Invention is PR's final frontier

PR usually promotes products. It's time to create them, says Adam Ritchie.

Photo by Chris Anderson
Photo by Chris Anderson

At Adam Ritchie Brand Direction, we’re always talking about purpose with our clients. It’s ironic, because it took the agency nearly a decade to find the right words for its own purpose (even though it was there all along): to live to our potential as an unstoppable source of transformation and invention.

Lately we’ve expressed that purpose through three campaigns, each of which we approached by throwing out the rulebook. Rather than asking clients, 'What's the product?,’ ‘When is it coming out?,’ and ‘Who is it for?' we approached each challenge by imagining a final product that didn't even exist.

Working with the independent rock band The Lights Out (of which I’m a member), we transformed a studio album T.R.I.P. into a beer and invented the world’s first album on a beer can with the Aeronaut Brewing Co.

With The M.O.M. Squad, we transformed a group of pregnant influencers into a team of pregnant superheroes. And our Mix It Up project transformed a diverse cohort of food and wellness influencers into menu items inspired by their personal stories. Proceeds from the sales of those items were donated to the influencer’s favorite nonprofits.

Transformation and invention means creatively firing from both barrels, and I believe it’s the final frontier of PR. All around us, people in PR are first coming up with the products and then promoting their creation.

The PR people at jewelry company Hearts On Fire are helping create a collection of jewelry with young women from Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

The Hearts On Fire PR team invites girls into the design, production, and promotion process for a line of earrings, pendants, and rings, with sales proceeds benefiting Girls Inc. With PR driving the product development process from the start, Hearts On Fire is writing an inspiring story it will soon get to tell.

The agency Carol Cone On Purpose launched one of the most impactful programs of the last decade when it partnered with Aflac to create the My Special Aflac Duck. These interactive duck plush toys (one of Time Magazine's Best Inventions of 2018) are designed to comfort hospitalized children receiving cancer treatment. Aflac has donated more than 1,000 of the lifelike ducks so far, and is making them available to every child with cancer in the U.S. who wants one.

Having PR create a product is not as backward as it sounds. PR lives or dies on the success or failure of the products and services it supports, so we owe it to ourselves to take a stronger hand in their creation. The generation before us fought and earned a place for PR at the management table. We can express our gratitude to them by earning PR a seat at the product development table.

The idea of helping create products is exciting, whether you're a PR student or someone who's run hundreds of campaigns. This past year, I've shared this idea with 40-plus schools, where future PR practitioners are learning to invent new categories of products with news value and shareable potential baked into them from the start.

We're not just teaching these students how to run PR agencies  we're teaching them how to run "do what it takes" agencies.

Here’s one model for approaching PR-based production creation: Start with a concept. Then work with a relevant influencer group, cause, or manufacturer to make it real. And, finally, do what PR has excelled at for its first 100 years: Tell the story.

If you've spent your career promoting the products you’ve been handed, think about how you’d like to spend the rest of your career. With product creation, the door is open for you to make an entirely new mark on the profession.

Adam Ritchie owns Adam Ritchie Brand Direction.

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