Is imitation the best form of flattery in a PR campaign & does anyone care?

Having a day at home yesterday exposed me to the great media coverage generated by Visit England’s search for the Best 101 Things To In Britain I saw it discussed extensively on Loose Women, Radio 2 throughout the day and in The Sun, The Express, Mirror and Independent amongst others. The timing was thoughtful – released on St George’s Day – and the media coverage was great. No doubt the PR team behind it are delighted with the extensive coverage & impact of the campaign thus far.

It made me think about the notion of a creative PR campaign and whether ‘borrowing’ heavily from existing ideas really matters? Bucket lists are nothing new and ‘things to do’ lists are a well-trodden PR path – Helly Hansen ran 50 Things To Do Before You Die campaign as recently as Jan this year, Persil ran a very successful 33 Things To Do Before You’re 10 campaign a few years ago and The National Trust played with this to run their 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 3/4 last year. Finding a definition for creativity in PR is an elusive task. In our work with the Holmes Report last year around 350 different definitions were suggested. Studying an MA in Creativity & Innovation at City Uni we’ve discussed 10’s if not 100’s of different definitions. I wondered, looking at a few of my favourite definitions would the Visit England Campaign meet any of their criteria?

With award entry season approaching here’s what Cannes say – “Cannes Lions honour creativity which has shown a measurable and proven impact on a client’s business – creativity that affects consumer behaviour, brand equity, sales, and where identifiable, profit. It will aim to establish a direct correlation between creativity and effectiveness.” It’s no doubt too early to drawing a direct link between the campaign and behavioural change (whatever their objectives were). If the campaign is part of the £25m budget allocated to global branding last year no doubt eyes will be on the tangible output.

Dr Ruth Noller’s formula (Professor of Creativity, Buffalo) – Creativity = Knowledge, Imagination & Evaluation – clearly media knowledge has been applied and the idea evaluated as to whether it would fly. Perhaps more re-imagination than genuine imagination?

‘Novelty, value & surprise’ – working in the field of Artificial Intelligence & computing Maher & Fisher present these 3 criteria for evaluating whether an idea is creative:

1. How different is the idea from existing ideas?
2. What’s the value of the idea?
3. Surprise – what’s your emotional reaction to the idea? I think of it as the wow factor or that “I wish I’d thought of that” or ” wasn’t expecting that” reaction.  Maher says that ‘when something is surprising it is unexpected. When combined with novelty and value, it is then creative.’ Based on these 3 criteria (which are my personal favourite benchmarks) the campaign might meet value but not novelty or surprise.

What strikes me is that Visit England’s campaign is pretty low risk – it’s a tried and tested route, with what I estimate is a smallish investment required (survey, desk research). Often we percieve how creative a campaign is based on risk or the novelty outlined above – how new is it? Have we seen it before? Ultimately this is taxpayer’s money being spent so one would imagine high-risk ideas might not fly.

Clients often cite creativity as a key factor in choosing an agency and it’s the holy grail come awards season. We work with agencies, brands and individuals in the arena of all things creative and often where there are problems or challenges with ideas not hitting the mark it is to do with differing opinions about what constitutes creativity and what the risk factor is. It’ll be interesting to see how the campaign is measured and whether it pops up later in the year as an awards entry.

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