It is usual for advertising people taking on a new campaign for a client to talk of the ‘big idea’. The cracking of this ‘big idea’ becomes the pivotal factor in designing any campaign.
The creative team’s genius depends on how well they do in coming up with this idea, which somehow has to be clever and profound enough to define the entire strategy upon which the campaign rests.
In public relations, when I have been pushed for this ‘big idea,’ I have most often stumbled. This is because I find that one is seldom expected to come up with the big idea without any proper research on the subject.
Also a fact to note is that PR is a very different medium from advertising. It is true that sometimes tactics are necessary in PR, but for the most part, it is imperative for a carefully-thought-out PR strategy to be backed by proper analysis and research before any idea is formulated. And when I say research, I mean in-depth understanding, which may sometimes take months. The big idea in PR at the end of the day will only emerge when there is a proper understanding of the ground situation.
For that matter there is no out-of-the-box thinking in PR. In a book written by Andy Green, called ‘Creativity in Public Relations,’ he says “…all thinking exists in a box. Certainly, ‘outside-a-box’ thinking exists. By thinking in a bigger dimension to any initial brief, you are creating a bigger box. Your new thinking may extend or destroy the boundaries of the original paradigm, but all you have created is a bigger box, a new paradigm containing your new idea subsuming the original one. Your original idea will no doubt be subsumed by an even bigger box.”
Green says, in your flexible, creative thinking, you have three strategies:
Same box thinking – operating within the existing paradigms, where your message and content is within the confines of existing communication;
Smaller box thinking – changing an element or niche, or focusing on one smaller part of the existing paradigm;
Bigger box thinking – breaking down and going beyond the boundaries of the original paradigm to provide messages and content on a bigger scale.
In the book, ‘Creativity in Public Relations,’ Green says, “Public relations work creates or manages change. A working definition or creativity must contain some form of process and end product. Furthermore, public relations is a dynamic process in operation within the wider society, and so some reference to its context should also be made.
“By examining these different approaches to defining creativity, a working definition for public relations practitioners can be given. Thus creativity is the ability each of us has to create something new by bringing together two or more different elements in a new context, in order to provide added value to a task.”
So in reality, the ‘big idea’ in a PR campaign is not one BIG IDEA but a series of smaller ideas, which through time evolves into one big process. Therefore, in practice PR campaigns have to have small beginnings that have the potential to evolve into ‘big’ ideas.
(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)