The public relations industry is known for a lot of things: media relations, press conferences, event management, crisis communications, and, more recently, social media strategy and community management.
But there’s one thing that many communicators haven’t been particularly well-known for: creativity. At best, PR has been put in a box to amplify creative ideas developed by others. At worst, we’ve been accused of “spinning” stories or doing “stunts” to make a splash.
That’s changing. Over the last 18 months or so, branding, advertising and digital agencies’ dominance over creative campaigns has started to wane. Clients are increasingly turning to PR agencies to come up with the “big idea,” as the discipline is now in a good spot to call the shots on creative development. Here’s why.
1. PR has always been about finding real stories; we’re just getting better at telling them. In the old days, PR agencies found testimonials, quotes and survey data to demonstrate the need for products and services. Now, we go deeper and tell more powerful stories, filled with emotion, tension points, and real, vibrant characters. Agencies are video producers, designers and researchers to bring these stories to life.
2. PR gets two-way, real-time communications. Most PR practitioners have had the benefit of immediate reactions to our work. If journalists like our story idea or message, we know right away. If not, we go back to the drawing board. This two-way communication has accelerated as we’ve managed social communities and delivered social campaigns. At Edelman, programs like Creative Newsroom are merging the best of breaking news with brand storytelling to break through to our clients’ audiences.
3. We’re channel and media-agnostic. Clients have told us they don’t want to be pushed to do specific tactics because it’s how their agency makes money. Often building a microsite or shooting a 30-second spot isn’t the answer for a client’s challenge. PR agencies have always worked on the strategy first and developed tactics that fit the task at hand. If that means partnering with trick shooters to hurtle our client’s product through the air, we’ll do it.
4. PR agencies are getting better at pitching and selling their ideas. When I first started more than a decade ago, our plans were submitted by text and usually only reviewed by one person in the PR department. Clients had to work hard to visualize what we were proposing. Now we put as much effort into how we present as we do into the idea itself – with verbatims, anthem videos and creative compilations. This isn’t smoke and mirrors, it’s about getting clients in PR, as well as marketing and the C-suite, excited about how our ideas can resonate with audiences, tell a long-term narrative and build affinity for that brand or company.
5. Top creative and strategic talent are joining PR agencies. I’ve sat down with a lot of creatives who have said they want a change from the traditional marketing approach. We’ve tripled our creative team over the past year and named a global chair for creative strategy to guide us through the change. Other PR firms are starting to make these types of investments too.
Our CEO Richard Edelman has said that it’s PR’s time to lead the marketing mix. He’s right, but our window of opportunity won’t be open for long. PR agencies must act fast to fill in creative gaps, push our clients to take more risks , and deliver high-quality content that delivers on the integrity of the idea.
Will our industry be able to do it? Watch this space.
Robyn Adelson is senior vice-president and national director, Edelman strategic + creative guild