You’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 work can only result in more successful communication campaigns.
In his book 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. 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 behavioural 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 behavioural 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?
Years ago, during my tenure as a university professor, 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 Bachelor of Public Relations 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, likely because it is an over-arching theme that can be applied to all of thie aspects of my career I love most: developing creative strategies for clients and writing.
One of the most interesting things I discovered about my students was that individuals who choose public relations as a field of study and eventual practice 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 in my view), 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 often wonder if PR and communication professionals value their creative capabilities as much as they value their technical abilities. Given what passes for content on social media these days, I have to say I’m often doubtful.
Twenty years ago, writer Julia Cameron wrote 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. Years ago, I wrote down her words from the introduction to that book: “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.” 
After taking Julia Cameron’s words to heart and working with PR students through the years on nurturing their creativity, I developed my own rules of thumb for creativity.
Here are my eight key characteristics of creative public relations (and other) professionals…
- Creative people believe in their personal creativity.
- Creative people are prepared to create at any time.
- Creative people pay attention.
- Creative people have broad interests.
- Creative people make time and space in their lives for creativity.
- Creative people remember what it was like to be a kid.
- Creative people are tenacious.
- Creative people are willing to take risks.
And, make no mistake…creativity can be learned.
 Green, Andy. 2001. Creativity in public relations. 2nd ed. London: Kogan Page.
 Cameron, Julia. 1992. The artist’s way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. New York: Tarcher, p. xxii.
[An early version of this was published some years ago in the MSVU PR students’ online newsletter]