Digital Transformation Creative Digital PR

Will ‘bad work’ solve digital PR’s creativity gap?

By Richard Paul, Digital PR Director



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June 30, 2023 | 8 min read

Has digital PR had its day? Or will strings of ‘bad work’ push it to continuously come up with better, creative ideas? Richard Paul of Propellernet has faith in the latter.

Billboard reads: Dear London, creativity is a way of dreaming. Let's keep dreaming.

Will 'bad work' be digital PR's saviour? / Yao Hu via Unsplash

For quite some time now, digital PR has come under fire from people both within and outside of the profession. If we’re to pay attention to regular Twitter conversations, it’s an industry becoming increasingly guilty of producing work that’s either irrelevant to clients, or reliant on worn out formats that leave journalists rolling their eyes. If the critics are to be believed, it may be slowly gaining a reputation as traditional PR’s ugly little brother.

But is that true, or is it the work of a handful of not-so-great digital PRs giving everyone else a bad rep? And could this all actually be a good thing for the industry in the long run?

Bad publicity

When it comes to headline-grabbing, media-facing promotion strategies, digital PR certainly isn’t the inferior option. It brings with it more ways to monitor performance and combines traditional tactics with SEO-level knowledge to get clients front-and-center of both customer conversation and search engine results pages.

The problem, instead, lies with the ‘bad’ work that so often gets highlighted as an aspect of the industry: an online casino revealing how long people let their tea brew, a dream job to watch the new series of Bridgerton from an insurance brand, or an agency piggybacking on a genuinely troubling news story with the sole purpose of gaining a link for their client.

These are the campaigns that give the industry a bad reputation but, in reality, they’re only a fraction of its output. Digital PRs are a wildly creative bunch, and for every irrelevant casino campaign there’s a truly brilliant link-building goldmine of a piece.

Rather than getting bogged down in the discourse around the latest example of dodgy practices, agencies can use this as an opportunity to flex their creative muscles and differentiate their output from this ‘bad’ stuff. This is what will get on the right side of both journalists and their clients’ audience.

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What does the future hold?

Overall, I believe there are actually benefits to these infamously tenuous campaign examples because, now more than ever, the onus is on the industry and those within it to do better to stand out.

With journalists and brands now more dismissive of these tactics, and some actually doing it themselves, only the outstanding stuff will win. Thus, agencies will place a greater focus on more thought-through campaigns that'll grab attention in crowded inboxes, while still being relevant and able to gain coverage.

Because of this, the second half of 2023 and 2024 are going to show a new side to digital PR. Leaders in the industry will shake off misconceptions and produce even more work to truly be proud of.

Still, client demands, budgets and time restraints can often mean that breaking away from ‘safe bet’ formats or being that little bit more original can be easier said than done.

However, there are some things that can help to rediscover the creative spark.

1. Think of real people

It can be easy to get caught up in solely thinking about what’s going to get a link, or what your peers would think is cool, making you lose sight of the brand or its audience.

To combat this, I often start by thinking of people I know personally who would fall into the client’s target audience, what they like, and what they would probably be interested in seeing.

2. Consume content

Life at a PR agency means you need to know about cars, jewellery, travel, pensions, insurance. The list goes on. But this can mean you’re not a true expert on any of your client’s industries.

Spend time trawling Reddit, YouTube, TikTok, industry media, and whatever else you can get your hands on. You’ll likely uncover a random nugget of information tied to your subject that can be turned into an idea. That extra time spent researching can take you from knowing your subject at surface level to unearthing some expert gems.

3. Restrict yourself

A lot of advice around ideation can be to start by thinking as far and wide as you can, but if you feel you’re constantly falling back on a dream job or the same old data, ideating with some set rules can help too. We’ve tried it recently, and discounting formats that aren’t ‘allowed’ for a session can send your thinking in a whole new direction.

4. Get inspired outside of the day-to-day

An agency that retains its clients for years is obviously doing something right, but it can be hard to keep coming up with fresh ideas for the same clients. If you’re in a team that has been working with the same client for a long time, allowing time to ideate around something completely different could result in ideas that could then be re-angled to work for them.

Hopefully, in the next year (and beyond) there will be fewer bad examples to call out, and more great work for the industry to celebrate. I’m excited to see campaigns that will spark conversation, showcase creative ability, and land impressive results for clients.

Digital Transformation Creative Digital PR

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