Opinion: The Big Story vs The Big Idea

Emma Hazan, MD of consumer at Hotwire PR, on the creative idea and why it’s the research and insight behind it which dictates campaign success.

Emma Hazan

Author and storyteller Carmine Gallo says: “Ideas are the currency of the 21st Century and stories facilitate the exchange of that currency”. Wise words indeed.

Except, we tend to forget one can’t work without the other, and in fact neither work without a grounding in reality.

Where does that grounding in reality come from? Research. Research on what your audience cares about, what the brand you’re pitching for represents and then identifying the sweet spot where the two meet. This is your insight – which in turn informs the strategy you need to take.

At Hotwire, we’ve imposed a blanket ban on thinking about strategy or creative until the research phase is complete. To make this work, we’ve invested in a specialist team with access to the right tools. And crucially, we give them the time they need to do good work. Far too often agencies give their team a matter of hours to research the brief and usually only do it once they’ve already had an idea. Madness!

Trying to force fit an idea will either lose you the pitch – or worse, it will have your other mates in PR laughing behind your back when it falls flat on its face.

That’s not to say human instinct has no place in the research process. Far from it – the best ideas are borne out of a combination of the right data and the experience and instinct to realise what this means. Data may tell us what people are thinking, but experience tells us how to act on it. Combining the two – and understanding what the data doesn’t tell you – is the secret to developing memorable campaigns.

Only then can you start thinking about the stories that need crafting – ones that are both genuine and convey emotion.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new business brief and go straight to the big idea. But creativity with no insights or actual story behind it is pointless.

The campaigns that really make an impact are the ones with a strong story to tell – take REI’s #OptOutside campaign that won big at Cannes this year. The creative path itself wasn’t ground-breaking, but it was the story of a big retailer paying its staff not to work but play (outside) on Black Friday that captured people’s, and then other retailers’, imagination.

This is a big story. A story that was true to the brand and inspiring enough to get others to buy into it and re-tell that story themselves. But that story didn’t just happen overnight.

Ideas without stories lack authenticity and fail to derive any emotion from your audience. In an industry where the majority of what we’re trying to do is build emotional connections between a brand and its audience you’d think this was pretty obvious. And yet that’s not always the way is it?

Why? For a start there’s time, or lack of it. Add a handful of clients, team reviews, the weather, the commute and in my case, whether my kids have been up in the night, or in my husband’s case if Arsenal just lost – which therefore adversely affects me too – and it doesn’t always make for the best recipe for doing what we ought to do.

But, if you want to win big at Cannes – or even win that next pitch – you need to stop jumping straight to the big idea, or even the big story, and take a big step back.

Take your time finding and analysing the data that’s out there. Invest in a research team and ensure they have the relevant tools to help them and your ideas will get better. As will the results.

  • Emma Hazan is Hotwire’s MD of Consumer. She responsible for the creative direction and growth of its consumer work across all Hotwire’s offices. She has more than 15 years of experience in the PR industry across technology and consumer lifestyle sectors, working on brands as diverse as BlackBerry, Paramount Home Entertainment and Heinz through to O2, Shazam and Vodafone.
  • Want to get better at creating a winning idea? Here are 3 steps to owning the creative idea in PR.
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