PR has a newfound fetish for creative directors but the strategist is key

I remember when creative directors in PR were about as rare as chequebooks. But now it seems like no agency is complete without at least one of its very own bearded, bespectacled ideas generators.

I remember when some people were just ‘more creative than others’ but creative directors didn’t exist.

It was a time when PR was something no one’s mother quite understood and when said what you do to everyone else, it was met with a beleaguered impression of Eddie and Edina.

And now, as the marketing disciplines continue to conflate, our creative directors have been instrumental in ensuring PR is only about one-inch shy of our strapping, six foot, brooding adland counterparts. We are catching-up and finally standing proudly side-to-side with ad agencies, with more clients realising we do more than ‘PR the ad’ and seeking creative of a different kind.

Yet despite all this progress, it feels like while we try to steal the lunch money off adland, they’re just calmly smoking behind the bike sheds. They’re largely unaffected because they also pioneered and 'hero' something our industry still hasn’t yet celebrated: the strategist.

With our industry’s newfound fetish with the creative directors, the best-case scenario is that clients have more great ideas to choose from. The worst-case scenario is that the PR industry becomes a revolving door of creative – an industry where agencies are only as good as their last idea and ‘good work’ becomes as disposable as wooden cutlery.

And like all adrenalised and instantly gratifying experiences, serving-up clients creative on a loop is heady, sexy and dynamic, but I’d wager it’s not sustaining.

Our bottom lines become harder to sustain and forecasts harder to predict; ideas become disparate, lack cohesion or consistency and clients don’t get the best work.

Ultimately, we aren’t selling ourselves on the basis of true partnership when we’re only selling ideas. And that’s where ad agencies use their strategic offer to best effect – they turn good ideas into campaigns, they truly embed a team with a client and know that business often better than the clients themselves.

While I’d like to think us creatives are sage thinkers, we need solid strategy to show a client that we mean business for their business. And as much as I’d like to think we can do it all, creativity needs objectivity. Creativity needs strategy.

That’s why it’s high time there’s a new kid in town. Enter stage left: the strategy director.

This discipline is not ‘the science bit’. It’s not about the geek who rattles through charts and graphs before the creative gets to dazzle.

A great strategist is the person who links a brand to its values and ensures a business fulfils its vision. Done well, this person will bind creative to modern culture and to its buying public with an effect that’s as dazzling as your creative. The strategist makes us care and listen. The strategist is the key.

So, as we start to look down the lens of 2020 and make some resolutions, I think we should all agree that it’s high time the strategy director gets a little more of the limelight… and when they start boasting about their collection of limited edition Nikes, maybe they can a have a little more. Maybe.

Lotte Jones is a partner at Freuds

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