Marina’s top secrets to ideation and staying creative
Anyone working in digital PR will remember their first ideation and the first idea they ever came up with. For me, I thought something on the first dog in space, Laika, would be just what everyone would want to know about. Looking back it’s safe to say I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. In my defence, I probably didn’t even know what SEO stood for back then either…
Since then, I’ve learned a LOT about what makes not only a good idea but an idea that gets coverage, and it’s become one of my favourite parts of the digital PR process.
Whilst there really is no one size fits all, I’ve popped below the key ways I approach the process, how I come up with an idea under pressure because of agency life and that, and finally what my biggest pieces of advice are for those new to the industry.
Tip 1: Do your research. The client, their competitors and the media landscape are all equally important to get information from
Whilst it is a great starting point, researching your client is so much more than just taking a look at their site and the services/products they sell.
Before coming up with an idea, I find it key to spend between 30 minutes and an hour researching before going into a group session. During that time, I not only look at what the client does but their values, their ethos, who their target market is, what their blog content tells you about them as a brand, and the types of places they have been covered before. Understanding all of the above will help you produce campaigns that have a real tangible connection to the brand, and help your campaign get exposure in the media and in front of readers that could be potential customers.
In addition, I use Ahrefs to analyse the types of backlinks and referring domains going to client competitors, to see what your client could be missing out on. In addition, I use Google news to search for their most recent stories and coverage over the last 3-6 months to log any trends, take a look at their website, and key dates in that particular industry they are promoting.
Tip 2: Write things down as you go along, you could be forgetting a gem if you don’t!
Sometimes ideation sessions can feel harder than others, and one of the reasons for this could literally be due to timing and just not being in the right creative headspace. When this happens, it’s stressful as we don’t always have that time set aside for another few days or even weeks.
That’s why, if anything comes to mind that could be an idea, make sure you write it down. When researching a client, more often than not I’ll have a few ideas already coming to mind about what we could do for a campaign, and with the nature of working in a fast-paced agency, I write them down before something else comes up.
Personal tip: Just as I start the research process, I grab some plain A4 and start drawing mind maps, scribbling thoughts and themes as I go along. Physically writing them down helps keep my flow of creativity, and I don’t tend to go near my laptop until I have some half-decent ideas and themes. It’s definitely worth a try if you’re finding yourself staring blankly at your laptop screen for a while.
Tip 3: If you’re overthinking it, take a break, have a KitKat if you fancy
Sometimes it’s hard to face the fact that the creative juices aren’t flowing as well as you’d like them to be, and the best thing to do in that situation is taking a break.
Grab yourself a cup of tea and a snack, something chocolatey always tends to give me a new lease of life for ideation and the perfect pick me up. Also, think about changing your seating position and move somewhere else. Fresh air is also another great way to wake yourself up from staring at your screen for too long and give you new energy. If you’re working from home, getting into comfortable clothes can also really help me feel relaxed and get into the creative zone.
Tip 4: Look at other campaigns for inspiration
As much as we’d like to think we are all creative geniuses, ideas don’t just come out of thin air but are often a combination of other sources of influence and ideas merged into something new. With this in mind, the more campaigns, stories, adverts, and ideas you see, the broader knowledge you have to draw inspiration from for your own concept. Just like the more you read, the more you know. It’s no different for PR.
*Great sources of inspiration include*
- Content, Curated
- The Weekly PR
- My Digital Safe Space
- Kaizen’s Content Slack channel
- Answer the Public
- National news and industry-specific press
Tip 5: Take advantage of predictable news
At both agencies I’ve worked at, there’s been an element of taboo around producing the same types of content formats, from indexes to Instagrammable destinations. We’ve even had weeks where we have banned them altogether.
Whilst it’s good to shake things up and push the boundaries to move away from these typical formats becoming a habit and stunting creativity, they aren’t to be underestimated. These campaigns work well as they tap into readership and are great stories to get a lot of links from some impressive publications.
My main piece of advice with these campaigns is to question whether the story makes sense in the media at that time and if it works for your client. In January, we launched a healthiest cities index just as the media started talking about New Year’s Resolutions, eating healthily and shedding the Christmas pounds. The timing of this campaign is what saw it fly and get a total of 225 pieces of coverage. The idea wasn’t original, but we knew it would work in that period of time.
Tip 6: Take advantage of repetitive news for reactive PR especially
Following on from tip 5, you’ll often see that media publications talk about the same sorts of things every year. From how to avoid getting a cold this winter, to tips to create the best DIY Halloween costume, we can predict the types of content that will be coming out and take advantage of it.
Reactive PR has boomed over the last 12 months and if you’re not doing it for your clients and making it a huge priority, then you need to be. By looking into key themes at different times of the year, awareness days, national holidays, you can be as proactively reactive as possible with ideating. And sometimes it can be the most simple ideas and straightforward tips that journalists just need that expert insight from your client on.
Creating an awareness day calendar, as well as checking in every day on what is going on in the news will allow you to produce quick turnaround listicles and campaigns that journalists will all be talking about.
Yes, there will be more saturation for that topic, but give it a go, ride the wave, get in there early if you can, and see what added value you can provide to the conversation to see some impressive results.
Tip 7: Read. The. News
I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on this one as it’s something we all preach as PRs. One piece of advice I do have is that don’t forget to read what you enjoy as well – read what you find interesting and digestible. For me, whilst I make sure I have a look at the tech and financial sites, I spend much more of my time reading digestible, funny, articles on the likes of Metro, HuffPost, LadBible, Refinery29, etc.
Tip 8: Ideate in a safe space
Ideation sessions can be daunting, when you’re sitting in a room with 4 or 5 other people writing down your creative thoughts, waiting for others to potentially slam them down and potentially leave you feeling like an absolute idiot.
This has happened to me and I’m sure most people at some point and it sucks.
So this is one of my most important tips and it is to create a safe space for people to feel comfortable to express their thoughts and ideas. Some people in your meeting may love the process whilst others may find it challenging. Your role as a team member is to encourage everyone to feel confident to say what is on their mind and be able to throw out the craziest ideas.
Sometimes you can’t get to those absolute gems until you’ve gone through throwing out some shocking ideas first.
Tip 9: Get random people in and outside your company to come up with some initial thoughts and themes
Many of us are assigned to certain clients. We produce creative content for across months and years at a time, which after a while can leave our creative juices running dry.
So to get some fresh insight on your client, ask people in your company what their initial thoughts and ideas would be to get a fresh take and spark something new. I have loved doing this in lockdown where I pop in our slack general channel a quick brief of the client and then wait until the end of the day to see what people suggest. It’s a great source of inspiration, you’re not setting anyone to a strict time frame allowing creativity to flow and it can give you a new lease of inspiration.
Taking this further is trying to get friends and family to talk about the client and what they might write about. Not only is it amusing doing it with someone that knows nothing about PR but they may surprise you and see something you hadn’t before.
Tip 10: 30-minute express ideations are EVERYTHING
Agency life is busy and sometimes the thought of an hour-long meeting can be stressful. Express ideations allow you to just take 30 minutes out of your time and really push to make the most out of it. The shorter period gives you a bit of extra adrenaline and you may surprise yourself with what you come up with.
With these tips, you should hopefully be able to come up with some great concepts and enjoy the process along the way!
If you’re looking for more inspiration around content marketing and digital PR, check out our blog, as we’re always sharing our thoughts and advice on the latest trends. If you’re interested in working with us on a digital PR campaign, get in touch with us today.
By Marina Plummer - 14/06/2021