(Screenshot from Finn Communications website)
I signed up last minute to the first of a new series of CIPR ‘breakfast briefings’ with Leeds PR agency, Finn. The first briefing was entitled 'Unleashing your creativity' and was delivered by Emma Sibbles, head of creative and content at Finn PR and a former journalist and editor for Asos magazine, The Guardian and Marie Claire.
I often worry that I'm not a very creative person. Whilst I have faith in my ability to 'get things done' I'm not really the one to think up those wild and wonderful, innovative ideas and so I was eager to listen to what Emma had to say. It was a nice turn out with about 10-12 attendees and as always I was busy scribbling down lots of notes. (Side note, I've been reading up lately on note taking – perhaps a blog post is to follow on this topic!)
Emma on Creativity and Ideas
A lot of things that Emma said were a bit like, Duh! Obviously.. but not in a bad way - they were the kind of things that really you knew, or things that you were already doing but just didn't appreciate why or the value of it before Emma pointed them out. She started off by dismissing the idea of ‘lightbulb moments’ – ideas don't just come out of nowhere, they are connections and networks, cultivated from old ideas and new ideas and stitched together from different people, inspirations and experiences.
She drew on her previous news room experience and said that big ideas come from chaos, unpredictable collisions of minds and ideas; from conference rooms and brainstorming sessions – a thing I have found very enlightening and beneficial on my work placements.
I read a lot of different things, but Emma highlighted the need to be more conscious of what you are consuming. When you are going through the weekend papers (you should try and find time to!) look at what other people and competitors are doing and consider how you can repurpose ideas and make them your own. She talked about how she pulled things out of newspapers and magazine old school style, and created a folder of ideas that she can draw from in the future when she is working on new projects and ideas. She also told of the ideas wall in the Finn offices that people pinned inspirational words, stories and pictures to - it sounds like a really creative place to work!
From a recruiters prospective, she discussed the need to employ people that are different and who challenge your ideas and how valuable it is to get to know your team and their interests and their varied areas of expertise to learn what different things they can bring to the table. From a non-recruiter point of view, taking the time to talk to a range of different people and bounce ideas around with both PR and non PR people can help you to grow and develop ideas as well as dismissing bad ones! Being your own critic and challenging yourself allows you to expand and find new opportunities too. It's important, Emma stressed, to get over failing and accept you are going to come up with some bad ideas!
I liked the point she made about scheduling time in to nurture creativity and using time productively in order to be creative. Her suggestion of using your morning bus commute to disengage and let your mind wander to encourage creativity really resonated with my hour + daily commute! At times you also need to step away from ideas; eat, sleep, walk and trust that your self-consciousness is working.
Finally, in PR, you do need to always be switched on, actively consuming, staying on top of the trends and constantly asking why. (A scary thought?!)
Emma on Content and Audiences
The second key point I took from the briefing was Emma’s thoughts on identifying audiences and creating engaging, relevant content for them. Content builds brand loyalty and also drives emotional bonds between companies and consumers, but, it must be on the right platform and presented appealingly to them.
And, most importantly – you really need to know who ‘they’ are. Emma discussed the need to really get to know your audience - think about your audience, think about what they are watching and doing, what social channels they are using and even how they commute to work and what/how they consume during the journey. Where and how do they like to consume their information? Identify personas within your target audience and really get to know who you are talking to. Do not, under any circumstances assume your audience are idiots and that they will just ‘do it.’ If you can't identify with your audience personally, speak to friends or family that can and ask them what they think and like and what content they engage with.
She talked about how companies can use content to drive sales, using Asos as an example. Their free magazine delivered to customers, at cost to the company, shows consumers that the brand cares, respects and value their custom – as with all content, you are giving customers something for nothing. And within that content, be it a blog or magazine, it's important to combine regular features with reactive content but make sure that what you are sharing is relevant to your readers.
Emma highlighted the need to regularly check your data to see what your consumers are engaging with and adjust accordingly. The actual content may be good, but if the context or delivery just doesn't appeal to your consumers you need to switch it up.
I really loved Emma's Venn diagram and slide about ‘Jab Jab Punch.’ All brands have stories that they want to share, but some just aren't interesting – and it's important not to just bang on about your brand all the time. ‘Fillers’ are important, but they have to be relevant to your brand. You can't just witter on about national days or current events just so you are saying something and cushioning those brand messages – it still has to be relevant and of high quality; less frequent, better quality is always the best way. And of course, your consumers have a million other interests but you don't have to try tap into every single one of them - “Don't try crowbar things in if its not relevant to your brand - don't be weird!”
A final point which I enjoyed was the fact that you should consider what your competitors are doing but you should also widen that circle of who you consider to be a competitor. You're not just competing with similar brands in your industry, you are competing with everything else that your customers are reading or watching, you are always competing for their attention so take inspiration from what other industries are doing to communicate with your mutual consumers..
Perhaps the best thing that Emma said that really resonated with me was when we discussed interning. She advised being a sponge when you are interning – absorbing how to do things and how not to do things – it also gives you chance to think “When I’m in charge, we won't be doing this shit!”
Industry events can be really daunting and I'm glad Hannah came along with me, but I needn't have worried. The morning was casual, informative and really engaging and it felt comfortable to be around seasoned PR professionals without feeling like an out of place student! I'm really looking forward to finding out about the next one!
Thanks to Finn PR for being great hosts and Emma for her excellent presentation!