'Conflict is baked into the role' - talking creativity with Teneo Blue Rubicon's Lotte Jones

In our latest interview with a leading UK PR creative, PRCA Creative Group chair Nick Woods meets Lotte Jones, creative director at Teneo Blue Rubicon.

Five years ago there were just a handful of creative directors in the UK, and they were nearly always men. Fast-forward to today and there are somewhere north of 50 in the role, and they are nearly always men.

And while the volume increases, the role is very much seen as being led from consumer PR.

Check out our previous Talking Creativity interviews with Joe Sinclair, Mark Perkins and Peter Mountstevens

Lotte Jones is a female creative director working in a largely corporate agency, and doing it with no little flair.

Eloquent, passionate and knowledgeable, she is both a role model for, and huge champion of, women in PR. I wanted to talk to her about being a female CD, being a CD in corporate and her views on all things creative and PR today.

The simplistic view is that creative directors are ‘consumer’, what’s your view?

The creative director role is about flair and intellectual curiosity. It’s about looking at a problem from a new angle and working out how to answer it in an original and sophisticated way.

The consumer bit is often focused on idea generation, but that’s just one part of the role of a creative director in PR. The title has become a byword for ideation and the industry is in thrall to CDs who do that, but it does the title and often the individual a huge disservice.

Even the title is heritage from adland… the person who comes up with or signs off on creative work. I’m not sure that model works in a PR agency where you’re expected to be as strategic as creative.

So as a creative, you’re also a strategist?

I hope so. And again, I think there is a difference between what we do and what happens in adland. Their planners look at what the target audience is eating for breakfast and how to get in to the living room, but in PR it’s about shaping opinions and changing debates, it’s not always about purchase-driving.

The 'big bang' execution of some well-known PR campaigns underplays some of our strategic work and for me some of our best work, the sexiest thinking, the bits that really get senior clients' juices flowing, have been in the front of the deck, not the back.

Can you have good creative without good strategy?

You might get lucky, but I won’t take a creative brief until the strategy is signed off. As an industry, we over-index the importance of creative at the expense of strategy and I’d definitely encourage PR industry leaders to put equal emphasis on both.

Describe your role at TBR

I have responsibility for the creative output of the agency. It wasn’t a role that existed until I was appointed, so I’m very much building the plane as it’s flown.

These days its focused on providing an original view and solution to an existing communications issue.

I’ve had to work to stop the role becoming a depository for "quick, we need a stunt", which isn’t my thing and which isn’t the most enlightened view of creative. Good clients stay with good thinking. Our long-term clients don’t stay with us because of our ability to do stunts, they stay because of smart thinking and rigorous delivery.

There are only a few female CDs in UK PR, what’s your view on why?

I’m sure there are a lot of different reasons for a lot of different women and it’d be wrong to generalise. However [laughs], I do have some observations about the role that could be holding a lot of people back.

Being a CD is a very exposing position to be in, as you’re constantly putting thoughts out there to be judged as good or bad. As such, conflict is baked into the role. You need to be comfortable with defending your thinking without taking it personally. These are issues wider than gender, but not qualities that many people lust for in a job description!

I sense a rapidly increasing fearlessness in the wake of cultural gender developments we’re seeing at the moment. I sense it because I feel it myself. Lots of people are becoming less tentative about putting their ideas forward strongly in the workplace and being judged for it. As a result of this, my hope is that we see more women step up to the role of CD in the very near future.

What’s your personal process when you get a brief?

I breathe deeply and then jump in with both feet.

I have to let it seep into my brain and live with it. Then the research begins, the analysis, and the hunt for insight. I ask about other people’s experiences of the brand or issue, and consider my own experiences. It can become a little all-encompassing.

Is there a part of the industry or of TBR that really excites you at the moment?

Financial and densely corporate comms. Traditionally, there is a very specific toolbox to do a very specific job, but within that I think there’s loads of scope for more creative approaches, working directly into the c-suite and effecting genuine change within businesses.

Analysts and business journalists are people who get excited by good storytelling as much as the next person - it’s easy to forget that when trying to deconstruct complex business reporting, but so much room to do it differently.

If you're 'bored of diversity' in the creative industries, you're bored of what fuels brilliant work

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