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Stuart Hehir, Pegasus

Stuart Hehir, Creative Director at Pegasus, is part of the core team that has grown the Brighton-based company into an integrated consultancy of 75 people and Holmes Report EMEA Healthcare Consultancy of the Year 2014, PR Week Consultancy of the Year 2014 and Communique Consultancy of the Year 2014.

Over the last six and a half years, he’s developed Pegasus’ trademarked framework for understanding decision making in health – Healthscapes – introduced and integrated design, web development and animation through the creation of an in-house team (The Lab). Over the last 16 years, he’s created health campaigns for the likes of Novo Nordisk, Morrisons and Simplyhealth, as well as mainstream consumer campaigns for Barclays, Guinness, LinkedIn and Discovery Channel Europe.

It’s easy to imagine that creativity is not, perhaps, quite so championed in healthcare because things are heavily regulated. Is that a fair comment, Stuart (we’re guessing not!)?
That’s a pretty common perception that many people outside of healthcare have – I had the same myself before moving into this area six-and-a-half years ago – and of course I now know it’s pretty misplaced. Of course there are areas of healthcare where the regulated environment impacts on what you can do – and I’d argue you need to be more creative here – but there are huge areas where creativity is able to flourish in the same way it does in other sectors.
This idea that health is somehow not as creative goes to the heart of our approach and in some ways our success. We have built a business on the back of showing healthcare companies – and beyond – that they can be, and need to be, as creative as any mainstream consumer brand. Because to us, health is mainstream. Every day we make dozens of decisions that affect our health: the food we eat, the products we put on our skin, the routines we put in place to manage long-term illness. Health really couldn’t been more mainstream.
By specialising in healthy conversations and essentially focusing on the message, not the sector, we’ve also been able to broaden the scope of businesses and brands we work with, well beyond the typical pharma client set you’d associate with a healthcare comms business – healthy beauty, food and nutrition, health technology, natural health and even animal health.
On a more personal level, the stakes can often be much higher in this area too, so knowing you might creatively reach someone and inspire them to make a healthy decision that could have a profound impact on them and their family is far more rewarding than just flogging a packet of biscuits – which I’d admit to having done my fair share of in the past!

Nicely put! Is creativity playing an ever bigger part of your work, given the various channels available to you these days?
Absolutely. It’s not even just being driven by channels, but also by the breadth of creative services we now offer. Today it’s as much about creative insight generation, creative strategy and creative integration as it is the big tactical idea. We’ve gone from a traditional PR business to a genuinely integrated consultancy, which means that we are able blend different people with different skills and experience. We’ve got developers, animators, videographers, online marketers and social experts under one roof. The creative challenge has become as much about blending these skills and people together, as is it is to come up with the big idea.

Can you talk us through your last ‘big idea’?
A great campaign that’s been winning quite a lot of awards this year came out of our animal health team. The task was to educate dog owners about the dangers of lungworm, which is carried by snails and slugs. Not the most sexy of briefs, but incredibly important. So we thought: “How we do we take something like lungworm and make people engage with it to the point that they actually change their behaviour?”.
Like most comms businesses, we rely heavily on generating good insight, which in this case highlighted that many owners simply didn’t realise how high the level of risk was. They thought snails and slugs were confined to the vegetable patch and so the chances of their dog coming into contact with them was quite low. So we thought, “If we take that as the starting point, how do we demonstrate that that’s not the case in a creative way that would go mainstream?”
We placed UV paint and small LED lights onto hundreds of snails and put them in the middle of an average garden one evening. We rigged up a series of timelapse cameras and recorded where they went, how far they travelled and how quickly they got there. By the end we had a fantastic visual representation of what went on after dark, that didn’t just work brilliantly for traditional broadcast media – the footage was shown repeatedly across BBC News and every other mainstream news channel for a day – but also gave us great content for use across social aspects of the campaign, as well as for a vet communications programme and so on.
It ultimately created a huge amount of conversation amongst pet owners and subsequent research indicated that a significant number would be revisiting their approach to pet worming as a result – something born out later in sales data.

What was the breakthrough moment when coming up with the idea?
It actually developed out of another tracking-based idea that we’d done the year before. We’d created a campaign called ‘The Secret Life Of Cats’, where we’d fitted GPS and Go Pro cameras to cats; in fact following its reporting of that project, the BBC decided to borrow the idea and make a very successful TV series out of it. That notion of “How do we track?” was already seeded and had been successful and the question became, “How do we apply that kind of concept to snails in a new, creative way?”.

Have you identified any new or unusual ways of harnessing creativity in employees?
We have a creative team of 8-10 people, spanning board level to graduate and different skills sets, and as a unit they run a number of things within the business to ensure that we’re fostering and protecting our creative environment. Some of the initiatives include ‘Toolkit Tuesdays’, where they run a small session taking people through some of the creativity tools that we use; we run a Creative Oscars every two months, where people submit ideas and the rest of the company votes on the winners. For the winners, we’re introducing a new thing where we take up a carpet floor tile and put down a walk of fame-type star. There’s also a cinema club, a creative book club and we also invest a lot in allowing people to go off and be inspired at various non-traditional conferences and Ted talks and the like.

If you could change one thing to improve creativity at Pegasus, what would it be?
I think the biggest threat to all creativity is time. Everyone could always do with more headspace to think, to find inspiration and develop ideas – it’s a really critical part of the process, but it’s just not always as abundant as you’d want. That time to allow people to really come up with great ideas is something you always wish you had more of.

Do clients want ideas more quickly than ever?
I don’t know if it’s any better or worse than the past, although sometimes turnaround time is incredibly short. But by having the culture and tools in place, we feel we’re in a good position to react and deliver.

Finally, what do you think the PR agency of future will look like, in terms of creativity?
The industry is evolving at a huge rate already, but for us and in terms of creativity it’s about two key areas – scientific-driven creativity and integrated delivery. Our mission is about helping people make better decisions, so it’s about tangible, measurable outcomes grounded in behaviour change. In order to impact on behaviour, we need to continue to understand the drivers that shape those decisions and how we can then creatively inspire them to act. We already have our own trademarked framework for understanding decision-making in health, Healthscapes, but it’s an area in which we are continuing to invest, on quite a big scale – through people, academic partnerships and behaviour-change research.
In terms of integrated delivery, it’s not just about adding new skills, but ensuring that they come together for greater impact. PR is moving away from being an industry that’s over-reliant on great generalists, to one that embraces people from much broader backgrounds. Our current recruitment drive is casting its net wider than ever before and every time we meet someone, we are always asking ourselves, “What can this person bring that’s new?”. This increasingly eclectic mix of people and experience will only enhance our creative culture in the long run. Exciting times.

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