debut.

?“The more we collaborate with these folks at the outset of the film, the better results we'll get in our communications to the audience about the story,” she notes. “Hopefully that will continue beyond the movie theater and into other areas [such as merchandising].”

?With all the rich content the marketing team now collects about a film, Globe says the company is seeking new ways to engage fans in that content. That has led the team to experiment with channels such as social media and mobile apps and move away from one-off event initiatives.

“Technology allows us to tell stories that once were largely limited to a singular activity such as a movie trailer,” Globe adds. “We now ask ourselves questions such as, ‘Is there more information we can share about movie characters that can be segmented largely using different social media components?'”

?The studio, for instance, launched its DreamWorks Animation augmented reality app seven months before the November 21 premiere of its latest 3D computer-animated film, Rise of the Guardians. By scanning print materials with their mobile phones, consumers can dive into a deeper animated experience about the movie with content that is frequently refreshed.

The company also created a delivery mechanism that can be used for its other films. Globe says that's important given the studio recently announced an ambitious lineup: 12 movies over the next four years. “We hope the app will drive people to our other pictures, characters, and brand extensions in our ultimate goal of developing franchises,” she explains.

?The C-Factors Survey reflects this new coalescence between marketing and technology. Respondents cited social media platforms and mobile apps (71% and 56%, respectively) as key ways for brands to build authentic connections and engagement.

“Trying new things obviously comes with some risks because not everything will work,” says Globe, “but in a lot of cases it creates better engagement than what you had done before.”

The customer often is right
Sometimes creative destruction can be driven by something as simple as listening to your customers. Hugh Forrest, director of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW), credits this concept with the burgeoning success of his annual Austin, TX, event, which has seen registrants soar from 3,343 in 2005 to 24,569 in 2012.

“Many times during an event, lots of people will say, ‘Hey, I had a great time,'” he notes. “That's gratifying, but the narrative arc is two or three weeks later, you get email and online feedback that tends to be more negative. That is when creative destruction can occur. What you thought worked well for a lot of people actually didn't. You realize you must take a very different approach.”

Customer comments can impact everything from the speaker lineup to interactive components. A few years ago, for example, SXSW started bringing in four or five large crates of Lego bricks for attendees to play with in an area dubbed the South by Southwest Playpen.

Replete with Lego bricks, the South by Southwest Playpen is a testament to the impact of engaging with consumers.

The idea came from an email from a previous attendee. Forrest dismissed it at first, as he found it silly. Later, he came around to think it might actually work.?

“And it did,” he reports. “Really well. Flickr was there, so lots of people posted pictures online. In a very viral way and on a small, symbolic level, this illustrated how SXSW is a platform where people can create and play."

Breaking old habits?
Discarding practices that once worked well is a painful and uncomfortable process, but it's one many organizations have to adopt in order to succeed in the present and future.?Frank Shaw, VP, corporate communications at Microsoft, admits creative destruction can be a challenge, especially “if you have a history of success with something. Considering alternatives can be much more difficult.”

Microsoft has long occupied a keynote position at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the tech industry's largest trade exhibition. Next year, however, it is withdrawing that coveted spot – a decision Shaw realizes is “a big risk.” In addition to losing the exposure that comes with addressing hundreds of press at a single event, the departure opens up an opportunity for a competitor.

“We carefully weighed the pros and cons and thought about how to make the best impact with our resources in a world where people are more social,” explains Shaw. “We also have a different product cycle than we've had in the past. You must ask yourself whether you can do things in new ways to have a higher impact than the old ways.”

Moving forward, Shaw says Microsoft will be focusing on key consumer moments – such as holidays, back-to-school, and graduation – with more investment in digital and social media communications during those periods.

Creative destruction “can also be a continuum,” he adds, “by taking something you're already doing and applying creativity to it.”

For instance, Microsoft introduced a new way of hosting reporters at its Redmond, WA, campus with a program called the Microsoft Underground Tour. Previously, Microsoft would escort reporters into a conference room and have staff come to them to conduct interviews.

“But we wanted to make sure reporters understood our brand and some of the lesser-known things we do,” Shaw says. “Now we take them to some of our labs and work- shops and get their hands on some of the games and other products. By sharing the same information, but showing it as much as telling it, we've created some unbelievable media coverage.”

If at first you don't succeed, move on?
As Shaw and Globe point out, when you try new things, they don't necessarily work the first time. Sometimes you must be willing to drop the idea rather than stubbornly try to make it work.

The C-Factors Survey indicates there may be a growing willingness among C-suite leaders to do just that as they look to communicate in new ways.

One respondent reveals, if a new idea “doesn't work out, rather than improve it, we scratch it and build anew.” Another respondent says the company he works for completely scrapped its social marketing campaigns and started fresh. And yet another reveals, “When a problem occurs, we break down the issues into the smallest units possible [and then] rebuild the item differently.”

While it may be uncomfortable, the rewards of creative destruction can include breaking down walls internally, discovering new ways to communicate with audiences, and transforming the perception of a corporate brand into a more innovative and creative-thinking enterprise.

“Companies need to approach the communications function with a new sense of creative vigor that today's engagement economy requires,” suggests Howard of Allison+Partners. And with that engagement comes the opportunity to truly benefit from customer insight.

?“If you are receptive to opening yourself up and getting feedback from the consumer community,” says SXSW's Forrest, “there is always the process of creative destruction and then creation again.” ??


The PRWeek/Allison+Partners C-Factors Survey was conducted by PRWeek and Bovitz. About 6,000 executive and senior-level business professionals were invited from a national online consumer panel to participate in the study, with 202 completing the survey between August 6-21, 2012. Results were not weighted and are statistically tested at a confidence level of 90%.

This article offers a summary of findings. Additional charts and findings are available for purchase in the C-Factors Survey Premium Edition

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