TOP Talk

Flexing Your Right Brain: The Expanded Role of Creativity in Public Relations

Posted October 19, 2016 By Kathy Wilson

Topics: Video, Content, Graphics


“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”

Leo Burnett

While creativity has always played a role in a successful public relations program, organizations typically turned to the ad guy or the marketing department for the really big, outrageous idea that would put their brand on the map. No more.

Today, the lines between advertising and public relations have blurred. Clients look to their PR teams not only for effective media relations and reputation management strategies, but for brand-building initiatives that go well beyond the printed word. For a PR program to help a company break through the clutter and lend tangible value, it must now encompass a myriad of visual storytelling vehicles, leverage internal as well as external audiences to help spark influence, and include a healthy mix of the unexpected and unconventional. This is as true of business-to-business PR programs as it is for business-to-consumer campaigns.

In fact, The Holmes Report, a long-respected public relations industry source on news and analysis, now releases an annual “Creativity in PR” study that examines how creativity continues to transform the public relations industry. A successful creative public relations campaign is just as likely to submit for a Cannes Lions award (once the exclusive purview of the advertising community) today as it is for top honors from PR Week magazine.

So what does this mean for our industry and how we approach our craft? Here are a few thoughts:

Give Your Teams Permission to Think Differently

Lots of companies and PR agencies pay lip service to creativity, but they don’t demonstrate the courage that’s necessary to build and embrace the supporting culture. What that means is giving your people permission to dream big and try out new ideas without needing overwhelming proof that they’ll work — and being okay if they don’t. Sure you’ll want some confidence that any investment in a big idea will deliver ROI in the long run. But creativity doesn’t always have to come with a high price tag. And the beauty of PR these days is that campaign value can usually be measured quickly, giving you freedom to adjust on the fly.

Creativity Isn’t Just the Big Idea

Our industry needs to acknowledge that every program element — from the overall strategy to media relations to a speaking program — must be approached from a creative angle. Cookie-cutter program strategies are a thing of the past. An effective PR program takes into consideration a company’s value proposition, its specific business objectives, the competitive landscape, and the various angles and mediums in which a company’s story might be told. The PR team can then creatively ID the best opportunities for market disruption.  

We Need More than English & Journalism Majors

The PR industry thrived for years thanks to the talents of humanities majors who were strong written and verbal communicators. We still need our English majors, but in today’s shorter attention span/visually oriented world, it’s time to add different skill sets to our teams and introduce people who bring new sensibilities to the profession. Ad agencies or digital shops have often acquired public relations firms to offer that capability in-house. But more recently we’re seeing PR firms buy ad shops to not only leverage paid media strategies, but boost their level of creative thinking and capacity to bring it to life in the form of new mediums. Agencies today need a mix of news, thought-leader, social media, broadcast and design specialists to exercise modern creative programming.

Take a Cue from Improv’s Golden Rule

Flipping through Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” recently reminded me of improv’s golden rule: “Yes, AND.”  A great improv comedy team starts with a germ of an idea that can morph into sheer genius thanks to the contributions of the group at every stage. It’s everyone’s responsibility to add to the creative iterating process, not stop it short. Critical thinking certainly needs to be part of the mix. But creativity takes a village of curious thinkers willing to take a concept and turn it upside-down and sideways to make it workable and better.

For a little creative inspiration, check out these inspired PR campaigns:

GE’s Internet Connected Volcano

As part of its repositioning push as a modern “digital-industrial” company, General Electric has implemented a number of creative campaigns. We love their latest push around an internet-connected volcano to help the residents of Nicaragua predict when a volcano in that country could erupt. It’s a fantastic initiative that shows off GE’s technology chops while providing what could literally be a lifesaving service to the local population.

mountain .gif

Airbnb’s Crash Pad

I also adored Airbnb’s 2015 campaign in which they turned an Alpine ski gondola into a “crash pad” for an evening. This was an incredible way to highlight the global breadth of Airbnb’s offerings – including the fact the company offers properties that go well beyond the same-old.


American Greeting’s World’s Toughest Job Interview

Lastly, American Greetings got gallons of great ink in both traditional and social media for its “World’s Toughest Job Interview” campaign to mark Mother’s Day. The greeting card company advertised for the “world’s toughest job” and held video conference interviews with candidates capturing their reactions when they realized the job for which they had applied was being a mother. (video embedded below)



These are just a few of the creative, exciting and inspirational campaigns the PR industry is implementing. So next time you’re looking for a big idea to help your company meet a key business objective, invite your PR team to share their thoughts. Big ideas are no longer just the exclusive territory of ad agencies.

Image Credit:
  • Volcano GIF: GE
  • Alpine Ski Lodge: AdWeek
Kathy Wilson

About Kathy Wilson

Identifying and showcasing the unique and authentic elements of a company’s story – those “aha!” storylines that set a great company apart from the merely good ones. Then developing a strategy that leverages a variety of storytelling channels, whether it’s traditional media, social campaigns or visuals, to bring that company’s value proposition to life. 20+ year PR veteran.