'More clients should kick the command and control habit' – Creative Q&A, Red's Ed Staples

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 Ed Staples, planning director at Red Consultancy.

'More clients should kick the command and control habit' – Creative Q&A, Red's Ed Staples

How did you get where you are now?

I started out as a press officer back in the dim and distant, working for Mercury Communications and enjoying the cut and thrust of sparring with journalists, battling big bad BT and launching the Mercury Music Prize. From there I joined a start-up called Red and enjoyed a crash course in how to survive '90s agency life. I learnt a lot and learnt fast. Eventually, I earned a rep as someone who could write and deliver those tricky slides just before you get to the campaign ideas. From there it was a natural step to move into a creative planning role and to start building a team of specialists.

My job now is very much about creative strategy – working with colleagues in Insight to get under the skin of the audience, and then with creative to design high-impact campaigns.

What has been your creative career highlight?

In terms of sheer fun, it’s often been the fast-turnaround, daft stuff. Getting a ‘crumb test dummy’ interviewed on Channel 4 News; putting the world’s smallest ad on a bee’s knee; securing a kit sponsor for a naturist pétanque team (mini logos on socks and sweatbands).

When it comes to bigger projects, I’d say it was working with Huawei to use the AI in its mobile phones to finish Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Amazing to see the idea travel from a single line in an email to an orchestral performance at London’s Cadogan Hall.

And if it comes to the ‘but did your mum see it’ test? Then it would be when we got the Birmingham Royal Ballet to rehearse in RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) yellow wellies for a fundraising awareness campaign. Not only did the imagery fly in media and on social, but it was used on the RNLI Christmas cards – one of which my mum sent to me.

...and lowlight?

Being driven to a pitch by a chain-smoking MD in a sports car with the windows down. I sat in the back seat, which meant that I ended up presenting covered in fag ash. Classy.

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

It’s great when campaigns bring two completely separate worlds colliding together, so I loved what the city of Vienna did, exhibiting all its galleries’ nude artworks on Only Fans as a protest against not being able to show those images on other social media platforms. The move got the requisite shedloads of coverage and social chatter, positioning Vienna as an ‘open-minded’ city break destination. Importantly, it also chimed with the wider creative community’s #FixTheAlgorithm campaign for artistic freedom on social platforms.

How do you solve creative writer's block?

Swim. Go and make another cup of tea. Read books, not posts. Risk an Italo House playlist. Depends on which day of the week.

How should PR grow its creative prowess?

Hire people who don’t all look and sound the same. And convince more clients to kick the traditional ‘command and control’ habit and instead collaborate more with fans and communities.

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