FleishmanHillard 21 Jun 2021 // 10:16AM GMT
This story begins in a kitchen. Actually, your kitchen. You know the backstory — pandemic, lockdown, flux, uncertainty, several shaky weeks go by, you find a way forward. Cut to you in your kitchen slicing up your latest sourdough bread masterpiece. You? An accomplished baker? How did this happen?!
Creativity, that’s how. That thing that’s always in us, but sometimes takes a crisis to set free.
Under the crucible of Covid, we all (re)discovered the power of creativity to keep us moving forward when everything around us stalled out. If you recall, the pre-Covid era wasn’t exactly a golden age for creativity in the PR world. We were obsessed with all things programmatic and formulaic. We glorified our inevitable overlord — AI. Perhaps we were smarter — but better? Either way, the pursuit of big disruptive ideas through the immense power of creativity wasn’t trending. But before we found out if the non-trend was here to stay, Covid was crisis. And creativity was the only way through.
For some, creativity poured out by the loaf. Others started new businesses. Companies and brands adapted – even to produce different products. From small interpersonal innovations to world-changing inventions, we created new ways to work and play, to stay virtually connected and celebrate apart. We turned everything into something new. As business owners, before hearing of any sign of a stimulus package, we stood exposed. It was creativity that kept our businesses open. Deconstructing and destroying old models. Reinventing and hoping for the best. Through trillions of creative moments, we revealed humanity at its best.
But while the collective human spirit was busy reinventing worlds, the marketing services industry was surprisingly late to get on board. Maybe it was risk avoidance, or a desire to serve up familiar comfort, or full creative malpractice, but the first few months of lockdown saw an outpouring of one-size-fits-all creativity. Case in point, the “In these unprecedented times” supercut. Everyone seemed to work off the same brief, and all returned the same idea. Open on empty metropolitan street. Cue caring VO: “In these unprecedented times.” Repeat ad nauseam.
Mercifully, that momentary lapse soon gave way to our better natures and creative instincts. Truly brave, inspired work started to emerge. We remembered people are complex and have many emotions to tap into; we remembered our job is to break through, to differentiate, to deeply connect.
For PR and communications, our industry is riding a new creative high. And that brings the story to this moment – an inflection point. For many of us, the creative renaissance of the past 18 months is now hardwired into ourselves, our work cultures, and our business models. FleishmanHillard used the time to put creative processes and ambitions at the center of our experience. That’s meant challenging all truths. Being authentic and brave in our actions. And using creativity to Bend the World. What was born of crisis is now part of our culture. And is our clear pathway forward.
But for some, it’s less clear whether the recent creative imperative and momentum will begin to lose champions and steam. The return to routine brings with it a new risk — the return to business as usual. When that happens, creativity could very easily get quietly smothered by comfort.
We have to keep reminding ourselves, as businesses and as individuals, not to take anything for granted and risk getting caught standing still in this new world. We have to keep fighting to make creativity a constant force. When survival is no longer the daily driver of creativity, we have to pull from something else. That something else is courage. The deepest well of all.
Courage comes in all forms. There’s the fighting off the lions version. And then there’s the more difficult variety of fighting off complacency. While going back to normalcy seems like a welcome friend right now, every conference room we enter and transatlantic flight we take risks lulling us into a peaceful sleep where creativity stands down. The reality is that our societies, communities, businesses, politics and economies need creativity now. There are essential problems to solve, people to lift up and truths to be lived.
So how do we find that courage?
First, we never settle. We must keep imagining greatness over and over again, charging difficult hills to climb even when lions aren’t chasing us. We must not fall victim to the mirage of normalcy and instead look challenges dead in the eye and courageously put creativity at the center of solving them.
Second, we embrace the truth of this moment. It’s a new world with new expectations that will require agencies and brands to show up differently — or risk being left behind. We must lean on creativity to live our stories instead of just telling them. We must put humans at the center of our work and quit approaching corporate reputation and brand trust in the clichéd ways of the past. We must see through fresh eyes how authenticity can bring our values in closer alignment with the work we do day in and day out.
Finally, we must give creativity the space it so desperately deserves. We must fight to give creativity room to breathe and be the first thought instead of an afterthought.
This past year and a half, we’ve all been on an incredible journey. It’s reminded us that creativity is an essential part of who we are and what we do. We don’t need crisis to continue on our way. We need courage.
Executive Creative Director
Global Creative and Planning Leadership
Creativity in PR 2021