Are Indian PR professionals creative enough?

The Big Idea. If the word makes you want to break things and howl at the moon, welcome to the world of the Gen Y PR professional in India. They are facing increasing pressure to be more creative, see off competition as the strategic communications partner from social media experts and come up with “The Big Idea”  that would help not only push reputational equity but also translate into actual gains  -including sales- on the ground.

So what is this enigmatic quality of creativity that PR professionals are now increasingly expected to display? At the very core of it, it boils down the ability to tell compelling stories. But it’s also the ability to reinvent the story constantly.

As seasoned ad guru, Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Bang in the Middle, puts it, the experience of ad agencies with managing creativity suggest two main ways in which creativity can be brought in for PR; "One is the ability to create concepts and guide and sustain campaigns across time – without it coming through as created content. Two is the thinking that can explode the core area or issues to be addressed and drive wrap around communication across all media vehicles. Besides these directions, PR ideally needs to strengthen the craft of ensuring that the tone of each brand and company is maintained and constantly monitored. Much like we would do in advertising. Though this is a learning that comes with years of experience and exposure.”

PR professional and brand communications consultant Deepika Gumaste says, "Typically PR/communications business has been viewed as more of a media relations function rather than a ‘strategic brand building tool'. Another point that could be factored in is this whole obsession with the two words – ‘Big idea.’ As marketers and communications professionals, too often we forget that 'creativity' is subjective.”

Deepika adds that, "Creativity in our field involves creating new story themes, identifying new media channels and new audiences. Accepting the fact that creativity doesn’t necessarily have to be award winning and that it could mean striking a right chord with your target audiences, will automatically churn out new and innovative work from the community. On the client side, factors like budgets, attitudes to avoid the unknown, aversion to risk, the need to appear right and ‘be accepted’ plague the business and eventually lead to mediocre work.”

Sandeep Rao, Director of Corporate Communications and Sustainability Reporting at Wockhardt Foundation, agrees that PR is yet to break out of the media coverage mode to consistently go for the creative idea; "Creativity in our market is the forte of the guys in advertising. PR is seen as 'getting coverage in papers'. Maybe that explains the paucity of creative PR campaigns. Often, the client insists on what in PR lingo would be called 'clip-counting'. This means PR professionals are more worried about numbers for monthly reports, than creative thinking.”

Others feel that the criterion of what makes up creativity is still evolving. Says Tarunjeet Rattan, Managing Partner at Nucleus,A successful and creative PR campaign is very difficult to come by especially when the criteria for ‘success’ for a PR campaign is still evolving. I strongly feel that if one wants to break away from the regular pattern, both the client and the PR team should be willing to take the risk of doing something really ‘different’.”

Interesting PR campaigns

Flagging of some of the most interesting PR campaigns, Deepika says, "One of the recent brands doing well again is iXiGO. Apart from the regular media work, they have a quite interesting social presence. They keep engaging with their audiences with a series of contests, trivia and useful travel information. They also seem to be the early adopter of new technologies and understanding where today’s audience is. Other consumer brands like Lakme are doing the same. These brands are the one actually going beyond the "media relations" and incorporating the "integrated approach" very well. Starbucks also had some crazy PR action during their launch of outlets in India. Gillette’s “Shave or Crave” PR campaign is another memorable one. The most important aspect of all the campaigns, I mentioned above is that they have gone beyond the media relations and utilised multiple communications channel, truly showcasing the power of 360 degree approach."

Starbucks also gets a thumbs up from Tarunjeet, “The way the PR for the entire launch has been very carefully laid out to highlight various aspects of the brand and create a critical level of visibility. However what is really creative about it as it has still managed to retain the casual and cool attitude with spontaneous "planned" photo ops, stories and buzz on all the right platforms that reach out to their target audience."

Sandeep found liquor maker Johnny Walker’s PR campaign interesting; ”In Gurgaon pubs, in 2012, if a patron came out drunk and asked the valet for his car keys, he was handed a card with a cab service number on one side, and if the patron turned the card over, on the other side was:

Johnny Walker

Keep Walking

The campaign worked brilliantly, as initially it was met with heavy opposition by pub patrons across the NCR, but over a period of time, it earned a lot of goodwill for Johnny Walker.”

Nurturing Creativity

Fostering creativity in the middle of indifferent briefs, small budgets, uncertain rewards may seem difficult but Prathap believes that it’s something that is very possible; "A genuinely creative person doesn’t need external stimulation. He or she is wired differently and can create connections or ideas without being in vibrant surroundings. Some of the biggest ideas happen early in the morning on the pot. Quiet tranquil china, so to say.”

Prathap adds, "I actually hate it when people sort of lean on the crutches of pretence to gain a creative halo. The attitude, the demeanour, the arrogance, the ponytails, the substances, and so many more clichés. The more inherently creative people have very little artificiality around them. The big idea usually isn’t something that comes by very often. It is a tough one. Even for the best in the business.”

Finally while the organisation does matter, today’s Gen Y PR professional in India is well positioned to drive creativity in the PR business.