Is the PR Industry creative enough?

Winning awards is a source of much satisfaction and testament to one’s creativity and ability – although arguably what is more important is the creativity that underpins the award entry and the process by which the campaign idea was developed.


There is ongoing debate about whether the PR industry is creative enough. Industry commentators continue to write about the need to “address the PR industry’s continuing issues at the Cannes Lions awards”.

The real debate, however, should be about more than whether the industry ‘does better at Cannes’ and should, instead, focus on the culture, training and processes which create great creative outcomes. The biggest brands and the best agencies have always recognised the power of PR and PR firms have acknowledged the importance of creativity as a competitive advantage. The challenge is to work out how we maintain and expand that importance and track record in an ever changing communications environment.

Creativity is not about cutting and pasting past solutions or sticking to known tactics.  Nor is it just about using new platforms or new channels. It’s about new ways of fusing ideas, new ways of connecting data and new ways of doing things – always driven by your key insights. Two of my all-time favourite PR campaigns are Dove Real Beauty and Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World – both told great stories which were brought to life in new ways.

As a profession we tend to overuse popular PR techniques in place of creative PR. Extreme experiential seems to be the current flavor of the month. Not that this is bad - consumers like to have face-to-face interaction with brands. Likewise over the past 12 months videos have dominated– they’ve been used for just about everything!  

To increase their creative capacity larger PR firms have appointed creative directors and smaller firms working with creative freelancers. Others are steadfast in their belief that creativity is part of everyone’s job.  As part of the discussion it is important not to lose track of the basic building blocks of creativity. Here are some suggestions on how PR teams can be more creative and effective:

  1. Invest in developing creative talent – either directly or through collaborations. 
  2. Develop a culture and physical environment conducive to creativity – does your office inspire you?
  3. Better understand the creative process and how a range of techniques can help generate creative ideas, for example, the "five I's" of the creative process: information, incubation, illumination, integration and illustration. 
  4. Use research to generate insights that can lead to the big creative idea. 
  5. Analyse case studies to gather insights on how great ideas are born.
  6. Be a voracious media consumer and culturally literate so you know trends and issues.
  7. Always have a big idea that underpins your campaign – an innovative narrative that has impact and delivers on a brand’s positioning.
  8. Be visually arresting through multiple mediums. 
  9. Don’t be afraid of risk - zero errors are bad for creativity.
  10. Recognise that one PR fundamental never goes out of fashion – creating the right message for the right audience and reaching them through the most effective channel. 

Our reputation is aligned to our creativity. PR practitioners need to invest more heavily in their understanding and management of creativity. We need bigger, better and more effective campaigns that stretch far beyond media relations. 

As a profession we can be the engine for big idea generation, integrated program development and content creation. 

But just remember – while winning awards is a great source of satisfaction – the ultimate test of creativity is the result it achieves.