From Research to Relevance: PR's Role in Today's Creative Campaigns


I recently led a discussion at the PRSA International Conference about PR’s increasing role of in the creative process. Joining me were Jane Carpenter, Head of Public Relations at Wayfair, and Anne McNally, newly appointed Head of Corporate Communications at John Hancock. (Anne is fresh off of State Street’s Fearless Girl campaign.)



Those are just a few of the words used to define creativity – reminders of what we have to live up to as brand marketers. Creativity is the real currency in the PR business today. As just one illustration, when making agency hiring decisions, two-thirds of clients rate creativity a 9 or higher on a scale of 1-10, according to The Holmes Report Creativity in PR Index.



“You have to ground product in relevance,” McNally said as she spoke about the beginnings of Fearless Girl. “Being a skeptic is part of our job, too.” Fearless Girl was born with an iconic image. McNally and the team at State Street had to build the story around that in order to ensure there was a campaign and not just an empty visual.



No doubt, Wayfair is a data-driven company with significant resources. “We measure and test every single campaign to see what’s resonating,” said Carpenter. “But even small organizations have access to research with social media.”

At 360, we start with an initial discussion about what we know – and often more important, what we don’t know: what’s happening around the brand? What do consumers care about and how can we be a resource for that in a way that’s unique?

The best campaigns are built around a single, driving insight. One of my newest, favorite examples of that is our team’s work on Tommee Tippee’s Scary Pump Room, which illuminated the fact that while many moms want to continue to breastfeed after returning to work, there are significant barriers – including inadequate, and often downright scary, space to pump at work.



The most creative cultures are those that embrace risk, Wayfair being one of those for sure. “If it’s not terrifying at least a little, it’s probably not worth doing,” said Carpenter.

In terms of forming creative teams, McNally, who successfully parlayed her experience in fashion and beauty PR to financial services, cautioned against putting people in boxes. To wit, I’ve seen some of our best “PR” ideas come from our digital team and vice-versa. Younger practitioners, unencumbered by the “tried and true,” play a critical role in pushing our thinking, too.

It’s important to have an integrated team together in the same room to both build out and pressure-test ideas. Will influencers rally around the idea? Is it coverable? Does it offer fresh content for the brand’s digital channels? Is there potential for a retail or other partner to get involved?



Big ideas are deserving of investment. Moreover, there can be efficiencies in rolling an idea beyond one market and platform. Budget is an important piece of campaign development and doesn’t have to limit our thinking. It might force us to be more resourceful – to find a partner, for example, or to phase activity – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The door is open to all of us in PR to be bold – to not just extend and amplify, but to deliver and drive the core idea that drives everything else.

Questions or comments? Email Laura at