Ideas from everywhere: ‘Creativity is not a department’ puts spotlight on changing world of marcomms

‘Collaborate or die,’ ‘If you can’t pitch your company in 140 characters or fewer you have a problem,’ ‘A long video these days is six seconds,’ ‘Marketing as we know it will never be the same.’ These are just some of the messages that came through loud and clear at last week’s CAANZ Marcomms Leadership Group event. 

I must admit, marketing conferences are often more memorable for their tasteless coffee, unhealthy nibbles, malfunctioning air-con, poor sound quality, and inevitably too much wine afterwards (see my tips for networking etiquette here). But despite the event ticking a few of those boxes, it was actually one of the most insightful sessions that I have been to for a long time.

The theme of the event, which was hosted by Idealog’s Hazel Phillips, chaired by Vincent Heeringa, and in conjunction with EMANZ, was that ideas generation and creativity must be integral to communications agencies, and more importantly that ideas can and must come from anywhere in an organisation, not just the creatives. This concept has been topical for a few years now as specialist digital and experiential agencies have started driving creative campaigns right from the start instead of being brought in at the last minute by traditional ad agencies.

One example of a wildly creative idea that ended up being a huge success was presented by PR consultant Kat Thomas from One Green Bean in Australia. Her client Virgin Mobile was a challenger brand with far smaller budgets than the other established telcos such as Optus and Telstra. The insight was that Virgin was a ‘fairer’ telco and believed in offering a ‘fair go to all’. So Thomas and her team found Brad Pitt’s younger brother Doug and made him into a superstar in Australia, thus giving him a taste of his famous brother’s lifestyle. It is a brave client to sign off an idea like that, but the media went nuts over the concept and people lined the streets to see Doug Pitt (no, he doesn’t dig drains) and media around the world ran the story.

As well as the enormous coverage Virgin received, sales also went through the roof and ‘churn’ (existing customers leaving at the end of their contract) slowed considerably, proving the effectiveness and business value of a really creative idea. This campaign was most interesting I felt because of its multi-channel nature (social, digital, experiential, media, and advertising all working together but project managed by the PR firm) and unsurprisingly it won a slew of awards for creativity and effectiveness. 

Marian Salzman, who is rated one of the world’s most influential people in PR, shared some fascinating case studies from the US that showed radical new thinking. She said the future of communications is online and needs to be conducted real-time. PR in her view is no longer press releases or media packs but is social media, content creation, video, YouTube and Twitter. PR practitioners she says are the new journalists, and getting stories online fast is the key. Long-form journalism is not dead in her opinion, but expect it to be pay per view in the future as media companies evolve their business models away from print to digital and desperately try to keep money coming through the door. Advertorial will be the new norm, as brands help fund editorial through product placement or links to their own websites.

  • Check out our Q+A with Salzman here

There is always a risk with attending inspirational events that you leave feeling amped but just return to your desk and slip into the same routine. My main impression from this session is that marketing and communications is changing at the speed of light, so marketing practitioners here in little old New Zealand need to evolve and catch up fast, or get into #anotherlineofbusiness.

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