Creativity: The Magic Is In Your Head

22 03 2011

We’ve often heard entry-level or junior staffers in the PR or communications field ask: “Where did you get the idea for that program? I could never be that creative.”

Creativity is a by-product of hard work, as long-time columnist-commentator-curmudgeon Andy Rooney once said. He suggested that the best creative ideas are the result of the same slow, selective cognitive process that produces the sum of a column of figures.

So, perhaps, if you can add, you can be creative?

One way to describe creativity is the bringing together of two ideas that have never been connected in that way before. It’s doesn’t look so daunting under that definition. Even people who don’t think they are creative can do this, right?

The real key to success here, then, is to expose oneself to more ideas. The more ideas you expose yourself to, the more ideas you’ll be able to file away in your cranial database … and the more potential you’ll have to be able to marry two ideas in a new, useful way.

But just how do you do that? Here are my recommendations:

First, be a voracious consumer of news and information – from all kinds of media. Instead of reading the same newspaper every day, read different papers from different areas that offer different viewpoints. While driving in to the office, forego your cell phone, iPod or CD, and listen to a radio station you’ve never listened to before. Likewise, watch different TV channels, read different kinds of publications, and read books of all kinds – from staples like Shakespeare and The Bible to the latest non-fiction and novels. See different kinds of movies. Even take a different route to work when possible. Be curious, receptive and adventurous to seek out new places, new interests and new views.

Second, as the Japanese say, genchi genbutsu – go and see. Get out of the office and visit your client or customer, tour their plant or service center, talk with their customers, attend a trade show or a conference, and visit the editorial offices of a trade publication you deal with.

Third, ask a lot of questions. People in the PR and marcom business tend to spend too much time selling themselves and their companies, products and services, and not enough time listening. Seek to know and understand the trends and issues affecting your client and their customers/clients … and what’s important to them. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge and insight from their answers. That insight leads to ideas that lead to creativity. Bonus: The more questions you ask and the more you let others talk, the more people will comment about what a brilliant conversationalist you are!

Fourth, force yourself to be creative. You’re not going to be struck by a lightning bolt of creativity, so sitting around waiting for the strike isn’t going to be productive. You have to sit down and damn well decide to have an idea! You have to work at it.

Five, start crazy and then bring it back to Earth. When brainstorming, it’s good to start the session with an outrageous idea. For example, years ago, when brainstorming for client DuPont Automotive Products, a colleague suggested that the client host a “World Wrestling Federation Grudge Match under the Bexloy® Dome of Death,” an event idea that the client would never buy. But that outlandish idea helped to prime the pump, and ultimately sparked another idea that the client DID buy.

Plus, being a little outlandish – at least in the confines of your own cubicle or conference room – can be liberating and fun … and you will always do better work when you’re having fun

I’ve always been tempted to present a self-proclaimed uncreative staff person with a magician’s top hat and ask them to put the hat on. Then I would be able to say: “Now, you’re creative. You’ve got the magic in that hat … but only because your head is in the hat … and the magic is all in your head.”  

You CAN be creative. But first, you’ve got to convince yourself that you can.

PR Retainers Are Long Gone. Aren’t They?

3 03 2011

Client demands for accountability, stringent cost-cutting and pay-only-for-placement scenarios have killed traditional PR agency retainers, haven’t they?

Not really.  Surveys of independent PR firms continue to show that approximately one-half of clients are on some type of retainer. So why would a client agree to a retainer? The better question is: Why wouldn’t a client want a retainer agreement?

Here are seven ways the client can benefit from a retainer agreement:

  1. The retainer ensures that the client has access to a prescribed amount of work, intellectual attention and manpower capacity each month, and a consistent effort by a dedicated agency team.
  2. The retainer encourages both the client and the agency to invest in a mutual commitment, makes their work together a priority, and encourages a more stable and fruitful relationship. Less effort and time is spent on chasing partners, which enables more focus on accomplishing the client’s goals.
  3. The retainer sparks, supports and rewards long-term, strategic thinking by the agency. This kind of thinking typically doesn’t come in a project-by-project relationship, as few agencies will risk offering big ideas and opportunities without being compensated. (Remember: Free ideas are worth every cent they cost!)
  4. The retainer protects the client by eliminating any potential agency conflicts of interest. With a retainer, the client has the right to expect that the agency would not accept work from the client’s direct competitors. Project clients who haven’t made a long-term commitment, on the other hand, have little right to expect an agency to turn down other work.
  5. The retainer provides the client immediate access to the firms’ services, especially in case of emergencies and crises. Project clients in a jam are often at the agency’s mercy – in terms of both timing and cost.
  6. The retainer ultimately generates better results more cost-effectively, as it enables the agency to know and understand the client better — providing savings in time, effort and stress for both the client and the firm over the long haul. It also amortizes the start-up costs over a longer engagement for greater efficiencies, as compared to project-based activities which start and stop.
  7. The retainer helps to ensure agency stability and success, by providing a steadier and more predictable cash flow. Most clients want some assurance that the agency and a stable, talented team will be there next week or next month when they are needed. And often, the client’s financial folk  appreciate and prefer a steady, predictable spend of the PR budget.

There are a number of retainer arrangements.  One we often use is a hybrid retainer which sets a minimum monthly service fee (ensuring a predictable, consistent level of activity on the agency’s part) yet allows for additional work to be billed as over-hours to meet certain peaks in the client’s needs.

Whatever the form, the strength of the retainer derives from commitment, stability and predictability. And with an upfront agreement on mutual expectations, goals and housekeeping (what’s covered and what’s not, payment timing, etc.), downstream surprises and issues are avoided … and efforts are focused on the client’s goals rather than unneeded distractions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, working on a project basis can be a wise choice in some select situations. In fact, many of our long-term retainer clients of 10 – 15 years started out with projects – limited engagements with limited risks – and then grew into retainer relationships — like dating before getting married.

An introductory project can help the client and the agency determine if the chemistry is right for a potential long-term relationship. But ultimately, if you’re seeking steady, long-term results and a fulfilling relationship, rather than a disjointed series of sporadic hits, some type of retainer relationship is usually the best way to go.

 What has been your experience with PR retainers?


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