06 Feb 2018 20:38 IST

Why public relations companies need to be creative

PR persons must learn to think innovatively and provide clients with useful information

The first word that comes to mind when one thinks of advertising is ‘creativity’. Other phrases or words that might come up are ‘out of the box’, ‘different’, ‘whacky’ and even ‘weird’ (a reference, perhaps, to some of my advertising brethren’s choice in clothes and hair styles). One thing, however, is pretty clear: an agency’s creative abilities help brands get noticed and move the consumer to action. Agencies often get new business only on the basis of their creative talents.

My question is, should the related field of public relations also adopt creativity as its very motto in today’s challenging times? This leads me to an important question: what exactly is creativity?

Peace activist and artist Mary Lou Cook said, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”

My submission is that PR companies have a strong need to re-brand and reorient themselves as “the other creative communications agency”. Why do I say that?

Today’s challenges

Let’s step back to look at public relations in today’s scenario. Despite the proliferation of social media and various other platforms, it is still difficult to get a story across in the media. A far cry from the earlier days, when all you had to do was to meet the journalist and, lo and behold, you had a front page story! Those days, there were fewer companies and the media had to hunt for stories. The main skill-set that PR executives needed was the ability to build relations with media and clients. The phrase ‘wine and dine’ was often unfairly used to describe a PR agency’s work.

Today, with a bevy of verticals, numerous PR companies pushing their clients’ causes and the media becoming increasingly selective in what it will carry, the challenges have become more pronounced.

The power of a story

One of the main reasons why people love advertisements and, at times, prefer watching them to television programmes, is that advertising has powerful stories driving its content. The Samsung customer service ad for India — where the service engineer faces numerous obstacles, including a tree-blocked road and mountainous terrain, to get a TV repaired so that blind children can watch their hostel-mate participate in a singing contest — topped the list of most-watched ads on YouTube in 2017, with over 150 million views!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=779KwjAYTeQ

What sets it apart? It is simple, has an element of surprise, is touching but does not go overboard, and isn’t soppy. I believe the power of the story made it hugely popular. So, where’s the analogy for PR companies and what must they do?

What’s your pitch?

Today, to put it mildly, journalists lead stressful lives. They work under myriad pressures and ever-shrinking deadlines, even as they compete with their colleagues to break stories or move up to the front page of their respective newspapers. Then, why should they read your pitch? They will read a press release if it is well-crafted, caters to the current interests of the reader and is brief. Remember the saying ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.

I wish our PR executives would write to the point and better so that they capture the essence of the content in a few, well-chosen words rather than in voluminous paragraphs that sorely tempt the recipient to press the delete button.

The way forward

Sadly, the PR industry does not train its young people as well as it ought to. So, the bright young people manage on their own initiative and ability while the rest just about get by. While maintaining relationships is important, it is difficult for youngsters to build a rapport with older, more experienced journalists. But there is a silver lining. The media will welcome you if you are an expert on your client and their vertical. It will love you if you can give the story a nice angle that is not only about the client but is also interesting for the reader.

Can you tap into a current trend? Can you provide information that the journalist might otherwise take hours to find? Can you help the journalist without asking for your pound of flesh? The challenge, therefore, is for PR companies to train people to think differently and innovatively, and write succinctly. Then we will have a breed of PR professionals who think brand, think media and think creatively.

When that happens I will call it a day!

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