For her book, In Your Creative Element, the Amazon bestseller about creativity in business Now Go Create Founder Claire interviewed creative leaders from organisations including the NHS, the United Nations, Twitter, Punchdrunk and Paddy Power as well as some of the world’s most successful creative agencies.
This extract features an interview with Gerry Hopkinson, Unity’s Co-Founder (awarded most Creative PR Agency in the World in 2016 in one Global Creative Index). Here they discuss Unity’s take on the PR industry and the values that underpin their business.
Claire: What values do you think support creativity, and how did that inform your philosophy at Unity?
Gerry: “I grew up on the West coast of Canada during a very free time in the 70’s and I also went to a free school – which gave me the opportunity to think about thinking and find out about the world for myself. You could argue that it was a bad education because I didn’t come out looking like everyone else; but what I did know was how to find out about what I didn’t know.
My co-founder Nik Govier and I are both very interested in that sort of ‘a priori’ approach, in that constant thing that kids do of asking “why?”. Why does it have to be this way, why is it like this, what are we trying to do?
That allowed us to make some mental shifts straight away and to do the thing that – for example – Marcel Duchamp did with art and Ferran Adria did with food. Adria asked himself “What if restaurants didn’t exist? But if I wanted there to be restaurants, what would they be like?” This stuck with me.
It’s about not being afraid to say: “Let’s chuck out everything”.
So when we were discussing PR and setting up Unity, we reduced and we chucked out everything we didn’t like. We chucked out publicity, we chucked out spin, we chucked out cheesiness, we chucked out short-termism and we took just two words: public relations.
We realised that what we were doing was simply making people feel better about themselves; we became obsessed by Maslow and we still are to some extent.
We didn’t start by asking: “How do I get this person to do what I want?” – or “How do I get the mouse to run through the Skinner maze?”
We started with Karl Rodgers and Maslow and Rollo May and instead thought: “How can I make this mouse happier? How can I meet this mouse’s needs? What in fact does this mouse need?” That’s what we’re interested in. That’s when we started seeing everything, every brief that comes in through that filter – of increasing human happiness. That was the first principle and if that didn’t make sense to a client then we didn’t win the business. And if it did make sense we went quite a long way.”
Claire: How did these principles drive your personal, and company, purpose and values?
“We had two principles at heart, two really basic principles which led to some values. One principle was increasing human happiness. The second principle was strength in diversity. These two principles set a really strong ethos for the business, a real ethos of camaraderie and community because it said everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted and everyone is equal.
This desire for diversity was really where Unity started from, because Nik and I see the world very differently. Nik is very much focused on the here and now, the present. She’s very good at ‘sniffing the wind’; she’s very good at persuading people and in helping to sell ideas and in shaping those ideas in a way that makes them palatable to people and connect with what they want. She’s got that human responsiveness off the chart.
I have it but I’m quite different in that I’m much more about what Plato called the ‘real world of ideas’. I’m much more interested in “Why does something have to be this way? Why couldn’t it be that way?” I’m more of a conceptual thinker deep down and I’m quite happy noodling away on my own in the dark for a while until we get somewhere.
We knew that our diversity was also our strength, so we decided to build a really diverse team and just see where that got us. Made of people who see the world very differently to us but are still interested in human behaviour.
For example, we thought about relating to people and understanding human beings, and about how psychologists are pretty good at that – so we decided to get a social psychologist into the business.
We trusted our instincts and we explored new ways of working. We did the opposite of what maybe you should, what you’re supposed to do, when you start a new business and your families are depending on you and you’re sitting working in your back garden.
We went big – because we said to ourselves that if we’re going to do this, we want to also be able to say to ourselves that this is worth it.
And we didn’t mean just making shed loads of money. What was worth it was doing something of which we felt proud. To genuinely contribute, not to public relations but to society. We wanted to contribute to the way brands and human being interact; we wanted to make it a better relationship. Brands aren’t going away and if they can do better things and increase happiness, that’s worth it.
I think there’s something really big going on culturally in the way that brands talk to people and there’s a new generation of brands that are learning how to do it in a much more human way. They’re really figuring out how to have a human voice and that fits much more naturally with the heritage, skills and attitude of public relations than it does with advertising. That’s where the opportunity for us lies and we were just super lucky that we got in early on it.”
This extract from In Your Creative Element by Claire Bridges is ©2017 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. Order your copy here https://www.koganpage.com/product/in-your-creative-element-9780749477325