Feb 21, 2019 / by Alister Houghton


Alister Houghton, content marketing manager at Cision, explores the nature of creativity in communications and why the robots will never take over this facet of PR.

Creativity. It’s one of those things which is very hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

It’s something which would certainly help when it comes to writing a blog. Unfortunately, having the same amount of creativity as a pebble is a serious impediment to it (including thinking up a good name). Nonetheless, creativity seemed like an apt topic for this maiden blog.

After all, there can be no piece of content, event activation or meaningful campaign without creativity. The creative idea goes to the heart of all the work communicators do.

When people think of creative inspiration, they typically picture someone having a eureka moment, or of a group of people sitting in a meeting room with sweets, shouting out ideas which are being made into a thought cloud on a whiteboard.

While there is an element of truth to these, particularly the “eureka moment”, it’s clear that there’s more to it than this.

That much was apparent when I attended the Creative Shootout awards last month. For anyone unfamiliar with the format, teams are given a brief relating to that year’s chosen charity, and then they have four hours to come up with a campaign which they will fulfil for the client if they win (while mastering the vagaries of PowerPoint in the process).

Added to this daunting prospect, the team must then present their idea in front of both a judging panel and a live studio audience, with the audience then voting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” style on the campaign, with the results brutally displayed for all to see at the conclusion of the pitch.


WIRE, the winning agency at the 2019 Creative Shootout


Clearly, to succeed in this pressured scenario, you’re going to need a creative process or method to tease out the idea at the heart of the campaign. Given that every single entrant came up with an original, thought-provoking activation, even those whose campaigns scored lowly with the audience, each team demonstrated a superb ability to come up with great creative ideas on-the-fly.


Creativity requires humanity

It’s this originality which leads me to doubt the doom-mongers who believe that the rise of AI and machine learning is set to replace everyone in PR.

While Artificial Intelligence has evolved to the point where it can produce art, there’s still a resonance which it cannot replicate. The creative idea at the heart of every resonant campaign appeals to the humanity of its audience.

A machine could conceivably create a campaign idea based on the data and analysis of previous ideas deemed “successful”, that would not only require some form of clear and standardised definition of success across various types of campaign, the machine would also need to understand humanity.

This will always be the drawback of AI: humans understand humans. Humans say one thing and do another, they behave in a way which would seem illogical to a machine analysing data and best practice in certain situations.

There’s also the emotional side to campaigns. As our storytelling panel at last year’s CommsCon discussed, the best stories make you feel something. Even if a machine were able to make a campaign work at a “thinking level”, it literally lacks the feeling to make something work on an emotional level.


Creativity isn’t ubiquitous

So, while Artificial Intelligence is set to make PR processes more efficient and to vastly improve the insights available to communicators, it’s premature to worry about machines taking over the industry’s creative heart.

However, while humans do have a better understanding of what engages and resonates, let’s also not pretend that all people are made equal when it comes to creativity.

Listening to the PRmoment podcast recently, Sian Morgan, founder of famously creative consumer agency Cow PR, believed that she could count on one hand the number of truly creative people she’d met.

That can be taken in one of two ways. Either that there are very few creative geniuses around who are able to come up with creative ideas on-demand. Or that putting people in an environment which nurtures creativity and gets them to work on ways to develop their creative process, they can conjure ideas which are just as good as the natural creatives.

Even someone with the creativity of a pebble, would be able to build a method to have the odd moment of inspiration.

Or, you could be lucky enough to work with one of these handful of creative people and have their skill rub off on you. It’s certainly what I’m hoping will happen by just being around the truly creative Kev O’Sullivan, executive creative director of FleishmanHillard Fishburn, during our webinar with him next week!

It might even mean my next blog has a little bit more sparkle to it!

To sign up to next Tuesday’s webinar with Kev O’Sullivan – Using creativity to prove the value of PR – simply click the button below

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About Alister Houghton

Alister Houghton is UK Content Marketing Manager at Cision, writing and commissioning thought leadership, interviews and opinion pieces covering the earned media, marketing and journalism spheres. As well as working in a variety of roles across the business, he has previously managed media and web content for the British American Football Association.