Creativity, not just results, must be a bigger PR focus

Last week, PRWeek's sister publication, DMNews, hosted the 31st annual John Caples International Awards, a singular global awards program that honors the best creative in direct marketing.

Last week, PRWeek's sister publication, DMNews, hosted the 31st annual John Caples International Awards, a singular global awards program that honors the best creative in direct marketing. Caples judging is done by a panel of international creative directors over a period of four days. The focus is exclusively on the creativity of the concept, while results are, if not an afterthought, at least tangential to the merits of the piece.

The fact that results aren't the first consideration for choosing a winner is particularly striking when you think about the metrics-heavy nature of direct marketing. Being measurable is one of the discipline's most important USPs. But the Caples Awards isolate the quality of the idea from the execution of the concept, above and beyond its practical benefits to the marketer.

In the PR world, we focus a great deal on results, even if there is still a lack of consistency and common ground on how best to assess them. Whether through media impressions or marketing-mix modeling, campaigns are generally explained in the context of some kind of external validation of their impact. And while it would be great to see far more standardization and attention to marketing and business results more consistently applied, this attention to results is basically a good thing.

Even so, Caples left me wondering if we take enough time in PR to focus on creativity. This is not a frivolous notion, even in a recession. Until recently, the PR industry was fully comfortable not being in total control of the brand message. Now, in the digital era, where surrendering control is a byword, marketing disciplines are in a land grab for ownership of the business, while the tactics are becoming more and more uniform and commonly understood. Who will win this land grab? The one with the most creative ideas will most certainly rise above the pack.

In case you needed reminding that digital has blurred the lines between marketing disciplines, take the Caples “Best in Show” campaign. “AIM Proximity in New Zealand,” with retailer The Warehouse Limited, offered men a perfect Valentine's Day gift. Visitors to a “secret” microsite accessible upon completing an “Are you a man?” quiz were told that an airplane would fly on Valentine's Day, trailing a love message that the site's visitors would vote on. Each of the participants could claim the airborne endearment as his own. Of course, while on the site, visitors were offered many other great many other great Valentine's Day present ideas.

Sounds a lot like PR these days, doesn't it? Results are incredibly important, and always will be. But so is the creative that makes you nod, smile, and say, “What a great idea.”

Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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