'Stuff your conscious mind with information' - talking creativity with Taylor Herring's Pete Mountstevens

In our second interview with a leading UK PR creative, PRCA Creative Group chair Nick Woods speaks to Taylor Herring creative director Pete Mountstevens about stealing a march on adland, diversity, and obsessing on good ideas.

Pete Mountstevens: 'Get out of the office once in a while'
Pete Mountstevens: 'Get out of the office once in a while'

There is a clichéd view about ‘creatives’ in PR… pampered, princess-y prima donnas… loud clothes and even louder voices. Yet, when you meet the best in the industry at the moment, it’s a view which often couldn’t be more wrong.

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Taylor Herring’s Pete Mountstevens is another who defies the stereotype. Having been around for more than 15 years, Taylor Herring has arguably never been stronger or more consistently turned out great work than over the last few years, winning innumerable awards for clients as diverse as Sky Atlantic, Amnesty International and Samsung.

Pete is considered, erudite and understated and his background in entertainment PR has given him a rich love for popular culture. He has the rare ability to not only generate smart thinking, but also to hand it over to others and see where they take it, and to imbue an entire agency with a distinct creative philosophy.

He began his career in music publicity in the 90s working with, among others, Peter Andre and George Michael ("I had a niche specialism in Greek-Cypriot pop stars…") and I was keen to understand more about his personal views on how he and his agency manage their creative output with such consistency and what he sees as the opportunity for consumer agencies.

Q: While many agencies have 'good years', Taylor Herring seems to consistently win campaign awards year after year – what’s the secret?

There isn’t any single thing, but I think over the last 15 years we have built a culture which has an innate understanding of pop culture and creative thinking absolutely baked in. We allow the whole agency to play a role in our creative output and that is hugely valuable. We also work hard to maintain an agency with diverse backgrounds and have a whole host of ways and means to ensure we’re always one step ahead.

Below: Taylor Herring's Westworld robot hits the pub campaign for Now TV

Q: And what are some of those ways and means?

We get out of the office! We are almost religious in our adherence to our Tuesday morning offsite creative meetings; they are sacrosanct. Each week’s breakfast meeting is 100 per cent focused on solving the week’s creative issues for both clients and new biz, and feature an ever-revolving cast of team members in order to keep them fresh.

We also blog about other people’s work daily for our own internal ‘newseum of ideas’ and for PR Examples, which provides additional stimulus - and then we have the late Friday afternoon drinking version of our Tuesday meeting.

I’ve always been very conscious that not everyone feels able to speak up in creative meetings and we have recently introduced ‘creative pairs’, whereby everyone has a partner with whom they brainstorm with weekly, which helps to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Q: Which do you think is the most important?

Our diversity. I know it’s a buzzword but our team is genuinely made up of people from a huge variety of backgrounds - not all white, not all from public school, not all university graduates - and I think it has an enormous affect on our output.

Q: The creative director position varies from agency to agency. How do you see your role?

It’s a mix. When a brief comes in I’m often involved in defining the strategy and doing some of the planning work… sourcing relevant data, defining the sharpest insights and trying to find a universal truth.

Equally, I will manage the wider team’s output; there is a healthy sense of competition to come up with ideas that make it into the final deck, and I think we encourage that – people should be proud that their idea "makes it". I also hand ideas over to others to see what they come up with. A 20-something will often take a great idea in a completely different and often wonderful direction.

But I also feel a huge sense of responsibility that we need to deliver something the client hasn’t seen, so I will obsess and obsess until we come up with the right idea… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pissed off my wife while on holiday by calling James [Herring, agency CEO] or the team from a far-flung corner of the world to talk about some insight or creative.

Below: Taylor Herring's PRWeek-Award-winning Polar Bear Roams London campaign promoting Sky Atlantic show Fortitude

Q: How do you see the opportunity for PR agencies today?

I think we have a huge opportunity to steal a march on adland. Everyone skips through the TV breaks, more and more people actively block digital ads, and CEOs and marketing directors want ideas that penetrate the news cycle. They will invest in great ideas wherever they come from and without doubt the creative world is increasingly agency-neutral.

We are finding ourselves competing against ad agencies, and we are pitching creative that includes TV spots, digital and OOH content, which is a seismic change from where we were five years ago.

On the flipside, ad agencies have raised their game and are winning PR awards left, right and centre, so our opportunity is to go and pitch through-the-line campaigns and win them because we better understand the news cycle and the type of content people will share organically.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring creatives in PR agencies?

PM: Hoover up information and culture… stuff your conscious mind with information, and get out of the office every once in a while. Learn to recognise when you have a good idea and then obsess on it, carry it around, refine it, challenge it and have other people do the same.

Read next: 'We should have a superiority complex' - talking creativity with W's Mark Perkins

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