It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to creativity, most PR agencies can’t see beyond the photo op. A classic case in point is PR agency Taylor Herring’s work for the launch of new TV channel ‘Drama’. To promote the new channel the agency picked an iconic image from one of the channel’s flagship shows: Mr Darcy soaking wet from the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Darcy statue.
I give the agency A+ for the idea, and A+ for the execution – it took a team of three sculptors more than two months to design, construct and paint it.
However in terms of implementation I’d give it a C-. And that’s only because I’m feeling generous. Let me explain.
They went to a lot of effort: selling it to the client; getting the go-ahead from the Royal Parks Authority; and the sheer difficulty and expense of getting the thing made. They then stuck it in the Serpentine, invited a few press photographers round, snap snap and hey presto, job done. Finito.
Where, I was wondering, do the viewing public fit into all of this? Apparently nowhere it seems. Because as far as the agency is concerned, getting a photograph and a plug in the next day’s newspaper is all that is required of them. After all, isn’t that what PRs do?
So you have poor Mr Darcy sitting in the Serpentine attracting algae and pigeon poo. And not much else.
Why has no effort been made to engage with the public?
The agency seems to have adopted a “Build it and they will come…” approach. Sure, some people will trundle along, iPhone camera at the ready. But nothing compared to the numbers they could have attracted if they had really got under the skin of the project, as opposed to merely scratching its creative surface.
They could have easily set up a Bluetooth point at the Serpentine to enhance the visitor experience. People could access film clips, background notes on Jane Austin, channel listings…
And what about that most basic of PR tools – a competition. Win a leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice, signed by Colin Firth. Or a trip to Chawton, the home of the Jane Austen Museum. And since Pride and Prejudice is a love story, why not ask couples to upload photos of themselves at the Serpentine, along with the story of how they met. Best one wins a romantic break in the English countryside.
Oh, and it also happens to be the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication – you might think there would be something in that one? Tweet a message to your followers using the hashtag #UKTVdarcy and we’ll select 200 winners to a one-off outdoor performance of Pride and Prejudice with a champagne reception. You get the idea.
There are so many channels and tools, some of them very simple and cheap, that they could have used to entice people down to the Serpentine, give them a bit of added value and get them to pass the message on to their friends. Connect, entertain and engage. (I couldn’t even find anything on Twitter about this.)
So why are PR agencies still falling short when it comes to creativity? They recognise there is a creative deficit within the industry; it is very much highlighted in a 2012 Report – Creativity in PR. However it’s not all doom and gloom. This year’s Cannes Lions has shown that there is a lot of very creative (and effective) work coming out of the UK. But if this is to become the norm as opposed to the exception, then an awful lot of PR agencies are going to have to start doing things differently.
In the short term the industry has to start recruiting experienced creative people from outside the traditional PR milieu (that’ll ruffle a few feathers). And in the medium term the industry has to reposition itself in the eyes of clients; convincing them that you are every bit as creative as their advertising agency is. Granted, that won’t be easy. But then as Jane Austen once wrote: “What is right to be done cannot be done too soon.”
I most definitely couldn’t have put it better myself.