Anyone can have a good idea. In the communications world, that is something you are never allowed to forget.
It could be a three-man PR shop or a well-oiled advertising juggernaut. Either way, there are few subjects that make agencies wax quite as lyrical as when they claim it is their discipline that is best-equipped to provide the kind of genre-busting solutions by which client campaigns live or die.
Talking the talk is one thing. Today's media landscape is increasingly fragmented, with audiences deserting traditional options for all manner of digital-enhanced offerings. Creating cut-through amid such chaos is more critical than ever.
With this in mind, PRWeek launched a project to test how well agencies responded to a client's need for an overarching comms solution. The objective was to be discipline-neutral, picking one agency from the PR, media, digital and DM spheres.
The result is The Big Idea project, run in conjunction with the NSPCC. The children's charity body graciously agreed to put its 2010 Helpline marketing brief up for grabs. The four agencies - Porter Novelli (PR), MindShare (media), Publicis Modem (digital) and Lida (DM) - did the rest.
The process triggered a series of presentations, with each agency approaching the brief from a unique point of view. 'It reminded me how many different ways there are to come to a solution,' says NSPCC comms director John Grounds.
'A good idea can come from any kind of agency - that isn't the issue. The issue is whether they can translate it into something that works and can deliver across all strands.'
With that in mind, read on to see which agency emerged victorious from the NSPCC/PRWeek Big Idea, and what lessons were learned.
THE BRIEF FROM THE NSPCC
The NSPCC has a helpline adults can call if they have concerns about the welfare of children. The helpline has never been promoted heavily, so despite awareness of the NSPCC being high, awareness of the service is low.
The NSPCC wants an agency to help it increase the propensity to contact the helpline among C2DE mothers in the UK.
The campaign needs to understand the barriers to reporting abuse and persuade people to overcome them. Callers may be concerned they do not have the authority to call - how do they know the abuse is serious, or what if they are wrong? They may also fear the consequences - retribution from the abuser or a child being taken into care. The winning agency needed to persuade the people most likely to encounter vulnerable children that any abuse is wrong, and they can talk to the NSPCC for advice.
Timings: October 2009 - March 2010
Budget: £50,000 - including media buying, production, measurement and evaluation.
LIDA - Led by Mel Cruickshank, MD
Lida, a direct marketing agency, devised a simple, memorable and cost-effective campaign that used stickers in a range of locations to encourage mums to call the line.
The agency thought the message 'phone the helpline' risked coming across as preachy. It turned the message on its head, asking C2DE mums to think about what could happen if they did not call.
Lida used research that said women look at their reflection 71 times a day, to create a campaign to get women to reflect on their behaviour. It devised a sticker with the NSPCC branding that asked: 'Could you still look at yourself if you didn't report a child you suspect is being abused?' These stickers would be placed on reflective surfaces - on the tube, in changing rooms, in pubs and clubs and on shop windows.
The agency chose to deliver the message in public places because it believed this was the best way to normalise desired behaviour and stimulate conversation with peers.
It relied on the NSPCC's large network of supporters, volunteers, corporate partners and employees to distribute the stickers. It would also ask NSPCC ambassador Peter Andre to write about the campaign in his column in New! magazine.
PORTER NOVELLI - Led by Shilpa Saul, associate director
PR agency Porter Novelli's idea was bold and challenged the brief. The agency said the helpline should be rebranded and relaunched as NSPCC First Stop. This, it believed, would clearly communicate that the helpline was the first port of call for those worried about possible abuse. The name also fitted with the charity's decade-long campaign Full Stop, which aims to end child abuse.
The agency's research showed the target audience was naturally disinclined to get involved with 'the system'. To overcome this, it would ask C2DE mums to help it create the campaign. Those that helped would be known as 'First Stop MUMS'.
Porter Novelli split its campaign into three stages: recruit, relaunch, reward. In the recruit stage, it would create a 'five signs of abuse' checklist to improve recognition among mums.
In the relaunch stage, the agency would release a national relaunch story, with a call to action to get as many mums as possible to become supporters.
In the final stage, First Stop MUMS and supporters would be given surprise rewards, generating media coverage.
MINDSHARE - Led by Ita Murphy, MD
MindShare, a media agency, delivered a campaign that brought several channels into play. The central idea was the 'NSPCC Happy Child Community' - a community where members have promised to call the helpline if they are worried about a child's welfare.
The campaign attempted to overcome two key barriers. Firstly, it would create awareness by using residents as an influential channel. Secondly, and more importantly, it aimed to alleviate fear by converting the act of calling the helpline from a sign of meddling to a sign of caring.
