By Mitch Markson  The first cry is a rallying cry [caption id="attachment_1134" align="alignright" width="150"]Mitch_Markson34804 Mitch Markson[/caption] …for PR to take a more visible and pro-active role in idea leadership.  Are we stepping it up enough in our efforts to dig deep, identify, analyze and wrestle with a substantial idea for a brand or a company?  Have we completely ceded idea leadership to other marketing sources? Has the very call for a big idea been drowned out by a sea of short order projects that are designed to meet quarterly demands or 140-characters? Has all the chatter about content, Twitter, Pinterest and listicals driven us to a tactical place where real ideas and innovation get lost in space? Has the term creativity been so overused and abused that real ideas are getting lost in translation? To put it in even blunter terms, has PR become idea challenged and idea averse? There is a struggle going on in communications as boundaries are being crossed and blurred lines between advertising, public relations, branding consultancies and digital firms continue to confound us. Perhaps those blurred lines have always existed as the packaging has often outshined or camouflaged the core idea underneath. Are we thinking great ad or content instead of great idea? I don't think we are ready to cry uncle for our public relations discipline driving the bigger idea.  I believe substantive ideas that involve people of all stripes - ideas that are the catalyst for building relationships with a brand or company's publics - are the ideas that will survive and thrive in this relatively new century. Before public relations can be credibly viewed as idea leader, we need to address the trappings of our very label. Especially in the consumer or brand marketing space, press relations, stunts and events have all too often defined PR. Even our current fascination with storytelling doesn't best speak to the strategic and sometimes magical, but real world thinking that PR brings to the table. One solution is to be more disciplined about how you develop and activate ideas to ensure that the best of modern public relations is being applied. For instance, Ogilvy & Mather, our PR discipline has adopted “the big ideal” model to find the cultural tension and higher purpose for a brand. That approach keeps the idea relevant, fresh and meaningful. And now Ogilvy PR has developed its activation companion to this called Ogilvy SHARES. Here’s how SHARES breaks down:
  • Substance: powerful insight, idea and purpose – brands that have it or borrow it have a heads up when it comes to being part of the consideration set.
  • Heat: earned media, conversation + relevant timing – brands that generate it can provoke consumer interest and excitement.
  • Advocacy:  fans, ambassadors and sharers – brands that have them, can empower and engage a non-traditional sales force
  • Relationships: community, membership and longer-term partnership – remember brand loyalty?
  • Evolution: vision for the future, R&D, a “what if” mentality – brands that map to an evolutionary spirit tap into human hope and expectation and take their customers on a compelling journey.
  • Synchronicity: surround sound and connectivity – brands that achieve this embed themselves in the space where their consumers live, work and play.
The second cry: ideas to literally cry for -- real tears included* And when the idea is front and center, great things can happen. Here are some examples of ideas that we’ve been able to develop at Ogilvy recently in which PR either drove the concept or was a critical part of the equation. The ones with the asterisk have a high tear rate, so be warned:
  • Beyond Dark (chocolate): Measuring Pleasure, scientifically
  • American Express: Life Twist study & Passion Project redefine success and make passions more than a hobby
  • Immortal Fan*: tapping into a passionate fan base to defy mortality
All of these campaigns focus on universal truths, idea territories and purposeful ideals: pleasure, family, equality, death and immortality. There is nary a stunt in sight. So in the short term, PR should turn up the heat on more substantive ideas, going beyond the stunts, one-offs and amplification of advertising and marketing concepts. We need to be the drivers of great ideas again and insure the integrity and sustainability of them. Find great creative partners and not just the usual suspects from PR and advertising. Partner with artists, scientists, designers, chefs, entrepreneurs and futurists. Make unusual and unexpected alliances. Be the curator. Don’t be afraid to challenge and fail and try it all again. And for the long term? Maybe it doesn't matter anymore whether the idea is covered in advertising clothing or PR armor or even saran wrapped in content. Ideas have been around for a long time and will continue to thrive long after the labels of PR, advertising and content blend, morph or fade away. The idea's the thing and that's something to both smile and cry out loud about. Mitch Markson is president of Ogilvy PR's global consumer practice and chief creative officer of purpose branding.