PR & Creativity: Nurture It Now, Or We All Go Under

By on Tuesday, February 10, 2015

U.S. News & World Report recently named public relations specialist as the best creative job in the United States, with PR beating out architecture and advertising direction for the top spot. It’s great to be number one, but is public relations the best creative job?

U.S. News also noted that PR carries an above average stress load, but emphasized the variety of work done by PR specialists. It also emphasized that the field is dynamically changing with the media environment, evidenced by the rise of social media as an important part of PR work alongside writing, cultivating media relationships and messaging.

But how do you keep your creative edge if you have been in the business of doing PR for several years? And how do you do it if you are working at an organization that may not have a lot of money to support extensive professional development? Here are some ideas to help:

Embrace creativity and seek to be inspired. Many people would argue that creativity is an inherent part of the PR process. If you need a better grounding in the creative process and how it works within public relations, try reading a book like Creativity in Public Relations (PR in Practice).

Connect with a community of people who care about creativity. Even if you don’t have the big bucks to fund a trip out of town for professional development, you can find other ways to nurture your creativity. Read books, meet with other public relations professionals in your community or virtually for coffee to talk shop (and talk specifically about creativity), or just set up your own Twitter feed that follows people you find inspiring.

Embrace change – it keeps you creative. When I started in PR, we used to fax out press releases. I can still remember standing at the fax machine, cranking out news releases with PSAs to help people after a hurricane, or advisories promoting a 4-H youth event.  I was an early adopter of email pitching to journalists and I think you have to recognize that in this business you must embrace change and be willing to learn. If I was still faxing out press releases today, I would be considered an extremely extinct PR dinosaur.

Even though PR has been declared a creative profession, some recent research raises serious concerns about how the organizations and clients we assist view our creativity. Public relations professionals would do well to heed these warning signs.

In its fascinating 2014 study on creativity in PR, the Holmes Report and Now Go Create found that  nearly half of the 600 respondents (49%) surveyed felt that the quality of creativity in PR campaigns had improved over the past year.

While the researchers found some glimmering nuggets of hope in how PR agencies are embracing creativity, compared with research in previous years, they also found concerning information about how clients view their PR firms and their creativity. Client feedback or risk aversion was the number #1 killer of creativity, eclipsing even lack of budget or time. Only 18% of clients surveyed were consistently happy with their PR agency’s creativity (a number that remained unchanged from the previous year). Half are sporadically satisfied with their agency’s creativity, and more than a quarter (29%), believe creativity is a constant challenge for their firm. Nearly one third (32%) of clients are not happy with their firm’s creative capabilities.

And what is even more scary, is that in an age where content creation and marketing are becoming increasingly important parts of PR strategy, nearly 60% of clients felt that their PR agencies need to improve their creativity in content creation and marketing. Nearly half (48.2%) were concerned about creative quality and storytelling. You can see some of their thoughts on where PR firms need to improve creative quality below.

ScreenHunter_1058 Feb. 10 18.25

Only 41% of clients surveyed describe the PR industry’s creative quality as inspirational or good, while almost 60% see it as ordinary or worse. While the authors compare the results with prior years and that seems to moderate some of their opinions, these results should be jarring and deeply concerning to public relations professionals.

As a profession, public relations needs to care about creativity. Not only for our own well-being as communicators, but also because if we do not deliver creative strategies and ideas for the organizations and clients we serve, we will be replaced by others (in advertising, marketing, digital engagement) who will. Our work is integral because it can encompass many moving parts, and nurturing creativity should become a priority. Join me on the journey to a more creative 2015 this year, as I tweet articles and tips and post blog articles about creativity.

Talk to Us: Do you have a tip to share? How do you stay creative in your work? Got any links to suggest?

 Featured image courtesy of Niuton May (licensed under Creative Commons and available here). Holmes Report image can be found here.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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