Importing skills from adland to PR: the case for strategy

Strategists have the skills communications agencies need to connect with audiences in more meaningful ways, so why don’t more of us specialists exist in the industry?

PR has fully imported adland’s love for the creative director, but what about strategists, asks Dan Deeks-Osburn
PR has fully imported adland’s love for the creative director, but what about strategists, asks Dan Deeks-Osburn

PR has fully imported adland’s love for the creative director, and has rightly given weight and credence to the creative idea (while permitting the rest of us to wear trainers to the office year-round).

Despite this progress, many poor creative practices remain. How many times have you sat in a ‘brainstorm’, buried under the weight of a thousand fragmented ideas, unable to tell what’s good from what’s bad from what’s right?

This is where the strategists come in.

At its best, strategy is a 'what’s next' discipline. Strategy is about looking at things in ways competitors do not, cannot or will not, to bring fresh insight to creative problem-solving. That is how we create things that connect with real people and unlock future value for the clients we serve. Strategists find the way forward.

At its worst, PR can be head-down, right-now business, maintaining the status quo over growth.

But grow we must. The world is only becoming more uncertain and budgets are only getting tighter. The agencies that can find fertile future advantage for their clients will reap the rewards.

Here are three skills you can import from adland’s strategy departments to make more impactful creative work, more often.

1. Focus on the end audience before your media audience

One of the fundamental learnings I try to hold on to is that the audience matters more than anyone else in this business. The other is that you are not the audience. PR focuses more on the press than the end user. PR is also more demographically similar to the press than the end audience. This means we think more like each other than the people we’re trying to reach. This is a huge problem. To resonate in culture, you need to understand the people you’re trying to reach. You only do that by spending time with them.

2. Specialise the role

You can’t maintain the objective outsider, intentionally naive stance of a strategist if you’re also trying to do all the other jobs the client requires. Great, business-growing, brand-building work requires a team of specialists who can focus on what they do best.

3. Aim for depth

Too many businesses try to communicate too many messages over too brief a time frame. A real strength of PR as a discipline is making people really understand or feel what we’re trying to communicate. The job then is to find out what those deep messages need to be, and how we land them. Nice, rich, textured qual (gathered from the real people in point one) inspire more than dead-behind-the-eyes quant ever will.

It’s our job in strategy help the work connect – not just with school-friend journalists, but with real people in the real world, in a way that builds real value for the businesses we serve.

Dan Deeks-Osburn is strategy director at Freuds

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