Is Creativity Worth the Gamble?

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I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes we need to get creative in the world of PR—how can I get this person to email me back; how can I get this person to see that my idea is the best; how can I make this company look a little bit less boring. It can be tough, and in some situations creativity is absolutely the key to success. However, PR professionals are often in charge of creating press releases, helping with interviews, and creating campaigns for the eyes and the ears of the public. In other words, PR departments have the entire public analyzing their work. This led me to wonder: Can being too creative be too risky?

Most would agree that only big risks yield big rewards, and in most cases, this is true. However the same can be said for the flip side—big risks can cause big mistakes. When I say “take a risk in PR” I am talking about doing something that could have a potentially negative outcome (even if the intention was positive). For example:

  • The New Coke—It seemed like a way to take the attention off of Pepsi, but no one knew whether or not this new coke was actually the old coke or if the new coke was taking the place of the old coke.
  • Kentucky Grilled Chicken—This company obviously wanted to jump on the healthy food bandwagon, but changing the slogan was a bit much. Their sales ended up dropping for both their fried and their grilled chicken.
  • BP Oil Spill Commercials—The company thought that spending millions on commercials that showed BP cleaning up the mess they made was a great idea. Consumers were disgusted with the fact that the company spent so much money on commercials instead of helping out the fisherman and business owners who were affected by their huge mistake. Oops.

The truth is, there are many creative PR moves that have worked. However, is it worth the gamble to take away something consumers love (classic coke, fried chicken) in order to create something that may or may not work better? Consider the pros and cons of each:

Brilliant Creativity Pros:

  • If you don’t get too crazy, you will likely have time to launch something more familiar in the event of a negative outcome.
  • You will never know whether or not something could have worked if you don’t try.
  • Being a PR professional is about being creative. If you’re too boring, you simply will not be able to keep up.

Risky Creativity Cons:

  • Being too creative can sometimes confuse consumers. If they’re used to seeing things come from your agency a certain way, being too creative could throw them off.
  • With creativity often comes offense. Creativity is about stepping outside of the box, so you risk losing those inside the box. Is this worth it? It may seem like it at first, but in the long run you may think differently.

5 Tips to Remember When Being Creative

Whether or not the pros inspired your or the cons scared you, there are ways to make creativity work. Consider a few tips that will help you step out of the box safely:

  1. Go for clever; not funny—Sometimes what is funny to you is offensive to others. A mistake like this could cost your company its reputation.
  2. Start small—Don’t send out a new idea to every publisher and/or news reporter you know. Start by trying out your new, creative idea with a small group of people first.
  3. Necessity—If your company is doing well with a current PR angle, don’t rock the boat. Something super creative might be necessary when times are desperate, but if you’re successful spend your time trying to optimize your current strategy first.
  4. Current Reputation—Even if you have an idea you think will probably work really well, it is usually not a good idea to take this risk with a company trying to win back the respect of clients or the public. Although safe may seem boring, it works.
  5. Ask for opinions—If you’re thinking of trying something a little crazy, talk to as many different types of people as you can.

As with everything in PR, there is always an exception to the rule. Your creative idea completely depends on the content of the idea and the company you’re working with. If you think it’s great, pitching the idea can never hurt. The moral of the story: Take extra precautions when dealing with something ultra-creative.

Amanda DiSilvestro is an expert writer on employee background checks based in San Diego, California. She writes extensively for an online resource that provides expert advice on purchasing and outsourcing decisions for small business owners and entrepreneurs such as business phone systems. You can find more of her articles as well as vendors comparisons for your small business needs at Resource Nation or Business.com.

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  • http://www.blissdrive.com/blog/ Shery

    Creativity is the very heart of PR for me, just don’t over indulge it because it has a lot of dangers with it, just like any gamble.

  • http://twitter.com/BParry08 Bethany Parry

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing! I personally love how creativity and PR work hand in hand. In my school organization right now, we are trying to be extra “clever” to entice involvement, which has been a success so far. But again, it is very good to get outside opinions, so you do not go “too far.”

  • http://twitter.com/A_DiSilvestro Amanda DiSilvestro

    I absolutely agree with you both. PR is one of those professions where you can be creative, and most PR professionals love this about the job. I think the fact that what you do in public relations can have such a big affect (and therefore can sometimes leave you questioning your decisions) makes this creativity all the more fun!

  • Haeffele8

    This post has some terrific insight, and it really got me thinking.  First I think of the old saying, “The best offense is a good defense;” sometimes, when you have a good thing, it’s best to keep it going, rather than surprise people with a new “offensive” campaign.
    Next, your fist tip, go for clever, not funny, reminds me of the Groupon Tibet commercial that aired last Superbowl. Far more viewers found the commercial offensive than funny, and those who weren’t offended still seemed to agree the commercial was not tasteful.Creativity is a risk; my marketing group in a class I’m taking pitched a very risky creative campaign to our service learning partner. The campaign was clever, not offensive.  And although they decided to go in another direction, I was happy our group was able to get our name out there tied to a clever, but risky creative idea.

    • Mollie128

      Balancing creativity with tastefulness is difficult however I agree that a risky and creative idea is almost always more effective and fulfilling than a safe and mediocre one. I remember the Groupon commercial you mentioned and although I believe in creativity, Groupon crossed the line with the Tibet commercial.

  • KristinM

    Great article, and the tips were much appreciated.  The idea of going for clever, not funny was a good one.  As was mentioned by previous commenters, the Groupon Tibet commercial went over like a lead balloon.  While it may have been funny to a small group of people, most just found it not funny at best and offensive at worst.  A good way to have avoided that would have been to start small and ask for opinions, as was also mentioned in your list of tips.  A Superbowl commercial is probably not the best place to try out a potentially offensive ad.

  • http://liljennbrowning.wordpress.com Jennifer Browning

    Great tips. We have a tendency to think that bigger is better and sometimes it really isn’t. Sometimes what we think is awesome and funny may be just the opposite to the population you are advertising to. It is a risk to try something new and sometimes not doing anything and waiting is the best thing. Creativity comes from personal opinion and as we all know, not everyone will ever agree with your opinion. Is it worth it? Thanks for the post and tips! I know I will put them to good use.

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