Creativity / PR

Why are PR agencies pooh-poohing creativity?

The ever excellent Holmes Report website has just published its latest survey into ‘Creativity in PR’. It makes for fairly dismal reading.

This year’s survey was published under the headline: “Despite the obvious importance of creativity in PR, firms continue to underwhelm when clients actually rate their creative capabilities.”

That’s bad.

But it gets worse. Last year’s survey was published under the headline: “More than half of all respondents describe the quality of creativity within the PR industry as ‘ordinary’ or worse.”

So 12 months on and nothing has improved.

Agency Creativity Ranking


 True, when it comes to creativity, PR comes out ahead of both media and experiential agencies, but let’s face it – that’s not really much to shout about.

And when it comes to ‘Big Ideas’, PR agencies are really letting their clients down.


So why are PR agencies failing to deliver the goods?

I think the main reason is historical. Up until a few years ago, PR creativity revolved around one-off stunts (unfortunately it still does for a lot of agencies).

These were simple headline grabbers that usually involved setting up a single key photograph that the agency hoped to see in print the next day.

The trouble is, that’s easy to do (you don’t have to be a PR agency to set one of them up), but more importantly these days consumers demand a bit more than that. They want to be engaged, entertained, informed – they want ideas with a bit of depth.

And clients obviously agree. Asked by the Holmes Report “Which are the most important areas in which your PR firms need to improve their creative quality?”

A staggering 61% replied “Integrated ideas”.

Clients want joined-up creative thinking that works across a variety of media – that’s ideas with ‘creative stretch’. PR agencies are simply failing to deliver.

Why is that?

The reasons I’ve been offered include that too many senior people have never worked outside of PR and as such don’t appreciate the value of creativity; and the other being that they are simply not willing to invest in good creative people. It’s viewed as a ‘cost’.

Obviously it’s not all doom and gloom. A few agencies are excelling, and there’s some brilliant work that’s getting talked about. But given the size of the industry, there’s nowhere near enough.

If the Holmes Report’s ‘Creativity in PR Survey’ is the PR industry’s school report card, then teacher’s comments have gone from last year’s ‘could try harder’, to this year’s ‘must do better’.

Maybe it’s time for six-of-the-best…

2 thoughts on “Why are PR agencies pooh-poohing creativity?

  1. Enjoyed this. IMHO in our industry, one of the biggest challenges is carving out quality time to think and come up with big ideas. Compared to creative agencies, our ‘stewing’ time is insanely short.

    I interviewed a bunch of junior creatives in the ad world just recently and one thing that jumped out at me was their answer to how they come up with ideas. They had a wealth of different answers, seriously – bike rides, cooking, people watching, photography, travel, shower, listening to music, art exhibition, wandering round Central London… the list goes on …

    When was the last time a PR person could honestly say they came up with a big idea outside of a meeting room with a flip chart or whiteboard? Deadline pressures and constant account juggling mean we can’t just bugger off to Trafalgar Sq and watch the world go by. I’m lucky if I have time for a shower!

    This, in my view, is a big part of the creative dearth. There’s no easy fix either. The problem runs deep into the industry’s essence.

    Still, if you’ll forgive the boast, my PR agency has won 4 Cannes Lions, so all clearly not lost ..


    • Hi Joe, you are correct in that most PR agencies view ‘the creative stuff’ as being at best not that important, and at worst a necessary evil. That’s why ideas for clients are the outcome of a two-hour ‘brainstorming’ session. If ad agencies acted like that they’d be out of business in a week. PR agencies need to realise that ‘creativity’ is one of the very few things they still have to sell. Social and SEO have eroded their business model. Why they continue to attach so little value to it astounds me.

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