When it comes to job descriptions, people in the public relations
industry have a tendency to oversuse the ’C’ word, says Mike Hobbs.
There’s been much talk in PR Week recently about the use of creativity
in the profession (any awards-based article or issue always provides a
flotilla of examples). It’s a misnomer and, along with others in
everyday use, stems from advertising.
The principal meaning of creative, according to three dictionaries
(Oxford, Penguin and Readers’ Digest) is ’having the power or ability to
create, to bring into existence’ - this doesn’t fit with the main tenets
Our job is to build awareness of a project, product or idea, not to
create it in the first place.
When people mention creativity in respect of PR, I believe what they
really mean is innovation. This should not be taken as degrading - being
innovative in devising ways of bringing a message into the public arena
is a considerable skill and should not be downplayed - but increasing
awareness and sales through good PR is in some ways the very antithesis
Because true creativity, by its nature, allows whoever practises it to
explore the limits of their imagination without fetters. This doesn’t
mean that artistic endeavours are unplanned or lacking structure but
that artists must always feel free to move beyond those structures. Good
- or even great - public relations has no such leeway.
The discipline of focusing all joint efforts in a PR campaign towards
putting across a simple message (or series of messages) effectively
cannot allow us to stray from the agreed brief. We may be innovative in
how we interpret that brief. We may come up with great ideas to
reinforce the central theme, but we are still bound to our core
I’m not for one moment saying there are no creative people working in PR
- of course there are, legion upon legion. Yet I would contend that even
the most famous examples - the Bells, Gummers, Hehirs, Harleys,
Borkowskis, Cliffords, Freuds, Greenwoods, Brends and Inghams of this
world actually express their creativity in differing ways outside PR. In
business, everything must be subsumed in the general drive towards
getting the best possible results for our clients.
This is equally true of advertising. There are any number of advertising
people with their showreels and CVs geared towards displaying their
creativity - indeed, many of them have the word in their job title.
Don’t be fooled - their business, even more than ours, has to be geared
towards selling and showing quick results. Salesmanship is at variance
with creativity and ad men and women are merely indulging in wish
fulfilment. Let them express their creative urges in their spare
I feel this point is important because we’re involved in putting across
our messages using three crucial tools - words, images and sound. It’s
necessary to call for an agreement on how we use words because these are
the tools most open to misinterpretation - images and sound are more
understood, due to their very directness.
So, if we can’t use vital words properly, can we complain if we’re
Or indeed, if others misuse words consistently, with more devious
intentions in mind? It may seem a long way from the innocent touting of
innovation under the guise of creativity to the supposed black arts of
spin doctors, but they are horses from the same stable. Can we bolt the
door on creativity before it goes?
Mike Hobbs is managing director of Westword, specialising in sports,
arts and media. He is also a screenwriter and freelance journalist.