Does PR Have a Creativity Problem?

Our friends at the excellent Spin Sucks blog asked a pointed question earlier this week:

“Will a lack of creativity be the demise of the PR industry?”

Given the fact that our business continues to grow while so many others struggle, we see the “demise” aspect of this headline as a rhetorical glimpse into the distant future. But it’s very interesting. Stated another way: Are PR and marketing professionals so scared of offending someone, anyone that they avoid all things colorful, interesting and remotely creative? And will dull, run-of-the-mill PR efforts grow so common as to negate the value of the service itself? Most companies can write their own press releases, right?

The post primarily concerned Pizza Hut’s recent PR controversy. To recap: The company offered a lifetime’s supply of pizza to anyone who would use last week’s “town hall” debate to ask the presidential candidates whether they prefer sausage or pepperoni. Quite a few feathers got ruffled, and Pizza Hut’s marketing reps quickly backed down, announcing that the campaign would move online as part of a “natural progression.”

Yet Forbes contributor Aaron Perlut called the campaign “brilliant” and claimed that its demise in the face of public outrage was a perfect example of the PR industry’s biggest flaw:

Nobody has a sense of humor, and every campaign must bring with it a 100% likelihood of success; no true risk is acceptable. Unlike ad agencies, PR firms do not usually win clients that encourage them to “think outside the box”—and from where we sit it looks like the box just keeps shrinking.

Perlut makes a very important point: The debate questions were screened, meaning “there was no way on God’s green earth” that either of the candidates would have faced the toppings question. In other words, it was a clever PR stunt designed to be just that–and nothing more.

So tell us, PR pros: Will PR teams always “lose the battle” to go against the grain? Will the public’s propensity for outrage reduce the business to a bunch of lifeless automated press releases?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.