What can we do as individuals to overcome barriers to being more creative, and do better work? "The barriers to creativity are going to be different for all of us," Stuart Hehir, creative director at Pegasus, told delegates at the PRWeek PharmaComms conference. "I’ve been lucky enough over the years to be part of many award judging panels. In pharma, it’s rare that you get to see the year’s entire body of work lined up side by side – and it’s a real eye opener," he continues. "The one thing that comes through every time is that 90% of our work is good, it’s solid, it’s delivering; but then there’s 10% that seems to just pop: that small number of campaigns that rise to the top. So, how do we move that magical 10% to become 20% or 30%?"
What PR professionals can learn from Victorian art critic John Ruskin
To understand where that magic happens, Hehir shares a tip he picked up at another awards ceremony – to judge work through the lens of the hand, the head and the heart. "John Ruskin wrote, ‘Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together,’" Hehir explains. "For us, ‘hand’ is the actual craft: a good idea can become a great idea just through its execution. So have we got the skills and the budget to deliver that?"
"We also need to look at things with the ‘head’," he continues. "Is an idea built on sound strategy? Is it smart? Is it insight-driven? Remember, data and research is not the same as insight – often we have to unpick those to get to those little nuggets of human truth that suddenly become that creative leap-off point."
Often, the more focused these nuggets are, the better
For the Pegasus team, the insight that suicidal thoughts are often temporary and that interrupting them with a simple question can be all it takes to start someone on the road to recovery, was at the heart of their powerful… "Small Talk Saves Lives" campaign with the Samaritans.
"Finally, we need to think about ‘heart’," Hehir continues. "Does this piece of work hit me emotionally? Do I care? By focusing on these three lenses – hand, head and heart – we can start to move the dial on the kind of work that we do."
Stop using compliance as an excuse for lack of creativity
"The classic stumbling block for pharma is usually compliance," says Hehir. "Too often, we default to blaming compliance and regulations." He believes it’s a myth that the healthcare comms industry isn’t creative – but it’s too easy to give up when things get tough.
"As the Healthcare Communication Association’s report Cannes or Canned? quite rightly said, there are lots of other highly regulated industries out there – finance, insurance, telecoms – that are producing award-winning creative. We’re in danger of creativity becoming a byword for risk."
"Great work is hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it," he adds. "But it takes a bit of effort, and we need to stop using compliance as a get-out and understand what the real barriers are to change: people, structures, regulations, or a bit of everything." The Pegasus team has developed an action plan, rooted in behavioural change insights, for doing exactly that.
"We have a strategic planning model called CHANGE, that we’ve worked on with the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change," explains Kesha Tansey, associate director at Pegasus. "It uses UCL’s ‘COM-B’ model, which is basically about looking at current behaviour to see whether a patient – or a healthcare professional, or whoever might be having that behavioural challenge – has the Capability, the Opportunity, and the Motivation to make a change and start living the desired Behaviour."
How to CHANGE: your five-minute thought exercise
While Pegasus is primarily using the CHANGE framework in campaign creation, comms professionals can also use the model to explore barriers to their own creativity. So why not give it a try?
Tansey says: "Think about a creative ambition you have: do you or your team have the Capability to achieve it?" That might mean learning new physical skills to evolve your work – or overcoming psychological barriers, if the tangible benefits of creativity are complicated or difficult to understand.
Next, consider the Opportunity, and identify any physical and social obstacles that might be getting in the way of it. "The physical might be: do you even have the time to be more creative? Or does it cost lots of money? On the social side, you might feel under pressure from clients or management to keep things the way they are," says Tansey.
Thirdly, think about Motivation, and whether yours is being undermined by what Tansey calls "reflective" or "automative" factors: "Reflective could be long-term thoughts you’ve been having – for example, does being more creatively ambitious feel like an overwhelming or risky decision? Automative might mean: does it interfere with well-established habits? Is there a culture of creativity within your organisation – or if you try to talk about new ways of doing things, does it fall on deaf ears?"
Hehir and Tansey recommend working through the COM-B model and writing down every obstacle that is holding you back, so that you can prioritise the most significant ones and plan how to address them. "Begin by investing time to understand the real barriers, and start with small steps to overcoming them," says Hehir. "Sometimes you can’t change all the things you’d like to – but you could focus on doing one or two things really well, making just one asset or idea really great, and that then elevates the quality and sets the bar higher for the future. And ultimately, don’t we all want do work we can be proud of?"