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Creative State of the PR Nation – 5 Years of The Creativity in PR Study

by | Oct 19, 2017

Back in 2012 Now Go Create and The Holmes Report set out to explore creativity in PR.

We wanted to know how the public relations industry was approaching creativity and whether the industry was set fair to tackle client demands and needs in a fast-changing environment.

Our findings since that first year have shown a significant gap between rhetoric and reality, between an industry that often talks about creativity, but has found it more difficult to ensure that it is paying more than lip service to the notion.

We started the study in 2012. I had left agency life after 20 years and after studying for my MSc in creativity, innovation and leadership was interested to try and initiate some research into creativity in PR industry, it’s practices, the attitude and confidence of practitioners. I teamed up with the Holmes Report to co-author the study, now in its 6th year.

Last week I presented a summary of the findings to academics at the Euprera 2017 Congress. The slides are available below.

Creativity is notoriously tricky to define. I’m so obsessed about this topic that I devoted a whole chapter to it in my book. When defining creativity in PR, what we’re really trying to define is how we measure the ideas we produce and implement for clients and stakeholders and the influence they have on business objectives. 2 years ago we attempted to flesh what we mean by creativity in PR.

It is:

  • The ability to outthink the competition, rather than outspend them (earn it)
  • How novelty or ‘new’ the idea is
  • The emotion that the work evokes (versus purely rational messaging)
  • The influence and impact (recommendation, media coverage, fame) delivered by the creative work
  • The value of that influence and impact (profit, behaviour change, enhanced reputation)
  • Creativity in PR is context-dependent

I wrote an article for Contagious magazine on this topic too.

Headlines by year

Is the PR industry creative enough? This was the question that we set out to answer through the first study in 2012.

The results followed a PR-battering at Cannes Lions with 61% of all respondents agreed that criticism from judges at that year’s Festival was fair and that the PR industry was not delivering creative ideas. There was a sense of a slightly browbeaten industry suffering from a crisis of confidence.

It was clear then (and remains so) that in-house teams face different creative challenges from agencies – often small teams, repetitive problems, corporate risk-aversion, and multiple internal stakeholders to sell ideas to.

We noticed a simmering frustration running through the survey responses – along the lines of ‘we’re as good as any other part of the marketing mix – why are we not recognized for our creative chops?’

2013’s headlines revealed that creativity was becoming an increasingly critical element in how businesses perceive PR value.

In-house respondents were asked how important creativity was to their decisions to hire and retain an agency. The results showed the premium that businesses were placing on creativity in PR, with more than three-quarters (79%) rating it as 8 or higher out of 10, compared to two-thirds in 2012.

Almost half (47%) scored it as 9 or more, while more than one in five (22%) gave it full marks for importance, both significant increases on the 2012 results. The findings belied the notion that creativity in PR is a luxury. Instead they demonstrated, the indelible importance attached to creativity by in-house marketers and communications as a genuine business priority.

In 2014 our headlines were that creativity in PR was on the rise despite client concerns.

49% of respondents said that the quality of creativity in PR campaigns had improved over the past year, a significant increase on the previous year, when 61% disagreed with this contention.

72% said they had a creative process in their business, another improvement on 2013.

Creative Director hires were up by 10% since 2012 to 42%.

We did a serious of deep dive interviews with creative leaders in 2014   who called for a new business model to help future proof the PR industry.

In 2015 our key findings reflected the industry embracing its creative role as client demands rise.

  • 63% of agencies think the quality of creativity in PR campaigns has improved over the past year, compared to 49% in 2014
  • 56% of clients agree
  • 40% of in-house respondents rate creativity as ‘fundamental’ to their decision to hire and retain an agency, up 21% on 2014
  • 70% of all respondents say clients are demanding greater levels of creativity from their agency

Clients continue to rate creative quality at a lower level than their agency brethren. Just 38% describe it as inspirational or good, with more than 60% seeing it as ordinary or worse.

In 2016 we asked a new question about what is stopping PR firms from taking on lead creative duties?

  • 48% of agency respondents said PR agency has been designated as lead creative agency
  • 21% said it had been considered
  • 74% of clients would consider PR agency for this role

Significantly, both agencies and clients point to in-house structures being the key stumbling block. After in house structures both sides rank PR agency creative and strategic quality second and third, respectively, suggesting that agencies cannot get off the hook that easily.

A full commentary of my keynote appeared on The Holmes Report’s website here.

The 2017 study is still out in the field and we’d love your opinions before it closes next week. Take part here and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see in the report that you think it missing!




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