Creativity in Public Relations…& beyond

[I wrote a version of this post which was originally published in the Mount Saint Vincent PR students’ online publication Symmetry.]

Colorful CrayonsYou’d probably be surprised to know that Albert Einstein didn’t necessarily value knowledge above everything else.  He is often quoted as having opined:

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.   Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.”

If Einstein valued imagination, which is the precursor to creativity, then why is it that when people in public relations or other areas of public communication think of creativity, they immediately think of the traditional “creatives” who are part of their team?  They think of the designers and other visual artists.   A healthy respect for the creative aspects of our strategic work can only result in more successful communication campaigns.

In the only book on Creativity in Public Relations, author Andy Green points out that public relations professionals today are offered millions of dollars world-wide to develop and implement creative public relations strategies – innovative and fresh solutions to communications challenges.[1]  However, there is almost no literature on the topic of creativity in public relations (except for Green’s book).

In addition, it appears that there is growing understanding  that “creativity” is one of the key behavioral competencies expected of PR practitioners by the industry. Planning, writing and evaluation are – not surprisingly – usually the top technical competencies expected.  However, I hear from employers more and more frequently that they are looking for other behavioral competencies in their new hires.  They’re looking for well-developed interpersonal communication skills, a bit of strategic business sense and – you guessed it – creativity.

Creativity, then, seems to be an important key to success in the professional practice of PR.  The question is: how do you cultivate it?

About eight years ago, I had a creative brain wave (actually, I have these brain waves almost every day, but I don’t necessarily follow up on all of them).  That brain wave resulted in me developing a senior seminar for BPR students on the topic of “Creativity in Public Relations.”  Through a series of eight interconnected workshops, we explored our own creativity and then learned to mine this part of ourselves to come up with new and innovative ways of approaching traditional public relations challenges.  Creative approaches are for strategy development just as much as they are for the visual design of an organization’s online presence for example.

I have to say that this was one of the most fulfilling courses I had ever taught since I came to MSVU in 1989 to teach writing.  I had the opportunity to share with students some of the ideas from writers whose work I had cherished all throughout my own career as a writer, professional communication strategist and university professor.  What I found out was that my students are a very creative bunch.  When asked what they’d be doing if they weren’t studying PR and could do anything they wanted to do, apart from travelling the world (which in itself contributes to creativity), the majority of the students suggested that they’d be actors, singers, dancers, painters, writers.  You get the picture.

I know that there is a tremendous vein of creativity that runs through the PR and communication students.  I only hope that this doesn’t get lost in the educational and work world.

Maybe it’s time to connect the dots between your personal creativity (or the need to develop it further) with the challenges and activities that are part of a career in communications.

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since writer Julia Cameron published a book called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity which became the seminal work for a renaissance of interest in developing creativity.  She introduces her work this way: “No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.” [2]

Over the years I’ve developed my own rules of thumb for creativity.

Here are my eight key characteristics of creative public relations (and other) professionals…

  1. Creative people believe in their personal creativity.
  2. Creative people are prepared to create at any time.
  3. Creative people pay attention.
  4. Creative people have broad interests.
  5. Creative people make time and space in their lives for creativity.
  6. Creative people remember what it was like to be a kid.
  7. Creative people are tenacious.
  8. Creative people are willing to take risks.

And, make no mistake…creativity can be learned.


[1] Green, Andy.  2001.  Creativity in public relations. 2nd ed.  London: Kogan Page.

[2] Cameron, Julia.  1992.  The artist’s way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  New York: Tarcher, p. xxii.


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