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Andrew Ager, Ketchum

Andrew Ager, Creative Director for Ketchum UK, is responsible for the orchestration of creative campaigns across the agency working with clients including P&G, Nissan, Pernod Ricard, MasterCard, booking.com, IBM and Philips. Prior to joining Ketchum in 2013, Andrew was Deputy Head of Sport and Creative Director at Weber Shandwick. Having started his agency life at a small boutique agency called purple;patch, he spent five years at Cake looking after a range of accounts including HP, Kingsmill, Jaguar and Reebok. Andrew joined sports specialist Pitch PR as Creative Director in 2005 overseeing campaigns for the NBA, Skandia, SonyEricsson and FIFA. An Olympic Games junkie, Andrew has worked at four Olympic Games including a stint in-house with London 2012 Olympic Partner Freshfields.

Your last big idea: where did the inspiration come from?
New Scientist. It was an idea for Philips that was born out of an article I read about lighting technology and the people who won the Nobel prize for their blue LED bulbs.
For me, the best investment I’ve ever made was a subscription to New Scientist because you’ve got these people at the cutting edge of technology, science, innovation and medicine and it’s a bit like the classic catwalk-to-high street thing: these are the people at the cutting edge of creating extraordinary things. New Scientist is a bit like a crystal ball which tells you what’s going to be hot and what’s not.

The idea you’re talking about was 100 Years of Innovation for Philips – Light Bulb Moments of the last century. What process did you go through when formulating the idea?
As with any good idea it all starts with research, we will help us deliver a cracking ‘ah-ha’ moment of insight which informs what we need to do, and then finally once all that is in place its down to ideation for the creative that brings it all together, being able to focus on these four key stages helps ensure that you get to be best possible ideas. Each stage is friends of the other – research is a friend of insight, insight’s a friend of strategy and so on.
Research can be as simple as walking down the street or at the other end of the spectrum it can be proper commissioned research in focus groups. People get scared by the term ‘research’, but for me it can be having a conversation in the pub. It’s gathering data and information – getting stuff in.
So we do the research which then leads to insight, and what I’m seeing currently in comms is that PR agencies need to be better at insight; those actionable human truths without which you can’t really crack on because insight forms whatever creative platform you create. The strategy aspect is looking at what we have to do to get to this point and only then do we start looking at creative ideas and concepts.

What happens when it comes to generating ideas?
In terms of ideation we go through some classic brainstorming tools and techniques that I’ve developed – referencing others – over time. We’re seeing quite a shift I think, in the ways that PR agencies approach creativity. At Ketchum we’re reducing the number of people in brainstorms; we’re doing a lot of pairs and trio activity, matching people together and saying, “Here’s the challenge, come back with some ideas.”
What I try and do is marry the creative problem to the right people and I always approach ideation sessions with the mindset of, “What can’t we leave the room without?” I’m not saying we lock the doors till we get it, but we need a single-minded focus as to what we’re looking for. The process for the Philips idea probably took three to four weeks.

Brainstorming is the default setting for almost everyone, but it sounds like you have particular ways of doing it.
I try and identify 8-12 classic tools – brain-writing, associations, substitutions – that can be applied to different types of problems. We’ve got a couple of tools around headline generation and story ideas, but those aren’t the same tools we’d use for creating a wonderful piece of social media content. I don’t want to put too much process into the system but it does help when I say can, “Right, I’ve got this type of problem, I need these sort of ideas, what are the best tools?”
We’re turning a little bit to psychology – hierarchy of needs and so on – to really push people’s thinking time to get them to take a different viewpoint rather than circling the same problem. I’ve formalised that here internally, agreed it with the powers-that-be and we are training our people through a series of sessions whereby we introduce them to the tool and take them through how it works so that they can use it.

What is the biggest barrier to creativity in PR?
Permission. Creativity for me is all about being curious; you need to live a curious life and lift your head up away from the screen and get a lot of influences in, and I think in agencies we can be a little bit ‘slave to the numbers’: we must be at 100 per cent capacity, we must be billable, yet when you speak to ad creatives and ask them what they did 9-5 Monday to Friday it would be very different to what PRs do. They might take themselves to off to an art exhibition or to see a movie, but we in PR don’t really have creative teams per se, so we don’t have the permission to be allowed to go off and soak up more inspiration.

Do you see that changing?
I think it has to. Agencies are changing – there’s merging of content strands and disciplines and we adapt or die. You only have to look at the award ceremonies that we invest in in terms of entering and attending – be it Cannes or the PR Week Awards – and see non-PR agencies winning. That’s frightening. Clients are becoming almost agency agnostic – they don’t care where the idea came from as long as it’s good enough. PR has long been the poor relation, the little baby brother to some of the larger creative agencies, and unless we integrate, unless we change, we could well be staring at a difficult time.

Do you think that creativity is allowed to flourish in larger or smaller teams?
Smaller definitely, because in larger companies we’re beholden to numbers.

Is there anything you can take from that smaller team ethos?
We’re in the lovely position to be working with some extraordinary clients, but as an agency when we submit ideas, they come from us: Ketchum presents an idea. The likes of Saatchi have the ability to call on 10 or 12 pairs of creative teams who come up with ideas which are then presented as, “This is John and Jack’s idea, this is Claire and Paul’s idea,” and it’s fascinating to see how they present it. They’re happy to name-check who the ideas came from and demonstrate how they have multiple creative teams working on it. Smaller dedicated teams working together would be a good thing.

Finally, what do you think the PR agency of five year’s time will look like in terms of creativity?
I think it will be integrated and it will be channel- and discipline-agnostic. We need to become makers.

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