ITL #563 - Screw AI: creative excellence is born in our analog world

2 months ago

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The best idea can come from the intern or the CEO. What matters is how these ideas are treated, evolved, and polished. By Paul Anthony Larmon.



In my experience navigating the public relations industry, I've come to realize that simply valuing creativity isn't enough to achieve it. Creativity is not a passive attribute that flourishes simply by having it in your credentials, as most firms do; it's a vibrant, demanding force that requires nurturing through direct action, cultivated client relationships and intentional organizational structuring, which are achieved operationally rather than individual creative talent. I believe everyone is creative by nature, anyways.

 

Where client relationships contribute to creative success

Let's start with what we all understand about our field, client relationships. The most innovative campaigns don’t emerge from strained, strictly contractual interactions that occur in a high-pressure, heavily KPI-ed dynamic. They almost entirely come from relationships where open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared vision were present. I've observed that when PR agencies and clients work from two camps rather than one, the creative spark is stifled, or eliminated altogether.

 

In contrast, partnerships where the client is involved early on, where there's dialogue rather than monologue (from either side!), lead to groundbreaking work. It's about reaching beyond the brief, engaging clients in the brainstorming process, and ensuring their insights contribute to the creative journey. Clients should be given what they want, before they are given what they “need”, which is often dictated (and often unsuccessfully) by the creative director or team.

 

There's immeasurable value in informal exchanges, casual conversations, and yes, sometimes even in sharing a drink or two with the client, to unearth the precious nuggets of creative opportunity that formal settings often bury. Of one thing I am sure: Creativity does NOT happen in a boardroom.

 

If creativity is yin, boredom is yang

Moving on to the second core of my premise: processes and resources. Creativity thrives in agencies where it's woven into the fabric of culture and not just a line item in a mission statement or a dusty award plaque on the wall. It's present in the day-to-day actions, decisions, and communications within the agency. From the physical layout of the office that promotes chance encounters and idea exchanges, to the systemic encouragement of cross-departmental collaboration, every element of the organization can work for and against creativity. When admin processes are simplified, it allows mental energy to be saved and invested elsewhere.

 

Hiring practices are, in my experience, one of the most overlooked opportunities for creative excellence. And I don’t mean hiring good people, I mean hiring DIFFERENT people. Ageism is a serious concern of mine for the future of our industry. Not every consumer is a Gen Z young professional with a bit of extra income. One of the biggest spending demographics are over 50 and/or retired dual income couples, yet I have not seen a single PR firm where this group is well represented (if represented at all) in ideation and strategy. When you miss perspectives, you can miss the mark completely – hence the widely appreciated value of having a PR practitioner in the room.

 

Diversity and inclusion, when stripped of political stigma, are inarguably the only way you can build a team that is better suited at addressing the wide variety of briefs, industries, audiences, challenges, and more that come through the front door of an agency who wants to be worth their salt. Age, income, race, gender, religion, background, size, shape, etc. – people often mistake “diversity” as being primarily about ethnicity.

 

So, I don’t need a creative team?

I don’t want to downplay the importance of a dedicated creative team. In the high-performing agencies I have worked with, the creative team was substantial, not a sidelined department that helps us cobble some Instagram posts together. The environment I have built myself is one where creativity is a process and not a person, where insights and research were the foundation and beginning of the process itself. An idea without insight is like a ship without a rudder—destined to float aimlessly without direction. A strategy that considers the people on the other side of the work is one of PR’s greatest strengths against pureplay creative, marketing and advertising shops.

 

The development of creativity within an agency is multifaceted. It's about nurturing an atmosphere where curiosity is rewarded, and knowledge is a currency that has somewhere it can be spent (by anyone). I've encouraged my teams to share interesting finds, to engage in sessions that stretch their thinking, and to look at past work, not as a catalogue of what's been done, but as a springboard to new ideas. We have hired journalists, artists, and MBAs to work alongside traditional PR professionals from 12 different nationalities, seven different faiths, and a range of ages and genders. It is this blend of perspective that I have witnessed spark true innovation – and some of our best work has been proposed by people in the business that were not on the creative team at all.

 

But what about recognizing and rewarding creativity? I've made it a point to celebrate creative success in all its forms, not just high-profile campaigns. I've seen the positive impact of acknowledging the junior executive who asked the right question that led to a small, yet important pivot that enabled a better story to be told. Such recognition fuels a culture where creativity is everyone's business, not just the remit of the 'creatives' who help bring it to life.

 

Collaboration (among the team and the clients) and diversity are the twin engines of creativity, bolstered by a process-driven environment that focuses mental energy. A truly collaborative environment means flattening hierarchies where necessary. The best idea can come from the intern or the CEO — it doesn't matter. What matters is how these ideas are treated, evolved, and polished by the team.

 

Parting words

In conclusion, a PR firm cannot simply value creativity; it must actively foster it through the way it approaches client relationships, organizes and integrates processes, commits its resources, and champions diversity alongside its culture. These are the ingredients of a truly creative organization, and they've been the cornerstone of my approach to public relations solutions for organizations.  The scaffolding of creativity is creating an ecosystem where every individual feels empowered to contribute to the creative discourse.

 

In the end, creativity is not just about what we do; it's about how we think, interact, and engage with each other and our clients. It's about building an environment where creativity is not just lip service or a line in a credentials document – but a way of organizing the business and meaningfully connecting the way its organized with its stated ethos.

 

The structure of an organization should reflect its dedication to creative innovation. Those with a higher creative index are typically ones that have embedded creativity into their walls and desks and processes — where roles are defined not just by titles but by a shared creative vision and process that anyone can understand and join.

 


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The Author

Paul Anthony Larmon

Paul Anthony Larmon, MD of ERA Communications. 2022 #3 in APAC on PRovoke’s Global Creativity Index; 2x APAC Creative PR Consultancy of the Year; 2x Global SABRE Winners 2018, 2021; 2022 - #1 ranked firm in APAC in total SABRE wins.

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