Uncommon founder Nils Leonard commented (and I paraphrase only slightly) that in his view, creativity in PR is a low bar.
Brutal? Yes. True? No. But the impression that it is true remains alarmingly prevalent.
So how do we challenge this? How do we give advertising a run for its money?
First, let’s be honest: most of adland's work has only to exist in media. And if you've paid for TV spots, radio ads and billboards where you can say what you want, it's easy to make sexy creative.
Particularly when work doesn’t have to interact with culture (and most above-the-line work does not).
Why wouldn’t a client sign off a TV spot about cute flying unicorns when the ad agency can tell them it’ll be seen by millions of people? Why not just flutter about in the conceptual?
Let’s also look at the guaranteed returns. One million promised ad views is a red herring. In many cases, 99 per cent of those people won’t give a rat’s arse about engaging with the work; it’ll pass them by and they won’t give it a moment’s thought.
PR, on the other hand, has an opportunity to create far deeper engagement that starts with the savage fact that if a journalist thinks no one will care about your story, they’re not going to put your piece out there.
Another factor is cold, hard cash.
We’re used to working with a tenth of the budget that ad agencies are allocated, and a tenth of the time and resource. Sure, the best creative can be free, but let’s be honest: money matters.
Finally, some of the best earned-media work in the past few months has been through organic and often social-led recognition.
From Weetabix Beanz to Marmite’s billboards and the Caterpillar alliance, if the creative is good enough it will find its place – adopted and spread by consumers or generating the editorial it deserves. Let’s push our clients to allow us the same opportunities they grant their ad agencies.
So, how do we go forwards?
In my opinion, it starts with a little faith. Clients, my partner Elle and I have worked across 15 or so of the top creative PR agencies in our first year and I cannot tell you the sheer abundance of brilliant ideas I heard on a daily basis. If I were in an ad agency, I’d genuinely begin to feel very nervous.
What we have unique to PR is a true understanding of how fame works, how to drive it, and how to deliver true engagement – that’s what every brand in the world craves.
But this isn’t a one-sided effort.
We need to become better at having difficult conversations with our clients, about reassuring them that our big ideas are worth making. I know it will often feel uncomfortable for both parties, but I also know that no one goes into this industry to build careers on mediocrity.
The challenge that lies before PR is not how to creatively change the world, but how to convince clients that we can.
Let’s get cracking.
Gigi Rice is a creative at Hope&Glory PR