'Monthly coverage targets are a bane to creativity' - 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 Henry Warrington, partner and creative director at Third City.

How did you get where you are now?

I started off at Band & Brown (now Citizen) in 2007 and was fortunate enough to join Third City shortly after the agency launched in 2011. Part of me still misses those exciting early days of nothing but a few trestle tables and a Smeg fridge. I was appointed creative director in 2015.

What's been your creative career highlight?

I always come back to our ‘Running on Empty’ campaign for the 2012 Olympics. We knew a sprinter called James Ellington who, despite being the fourth fastest 200m runner in the country, didn’t have a sponsor. Without one, he couldn’t train full time, and his dream of competing at London 2012 was fading. We took on his case pro bono and came up with a simple idea that wouldn’t cost him a penny – we put his sponsorship bid on eBay. Eighteen hours after launch, he reached his £30,000 target live on Channel 4 News, and went on to compete at the Olympics.

... and lowlight?

Aside from a softball incident at a client sport’s day that I can’t bear to talk about, there was a time, early in my career, that I accidentally left a reference to sex in a press release that the client wanted taking out last minute. I woke on launch morning, overjoyed to see blanket coverage. Then my heart sank as I realised the word ‘sex’ was in every headline, exaggerated by raunchy pictures in the red tops. What followed was a lesson in how to get online articles taken down. Turns out that sex sells, who knew?

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

I really enjoyed English Heritage’s ‘Spring Clean’ campaign. Calendar hooks can often be best to avoid, but its idea to try out some historic cleaning tips as it geared up to reopen was beautifully simple, on-brand, culturally relevant, and cost-effective.

How do you solve creative writer's block?

I like to just do things differently – not the idea itself, but my routine. Creatively, the human brain can work against you as it's hardwired to find simple solutions to problems, ie: the thing you’ve done before. To break away from that, you need new stimulation. Chat to new people (especially non-PRs), sit in a different place, listen to different music, etc. It’s surprisingly effective.

How should PR grow its creative prowess?

Provide more room to fail. The world of PR is full of uncertainty – from shifting news agendas to measurement – and so we cling onto whatever certainty we can. Monthly coverage targets are a bane to creativity, not least because PR is about more than just column inches. They push PR pros to suggest six-out-of-ten ideas (often surveys) that sacrifice creativity to ensure the targets are met.

Collectively, we need to be more comfortable in the unknown; striving to do things that are innovative involves risk and not everything is going to work out. But that’s ok, because the ones that do will make it all worthwhile. Not once has an idea that’s excited me not delivered; if you like it, so will other people. To misquote an '80s classic: “Build it, and they will come.”


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