Using insights – exploring new ideas or validating what you already have?

I worked with a researcher and planner this week on a pitch for a client and she lamented how there are research briefs commissioned for all the marketing disciplines and then there’s PR. She said that the starting point for many disciplines is a blank page and exploring the insights to get to an idea, when with PR agencies it’s usually about validating an idea they already have. I thought this was a really interesting perspective and started thinking about if this is true in my experience and if so why that might be. Using insight and planning to ensure that the ideas are rooted in robust and strategic thinking was certainly not the case when I started in PR 20 years ago – it was all about media relations then and generating stories and headlines often not rooted in very much at all except the news agenda and what the client wanted to say – very one way. The idea of insight probably was more related to ‘doing a survey’ or the findings of sitting in on a focus group. Of course the world has moved on and the way consumers and brands interact with each other has completely changed as well as the sources of insight and data (big and small) being so much more readily available. A one person focus group who likes or doesn’t like an idea as the litmus test is thankfully pretty much a thing of past because that just will never cut it as a way to justify spending money (although if you watch The Apprentice you’ll see this method very much in action).

But her comment did make me wonder whether the old faithful PR standby of a ‘survey’ and backing out of the results you’re hoping for (let’s face it most clients are not going to pay for a study that contradicts their key messages) might make PRs approach to insight a bit skewed. Looking at the Cannes PR entries last year (did I mention I was a judge?!) many of the award-winning campaigns were rooted in robust information and insight – thinking about UN Women Autocomplete Truth (one single explosive observation) and Honey Maid This Is Wholesome (attitudinal research must have been the starting point) but many had no obvious grounding in research – like ANZ Gay Anthems (which I loved) – which was a brilliant, simple idea well-executed to support the bank’s sponsorship of the Sydney Mardi Gras or the adidas Jump Store. Really good insight should make the jumping off point for creative work so much easier but in my experience PR people do often find it hard to work out what’s an insight, what’s just information and how to sort the wood from the trees if you have reams and reams of data. This is not surprising because it’s not necessarily something that PRs are trained in properly, what sources are available and how to brief research in. Like many other skills it seems to be something that PRs are supposed to learn via experience or osmosis. For what’s it’s worth my view on insight in PR is that an insight is an influential super-fact that can inform strategic and creative direction.  The role of the insight(s) is to:
  • Be a springboard for creative ideas
  • Act as navigation for the idea/campaign
  • Provide a robust reason for the ideas
  • Make it easier for the client to understand your logic
  • Mitigate for ‘gut feel’ in the decision making process

Should planning basics be part of every Account Executive’s training? We have an experienced planner in our team and work with lots of agencies and brands to join up the dots on their strategic and creative work and improve their capabilities. See our 5 Steps To Strategy Heaven course if you’d like to know more about using insight to generate great ideas.

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