'It’s not enough to stay curious' – Creative Q&A

PRWeek grills creative comms figures on how they got where they are, their career highlight, solving creative writer's block, and more. Today we speak to Rowan Adams, co-founder and managing partner of Play.

How did you get where you are now?

I landed my first proper gig at ITV assisting some very smart publicists. Various entertainment roles lead me to broader consumer PR for Blinkbox, where my mandate was to make the press office unashamedly fun.

I caught the start-up bug and moved to Tandem Bank. It was a ludicrous boomtime for fintech and I delivered some of my most strategically daring work.

A bump in the road came when I was offered the chance to set up a consumer arm of a public affairs agency. I didn’t last, but the PTSD of working there did.

Following my brother’s suicide, my brain was shot to bits, and I ended up contracting in roles that reflected this. I was buying a lot of houseplants as I focused on recovery, and by luck, wound up at Patch Plants. I will forever be grateful for them taking me on.

I found my confidence again, and it propelled me on to form 72Point’s sister agency, Play. To have the backing and counsel of Chris Pharo as we sail this mad sea has been incredible.

What's been your creative career highlight?

The Patch Plant Hotel. I presented my boss with a one-line pitch: open a hotel for plants so they don’t die when you go on holiday.

On a shoestring budget (about the same as a nice lunch for two at Scott’s), the idea ROI’d somewhere between ‘ridiculous’ and ‘WTAF?’.

Y’know when people say ‘blanket coverage’? Well, this was the Liberty haberdashery blanket of coverage. A proper global story. More importantly, enquiries and visits to the site were vindication that PR ideas can hit more than the top of a funnel. I am informed people still enquire about ‘rooms’.

What's your favourite campaign of the past three months (not one that you or your organisation were involved in), and why?

With a soundtrack of nasty divisiveness playing in the background, I was impressed at Ralph Lauren’s swift decision to drop golfer Justin Thomas’ after his homophobic comments. He was in the wrong, they saw it, it was handled.

How do you solve creative writer's block?

Got a mainstream family brief? Turn off Rinse FM and whack on Heart, get off VICE and hop on MailOnline. Look at what Ant and Dec are up to. Watch some Dinner Date.

Need to nail a fancy pants brief? Watch Architectural Digest videos, listen to the Afternoon Play, flick through The Economist.

Failing this, watch old episodes of Stars In Their Eyes, You Bet and Gladiators on YouTube. If anyone asks, call it research.

How should PR grow its creative prowess?

Knowing five per cent of everything is basically our job. The best people I have ever worked with can reference everything from Matisse to Mistajam. It’s not enough to “stay curious” – that always feels like it’s OK to observe or study popular culture from afar.

I say: watch, listen and read as much as you can. Juniors are coming into the industry with very little historical knowledge – and I am not talking about the Tudors.

There’s an assumption that because it was before ‘their time’, it is not needed to be known.

It is for agency heads to ensure cultural references are passed on, so ideas can be rooted in the fabric of our society.

What's your hidden talent?

Either being able to spatchcock a chicken with a blindfold on, or give me three decks and some techno and I’ll transport you to Berlin for an hour or nine.

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