CREATIVITY IN PR: SNAPSHOT OF AN INDUSTRY IN METAMORPHOSIS?

For the last three years running, my company Now Go Create has worked with the Holmes Report to co-author what is now an annual survey on the state of creativity in PR. This is a subject I know well: as a former Creative Director at a WPP agency and nearly 20 years practitioner experience I am all too familiar with clients’ exacting demands on PRs to hit the creative sweet spot. I also know that a chasm can exist between where a company was two years ago and where it needs to be tomorrow – it’s a fluid industry, ever adapting to changing times as so many are.

As a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) student, (I am in the final throes of the course), I was inspired to approach a publisher with the idea of the report, in no small part as a result of studying at City University London and being exposed to robust research which was I felt was lacking in my industry. Our report ‘Global Creativity In PR’ now The Holmes Reportin its third year is published today.

With input from more than 600 people in 35 countries, the data is collected via Survey Monkey with an open invite to readers of the PR industry monitor, The Holmes Report It takes several months to collate; the results help give anyone with an interest in PR a snapshot of how the industry values, rewards and feels about creativity. Given that the PR industry is considered to be part of the ‘creative industries’ then I hope the findings reflect some best practices with something to glean for other disciplines.

Key findings for 2014:

+ 1 in 3 clients are unhappy with the quality of creative work being delivered by their agency.

+ 55% of clients think that agencies lack big ideas.

+ 49% of respondents rated the creative thinking and personnel within their business as “ordinary” or worse.

+ Only 35% of respondents say their business adequately rewards creativity.

+ Dedicated Creative Director roles are up 10% over the past three years.

+ ‘Client feedback or risk aversion’ is cited by PRs as the biggest barrier to creativity (three years ago it was simply ‘lack of time’). Respondents were also crying out for more insight, more creative tools and the ability to take more risks.

+ A quarter of PR businesses still do not have a creative process. Fortunately, well over two-thirds of respondents (72%) do have the mechanics in place (a slight rise on last year, when it was 66%).

+ When asked ‘If you could only do three things to improve your own or your company’s creative capabilities, what would they be?”

• Improve use of insight 33%
• More knowledge of creative tools 32%
• Ability to take more risks 31%
• More budget 28%
• Educate clients 25%
• Clearer client briefs 24%
• More time 20%
• More training 19%
• More expertise 19%
• More diverse workforce 19%

+ Idea-time is being supported by almost 30%, mentoring is employed by 37% and training in creative techniques is 37% – all cited as creative investments.

I hear talk all the time of an industry that is going through change, an industry keen to start claiming a slice of the creative glory traditionally reserved for ad-land. To get to the truth of the matter, and to augment the findings of the survey, Now Go Create also conducted 12 interviews with a number of top-level creative directors and industry leaders to ask about their views on the future of creativity in PR. You can read them here. This wouldn’t be complete without comment from the inimitable Dr Sara Jones, Programme Director for the MICL at City University London, who has supported the study since its inception. Sara’s view is that the PR industry is missing a trick when it comes to her particular area of interest – technology.

“My main area of interest is in the use of digital tools and technologies to support creative and innovation processes, so these are the particular points I’ve picked up on. First, although 88% of respondents say they are using group brainstorming to generate ideas, only 44% feel that it’s effective, which lead me to wonder how many companies are taking advantage of new digital tools for brainstorming that can be used even with distributed teams, and can help mitigate against some of the unwelcome social phenomena, such as production blocking, evaluation apprehension, and social loafing, that can get in the way of a productive brainstorming session. With the growth in use of digital as a means of communicating directly with consumers, there are many ways in which PR could benefit from ongoing research on digital engagement and user experience design, and we would be very happy to work with anyone who would like to know more about this.” Dr Sara Jones, City University London

It won’t come as a surprise that none of the agency Creative Directors we spoke to were shouting out for bigger whiteboards or better snacks for group brainstorming sessions either: the people charged with improving the creative output of their teams and giving clients meaningful ways of engaging with consumers were talking about things like using multiple, lean, two-man creative teams. They were talking about introducing more specialists. They were talking about seizing the creative lead in client briefs. Read the full interviews here.

For PR practitioners with an eye on the coming couple of years, these are exciting times.

The full results of the survey can be found here.

Claire Bridges is a current MICL student and Founder of Creative Training Consultancy, Now Go Create, co-author of the Creativity In PR Study with the Holmes Report and a Cannes Lions Judge on the PR Jury 2014. Claire works with brands and agencies to improve their creative capabilities. Find out more at www.nowgocreate.co.uk, and follow Claire @nowgocreate

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