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25 October 2014

Where are the Creative Directors in PR?

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by Amanda Fone

Where are the Creative Directors for PR and for our mashed-up, channel-neutral Marcoms world?

As the lines blur, PR agencies are improving their creative offering in order to do more for their clients. The prize of “earned” media is associated with strong creative work and with the move to a blended offering comes the need for PR agencies to include specialists with specific skills, including creative. Everything starts and finishes with the big creative idea. Last year PR Week estimated a third of PR agencies currently have a dedicated person responsible for creativity and this is on the rise continually.

But where and how do PR agencies find their creative directors and once they have found them how do they position them within their current structure? There is no blueprint being followed by everyone. For example one agency we worked with hired a Creative Director then took on specialists in design, copy writing, etc to build a team. Others want Creative Directors that oversee other creatives. Others combine creative with content. Or describe the need to fire up, drive and monitor the creative output of the entire agency and even multiple agencies inside a global network. But what unites them all is that they want the very best creative talent in the marketing agency sector and that can be a challenge.

Paul Melody, ex Chief Creative Officer at Freud Communications, suggests that the industry has a wealth of creative talent that can deliver executional or tactical initiatives but that what creative directors currently lack is the ability to get the creative concept – the big brand idea that will really capture people’s imagination. He cites Walkers ‘do us a flavour’ as an example. “Here the creative concept was the essence of the brand being about flavour – everyone had an opinion on what their favourite flavour was. It’s the prize for all agencies – strategically right for the brand, creatively exciting and full of possibilities – and all agencies can run with the idea in execution.”

Paul says the best creative director of a PR agency will look beyond his or her discipline and seek the perfect brand idea first and then think about what will make it PR-able. “I would almost argue that if you get the first bit right the execution will inevitably follow (or certainly it is easier). It is that ability to abandon discipline-centric thinking and go beyond that creates most of the challenges for PR agencies.”

The PR industry would prefer home-grown creative talent that understands all communications channels to consumers but that also knows what makes a creative idea “PR-able”, what will generate irresistible hooks for the media and create a frenzy of activity online. In my view, the best Creative Directors are not necessarily sitting in PR agencies at the moment. Despite it being more urgent and versatile, PR is often seen as being “beneath” traditional above the line Creative Directors. We meet many talented Creative Directors from a production background, mainly broadcast, for example, where they are used to working with content in whatever form or length. They are used to working on smaller budgets to much tighter time frames. But these Creative Directors need knowledge of working in an integrated marcomms environment, too.

Because it’s a relatively new discipline the pipeline of really exceptional creative talent in PR is woefully small and if we’re to continue to produce the best work in communications this needs to change. It’s a conversation I’m having with many agency heads now and we’re making plans to speak to creative advertising course under graduates to educate them about the alternatives to being a traditional creative in the paid-for agencies.

The world of the Creative Director is being completely disrupted at the moment. It can’t be the case that the PR industry doesn’t have the right creative talent. But it may be that smart thinkers look beyond the pure communications world to find it.

Amanda@f1recruitment.com