If you haven’t stumbled across them before, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) animated lectures are some incredibly thought provoking pieces of content.
Challenging established thinking is apparently what the internet is all about. Rubbish. Challenging established thinking is what your brain is for, and the lectures organised by the RSA are really good at it.
One that has been referred to me by a number of sources is a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, a leading thinker in education. I’m not going to go into detail on the presentation itself, you can watch the video, but one of the main points of his argument is that the education paradigm based on a manufacturing model needs to change, in line with the different learning strengths etc of individual children. In short, cultivate creativity in learning as much as more traditional academic skills.
What really struck me watching this a couple of times is the familiarity of the problems Sir Ken highlights during his lecture.
For me [warning: self indulgent blogger moment coming up], the practice of public relations is very much one of process. Our goal is building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their stakeholders. To do this, we focus on using the skill of communication in order to achieve outcomes that other parts of our organisations can’t otherwise deliver.
The argument I put forward for the process model is therefore as follows: communication depends on common understanding. If you and I can’t both agree what the definition of a table is, what it looks like and what its purpose is, it becomes impossible for us to have a conversation about the table in any abstract way. E.g.:
Me: When you get home, can you put the spare key on the table please?
You: What’s a table?
If you don’t believe me, leave a comment and I’ll give you another example instead of the table. I have a few.
My point is this though. The idea of public relations as being a process industry is really not well received. It is far more frequently referred to as a “creative industry”. I sense your head nodding at this point.
The problem I have with PR being a creative industry is…who says? On what basis do we make the claim for ourselves? Show me your evidence. I’m similarly frustrated by the over-use of “creative agency” being used to describe advertising companies. Apparently, in order to be considered creative you need to be able to draw, take a photo or shoot a video.
And yet, regardless of who gets to be called creative, the reality is, no-one’s doing an amazing job of it. The content industries don’t invent new platforms and channels, they just exploit them. This is why PR and advertising are now scrapping in the mud with graphic designers and interwebs people; for ownership of this digital thing. Where’s the clever, the new, the exciting, the innovative? It’s in the content, sure, but the content looks the same as all the other stuff out there.
My point is not that I think PR is more or less creative than advertising, or indeed any more or less creative than finger painting, cooking or salvaging a sunken submarine. Creativity should be a fundamental part of all industry – only through new ideas does industry advance. Yet for the most part, the so-called creative industries follow societal trends, much more than they set them.
Every consumer brand wants to be on facebook. But with all the billions of dollars of resources at their disposal they could never have invented it. It took one university student with an idea (and incidentally a brain that’s structurally the same as yours and mine) to pull it off, enlisting the help of others along the way.
This, I think, is Sir Ken’s point – that creativity is innately a human condition, and that our education systems have to allow more of it to remain intact by the time we churn out graduates from our institutions. I agree massively, but question what the implication is for my profession. Can PR, or advertising, or any of us find a way to unshackle the nascent creativity of our teams, our industry…or even our own heads? More to the point, can a PR team actually win one of those dastardly Cannes PR Lions that the ad guys seem to keep picking up?
Seriously though, stop reading my tripe and go back and watch the video. Sir Ken does a brilliant job of challenging some entrenched ideas – go and have your world view widened a little.
If you’re not much for all the frantic sketching, you can watch Sir Ken himself at a TED talk in Canada – a few years older than the animation but still worth the 20-odd minutes.