Creativity is Ultimately Determined by our Ability to Secure Client Approvals;
Why Don’t PR Agencies Dedicate More Energies to the Same?
Given how vital client sign off is for any campaign or idea to see the light of day, it’s surprising that so little energy and intellect is dedicated to the process. I can attest to the fact that the PR sector doesn’t suffer from a dearth of creative or unconventional ideas; re-telling a repeated story in compelling way – without an advertising budget, or the support of a celebrity chef/ sports star/ half cousin/ Big Brother contestant (select, on a sliding scale according to budget!) – requires creativity on a daily basis.
However, if agencies dedicated just a small proportion of their creative energies towards securing client approvals – especially for that ‘Big Idea’ – we would fill, not merely Cannes, but the entire Cote d’Azur with trophies! The psychology of PR (compared to advertising, for instance) probably explains it… We are naturally discrete, ‘behind-the-scenes’ people, probably more submissive than our advertising cousins; publicly presenting/ defending a ‘Big Idea’ is typically beyond most of our comfort zones. The very zone in which advertising firms thrive, to the point of intimidating clients into submission with a combination of Big Creative Directors, Big Research, Big Budgets and – now – Big Data.
I’m certainly not suggesting that PR agencies replicate this approach; the ad guys do this in their sleep… However, I believe that we need to get better at positioning and selling our ideas in a manner that reflects our discipline, earned. I call it ‘discreet selling’, or the ‘Noble Art of Polite Persistence’.
1. Be collaborative with other people’s ideas. Teams and individuals who embrace and implement other people’s ‘creativity’ are far more likely to be given consideration with respect to their own ideas. In addition to establishing trust, getting the most out of someone else’s idea is an essential part of being creative.
2. Start small – think ‘free’ – to cross the creative threshold in a low risk way. What can we offer the client in a non-incremental way (alternative pitch strategy, low cost video/ infographic, unconventional media targets, different location for an exclusive…). This will help remove a typical barrier to creativity.
3. Own one space first… then scale. Start with a regional angle, or trade media, or vacation campaign (i.e. when everyone else is on holiday); prove the concept, and your creative credentials here first. There will be far less conflict and you’ll have an opportunity to express yourself.
4. Be persistent but not obsessive. If one idea isn’t going to fly, don’t stop there, keep ideating, proposing, persuading… set a target of a creative/ alternative idea every week/ month/ quarter and keep persisting. No idea is ever wasted (see below).
5. To paraphrase the US Green Berets ‘No Idea Gets Left Behind’; if your concept isn’t going to work with one client, save it, use it in another market, another sector, another country… for a new business pitch. Just because it’s not been implemented first time, no idea should ever be abandoned.
6. Apply logic; data points, examples, anecdotes etc. – be ready to defend your thinking with evidence. What are the competition doing, what is happening abroad, can we draw examples from other sectors, other client experiences? Build your case meticulously.
7. Create urgency; why implement now? Just as, when pitching stories, we link with the news of the day to create relevance and urgency, wrap your ideas in the same logic. Why now – seasonality, competitive threat, current trends, pricing, availability of resources (venues, infrastructure, etc.)? Importantly, what are the risks of not approving?
8. Show passion… care, believe in your idea; clients love it and respond to it.
9. Use clients’ vernacular; an old faithful trick, especially for marketing audiences. If they care about ‘paradigm shifts’ and ‘end-to-end’ solutions, then reference them while presenting. The more keywords you include, the more you frame your idea in their terms of reference, the more chance you’ll have of securing approvals.
10. Finally, particularly for the ‘Big Idea’, do your homework, secure approvals individually before you enter the room; then, let the clients ‘sell’ to each other. It’s an exhilarating experience!
These are a few of my learnings, I’m sure you’ll have your own. Presenting and securing approvals is a fundamental part of the creative process; and one which is too often ignored or left to chance by the PR sector.
This form of ‘Polite Persistence’ won’t guarantee instant approvals from your clients, but they will make it harder for them to refuse; and that’s a great start!