Why your idea is probably sh*t - and why creativity without strategy is just jazz hands and pop-ups

"I know!" shouts an enthusiastic account exec at an all-hands brainstorm. "Free runners!"

Creativity without strategy is just jazz hands, argues Alex Myers
Creativity without strategy is just jazz hands, argues Alex Myers

You could insert any number of dreadful brainstorm bingo favourites here: reverse graffiti, pop-up experiences, celebrity endorsement, QR codes, flash mobs – the list is endless.

It’s safe. And tactical.

It’s clear from looking at the body of work our industry produces that despite there being so much awesome work – there’s still too much that hangs on the back of a bad pun or a bad brief instead of a solid strategic framework.

It used to be that these crap ideas came from a laser-focus on getting ink. Coverage was king and AVE was still a thing.

Also see: More than a third of UK PR firms still use AVEs for measurement

Surveys were the answer to everything because, well, at least the Daily Mail would run it.

But for a long time, we’ve claimed integration, digital expertise and social-media nous. So why are some people still peddling pop-ups and pairings? Simple. Because the system is broken.

We may be ready to consign AVE, OTS and OTH to the BS bin, but we need to rebuild the creative process – if not the agency structure – around new markers for success that value resonance and response over reach and repetition.

Creativity is no longer knowing what makes a headline, but instead knowing what constitutes news, and that’s a subtle but important difference.

That means teaching our teams about strategy at the grass roots.

It means setting the bar higher; creating campaigns that our audiences can not only see or hear, but use.

It means building real solutions for real problems, and starting revolutions rather than selling products.

It means understanding brand purpose is not necessarily about altruism, but is always about authenticity.

Never before has our industry had this opportunity for growth and development.

The fragmentation of the media, the dissolution of advertising’s reign at the top of the marketing tree and the rise of the purpose economy all makes PR the natural heir to the strategic throne for brands.

But instead of grasping the opportunity with both hands, we’re busy making a big one and floating it down the sodding Thames.
Right now it feels like PR is a petulant kid sitting in the driver’s seat, struggling to reach the pedals and pretending to drive. Unless we embrace brand strategy then things won’t change.

We need to ask ourselves, 'can any other brand do this?' and only accept "no" for an answer.

We need to establish movements that customers can join and then shape. We need to become channel agnostic and integrate with other services and disciplines better.

If we do this – if we embrace strategy instead of just saying it a lot in presentations before talking about projection mapping – then we can elevate PR to the top of the creative tree.

And in the process we can hold our heads high when people ask us what we do for a living.

We have it in us.

An idea is not something that starts with a brainstorm, it starts with a platform.

A good idea sends a shiver down your spine, but a great idea scares the sh*t out of you.

Get used to it.

Alex Myers is founder and chief executive of Manifest

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