We in the advermarketPRdigicomms industry are infatuated with ‘creativity’. We think about it endlessly. We talk about it non-stop. The whole thing’s borderline fetishistic. And, after all, why not? The opportunity to earn a reasonable wage making fun and interesting stuff is probably why most of us chose this career in the first place. It’s an antidote to the wearying cynicism and unending bullshittery that comes with the job. There are few finer feelings than a high-pitched gasp leaving your mouth as your eyes widen and you find yourself excitedly exclaiming “guys, I’ve just had a reeeeeeeally good idea”.
Yet I worry we forget to think what creativity actually means. That we’ve become trapped in the never-ending purgatory of buzzword bingo, repeating the same words until endlessly until they become meaningless. Using them over-and-over until we’ve entered a delirious state of mass semantic satiation. Creativity. Content. Thought leadership. Brand storytelling. Publishing. Violin. Jersey. Tartlets. Jimminy jillikers.
PR land has, in particular, always seemed worried it is wasn’t quite creative enough. That it could hang out with the in-crowd, hover on the periphery and laugh at all the right jokes. But would then go home and sulkily berate itself because it wasn’t the coolest of all the cool kids.
We in PR seem to think we don’t have enough good ideas. We look over at the advertising industry, see their mammoth budgets and truckloads of Lions, and wonder where we got left behind. But you know what? I think we’re too hard on ourselves. We have loads of good ideas. I hear PR people come up with great ideas every day. Like, great ideas. Multi-million-pound-award-bulldozing ideas. Pop culture defining John-Lewis-Christmas-Budweiser-lizard-Apple-1984-Super-Bowl level ideas.
I’ve heard advertising people come up with some absolutely stinking ideas. Embarrassing ideas. Ideas that are simply just really, really dumb. I’ve also seen them come up with some absolute belters. But they’re not a different species from us. There’s nothing that makes their thoughts inherently clever than ours. They’re not in possession of some magic creative secret sauce.
Ideas are the easy bit. Honestly guys, we’ve got this one sorted. We have loads of the damned things. But if there’s one way we are letting ourselves down, it’s in a real attention to craft. That’s the hard bit, but it’s the bit that really matters. It’s the difference between “a kid who gets expelled from school” and Catcher In The Rye. “Let’s make a scary movie about a shark” and Jaws. Yet, quite simply, we don’t care enough about it.
We work on photoshoots every day. Why do we never talk about composition? We all make videos, but how many of can speak the language of cinematography? We endlessly talk about ‘storytelling’, but how many have even heard of Joseph Campbell?
We talk about creativity because we want to make things. But we still don’t know how to make things that are any good. ‘Content’ is landfill. We should at least aspire to making art. We’ll undoubtedly fail, but at least we’ll fail at making nicer things.
PRs are expected to handle clients, call journalists, write press releases, manage budgets and answer literally hundreds of emails a day. At the same time, we tell ourselves we should be experts in photography, filming, writing and performance. We expect ourselves to combine every conceivable creative skill in a way that no one in the actual artistic community has or ever can do. We expect nothing less than Leonardo Da Vinci with a Blackberry. It’s no wonder we fall short.
I don’t know how we solve this. Remodelling the industry to incorporate these skills is going to be hard work and take a very long time. Perhaps we start by borrowing a trick from adland and specialising more? Maybe we start building stronger partnerships with the artistic community and try letting them tell us what to do for a change? Either way, hiding behind buzzwords achieves nothing. If we want to make things that people really care about it, then we’re going to have to start caring a lot more about how we make them ourselves. We could start by talking about it in language that actually means something.Alex Wilson is a Digital Planner at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Follow him on Twitter at @adjwilson.