It's time for communicators to get really creative


Advertising Week featured a thoughtful discussion this morning at the BB King Blues Club in Times Square about "creative destruction" and its impact on communications.

Advertising Week featured a thoughtful discussion this morning at the BB King Blues Club in Times Square about “creative destruction” and its impact on communications.

Presented by Allison+Partners, PRWeek, and Everyday Health, the “C-Factors 2” session brought together an eclectic and engaging group. Joining moderator Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of PRWeek, were Scott Allison, chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners; B. Bonin Bough, VP of global media and consumer engagement at Mondelez; Hugh Forrest, event director at South by Southwest Interactive; Laura Klein, EVP and GM for lifestyle at Everyday Health; and Christine Osekoski, publisher at Fast Company.
“Companies are willing to take risks with products,” observed Bough, “but not so much with their communications.” He added: “It's riskier not to change than to change.”
Those comments can certainly be read as a rallying cry for all those in the communications industry to step up their games and come up with innovative outreach mechanisms. In other words, PR needs to get more creative. Or, you could even say, PR needs to “creatively destruct” its traditional methods and invent fresh ways to reach the public.
While devising programs that will impress folks on the pages of PRWeek or win PRWeek Awards is certainly an excellent barometer, there is a rock-solid business case to be made.
“The No. 1 currency in innovation is creativity,” asserted Osekoski.

“Breakthrough creativity transforms marketing,” added Bough. “And that creativity leads directly to more sales.”
It also leads to a redefinition of some of the most common terms used in PR. As Allison noted, “The CMO is now becoming the CEO – the chief engagement officer.” He went on to add that ROI is commonly thought of as “return on investment,” but more and more it's being viewed as “return on insight.”
In addition to the PR industry, the media sector has to keep up on the creative side. Everyday Health is certainly doing its part. As Klein noted during the session, the company comes up with innovative ways to share its content. It started a YouTube channel about six months ago. This coming Saturday, ABC will air Recipe Rehab, the first show from a YouTube original channel to air on network television.
South by Southwest has become synonymous with creativity. “Ultimately,” explained Forrest, “that's what our event is all about. And that's what people want from us.”
Delivering what people want certainly shouldn't be a new concept to anyone in any business sector, but with the proliferation of social media, doing so effectively requires creativity. SXSW's PanelPicker is a fine example. Using the tool, attendees can vote on what sessions they want to see at the 2013 gathering in Austin, TX.
Engaging your audience is the key objective all communicators must strive to achieve. While that necessitates innovative outreach methods, there are certain tried-and-true PR criteria that never wane. In fact, they are becoming more crucial than ever. Authenticity tops that list.
To close the session, each panelist was asked to define “authenticity.” Klein said it's about “fulfilling the promise you make to people,” while Bough offered, “It's about understanding the community you're trying to connect with.” Allison offered an interesting perspective in saying, “Customer engagement isn't always pretty. But to be authentic, you have to accept it” and react accordingly. Forrest elaborated on that point. “Being authentic,” he explained, “is acknowledging when you did something wrong.”
Nobody said being creative was easy. It's hard work. It's listening to criticism, accepting it, implementing those ideas, and then understanding that you'll have to go through that process over and over again. You'll have to creatively destruct programs you've relied on for years, perhaps decades. You'll have to accept the fact that consumers need to be a bigger part of your “creative team” than ever before.
However, you got into PR because it's among the most creatively fulfilling sectors around. If that's the case, this call for more creativity should only reinforce the fact that there's never been a better time to be in PR and, furthermore, you chose the right profession.

Look for the feature on the Allison+Partners/PRWeek C-Factors Survey in the November issue of PRWeek.

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