Based on statistics revealing the majority of the country's four million C2DE mums live on council estates, MindShare researched the group to find an anti-authority mentality is combined with a strong sense of community.
To convert this negativity into a positive, the MindShare idea would recruit a caring mother to serve as a 'local hero'. She would motivate local residents to call the helpline.
The campaign would be expanded through a launch event with NSPCC endorser Peter Andre, with the story being documented and turned into a short film. Eventually, MindShare envisaged wider-scale recruitment of local heroes, with a competition to identify the country's most dedicated estate.
PUBLICIS MODEM - Led by Tony Effik, chief strategy officer
Publicis Modem, a digital agency, used a strong research component to develop the concept of an 'enlightened witness' who would call the NSPCC hotline. The agency presented the idea as a 'motivating narrative that is implicitly contagious', by being able to draw in and keep news media.
The campaign itself was built around the tagline: 'Abuse breeds ...', with different types of outcomes - such as violence, pain and isolation - used to complete the sentence.
A set of posters would bring this idea to life - starkly demonstrating the consequences that child abuse has for society as a whole.
A website would be used to drive the programme, with a strong social media element that would spur debate around the 'abuse breeds' idea, eventually resulting in content and data that could be used to engage with a range of target media.
The campaign also included short viral films that would tell the stories of people whose lives have been affected by child abuse.
THE BIG IDEA
WINNER - PORTER NOVELLI
Porter Novelli won the account because it had the most rounded campaign, and the greatest understanding of the audience and client.
The judges said all the agencies showed they could research the audience, but Porter Novelli's level of insight came much closer to their own level of understanding. Grounds said: 'Its insight into how that audience consumes information made a difference to how the whole pitch was presented. Nothing was based on an assumption.'
The judges liked the simple concept of using C2DE mums as campaign 'champions', a strategy Mindshare also employed. But unlike Mindshare, Porter Novelli decided against addressing the audience geographically, offering a broader and deeper reach. The rebrand idea allowed the NSPCC to embed the target audience in the campaign launch, offering wider audience reach.
Porter Novelli's campaign covered internal comms, regional delivery and linked the helpline to the strategic direction of the NSPCC more widely. Gerry Tissier, head of media, said: 'By luck or cleverness, we were already thinking of rebranding the helpline. I say cleverness, because this shows the importance of understanding the internal world of the client. Porter Novelli had the edge because it had the bigger and better idea and provided us with the greatest opportunity to reach our target audience.'
'Some readers may raise an eyebrow that a PR agency won the pitch but, frankly, this was judged on the strengths of the proposal,' added Grounds. 'Two of the panel members hadn't encountered Porter Novelli ever before and one had never even heard of it.'
Lida was praised for its simple and creative sticker concept. It was also a very cost-effective option. Helen Chown, head of divisional comms at NSPCC, said: 'I liked the simplicity and portability of the idea.' Tissier agreed: 'It was very creative, simple, and immediately clear. It provided us with a relatively cheap product that could reach a mass audience.'
But while the NSPCC liked the idea, it did not think it would make a complete campaign. 'This idea would be part of a campaign,' said Chown.
The campaign also relied on the NSPCC's networks to distribute the stickers. Chown said: 'It would have been good to see a campaign that included guaranteed distribution in budget.'
MindShare's idea ran Porter Novelli close. 'It was well-researched and strong on local delivery,' said Chown. Reservations were expressed, though, about the decision to peg it so tightly to one housing estate. 'It might miss mothers in other villages and towns where there may not be a close sense of community,' added Chown.
Instead, the NSPCC team thought it could work in a wider framework. 'I wasn't sure how you would achieve national reach from one estate,' said Tissier. 'There was a risk it might turn into a negative story - is that estate particularly bad?'
Ultimately, added Grounds, MindShare delivered a 'really clever idea' that missed out because of the level of associated risk.
The NSPCC team praised Publicis Modem for delivering the best presentation of the day.
'It had the best presentation because it took us on a journey,' said Tissier. 'We liked the idea of an enlightened witness - it was an idea worth exploring, it had legs.'
Grounds also noted the academic research, led by Publicis Modem chief strategy officer Tony Effik, was 'very impressive'.
Chown praised the agency's 'big conceptual thinking and execution', and said it 'pushed the envelope in terms of boldness of creativity'.
However, the NSPCC team said the campaign needed considerable testing before it could be trusted to motivate people to phone the helpline.