There has been a lot of recent talk about creativity in PR, what with Cannes giving most of its PR campaign awards to advertising agencies. After watching the dismal performance of our colleagues from the PR industry at that event, one wonders if there is a tectonic shift going on in the communications world, or merely a passing fad hogging the limelight.
Being a reputation consultant to dozens of business entities, including many of India’s top wealth creators, I began racking my brain about the number of times we undertook creative campaigns and their impact on the entire plan.
Traditionally, PR has been associated with media coverage. Even today, some senior practitioners hold a view that PR is ‘80 percent media coverage and 20 percent non-media activities’. The aim of PR is to achieve the client objectives through effective communications. Storytelling and ‘influencing the influencers’ are important ingredients of any PR plan.
Over the last decade, the concept of PR has evolved. These days PR consultants talk about the differences among earned, owned and paid media and the importance of having an integrated campaign to amplify earned media so as to maximise return on investment (ROI).
The definition of earned media has also been expanded to include content, in addition to other groups like media and analysts. In the same way an appropriate piece of content can reach out to your target audience because of its viral elements, so those elements can be found in any mode of communication, be it an advert, a video, in a game or in a social media post.
Which means an advert with an interesting concept that creates conversations can ‘earn media’, giving a ROI much beyond the amount spent. PR consultants, who used to be proud of their ‘earning media’ capabilities, now find their domain being threatened by advertising agencies.
This brings us to the importance of creativity. Because of their well-established creative departments, an advertising agency has better capabilities to come up with creative ideas. It’s a different issue that many such creative ideas are neither PR-able, nor can they achieve any desired outcome.
Advertising agencies are much bigger and stronger compared to PR agencies. The total estimated revenues of all advertising agencies worldwide are approximately 45 to 50 times more than that of PR firms. Average fees for creative work are 10 times higher than PR work.
However, creativity is a means to an end: the communications objective of the brand undertaking PR. To achieve these objectives, many times we have to undertake a lot of routine PR work—formulating an effective message, identifying news angles, finalising an appropriate delivery channel to reach the target audience and achieve brilliant outcomes. It is wrong to put too much stress on creativity without focusing on the outcome.
If you see a PR case study which has achieved great results using routine tools, versus another that has mediocre outcomes but creative ideas, which one will you vote for? The ROI comes from the result.
To use a sports analogy, does it matter whether a team was creative during their match as long as they have won? Or will you award the team that used more creativity despite having lost?
It is natural for ‘the Festival of Creativity’ to focus on creativity. But the question is whether we should celebrate creativity just for the sake of doing it. In my opinion no creativity is useful unless it has achieved the communications objectives. And the best PR campaign is the one which has both ingredients: a good creative idea with a strong focus on achieving the required outcome.
Hemant Batra is senior vice president at AdFactors PR