Charlie Coney (Head of Creative, EMEA, Golin): Creative directors within the PR industry are still a relatively rare breed

Charlie Coney (Head of Creative, EMEA, Golin): Creative directors within the PR industry are still a relatively rare breed

However, "in areas where there has been less attention or demand for creativity, there is a big opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition", says Charlie Coney (Head of Creative, EMEA, Golin). So wouldn't it be nice if there was a creativity coordinator of sorts, able to aim and shoot capably towards the target? Yes, we're talking about PR. And isn't it clear as day that PR needs creativity? Actually, scratch that. If in some way you're addressing more than two people, you need to be creative about it. Because they really, quite literally, don't have time for you. They might not even hear you over all the notifications.

One way to overcome this digital media wall is to take the creative charge. Whioch is what Charlie has doing ever since he was named Creative Director of a PR agency back in 2010, having previous experience in the Client Service & PR departments of several others. Over these last few years, Golin has changed its global model, having shifted towards a non-traditional workflow - the g4 model, based on 4 types of specialists (strategists,  creators, connectors and catalysts) - in which the creative development process is at least as carefully regarded as all the others.

Next, we have Charlie Coney telling us more on these changes & himself:

[The Romanian version of this interview can be accessed here.]

Charlie Coney: the nutshell edition

I studied French and Italian, with a specialty in translation – I am fascinated in Europe and wanted to be an interpreter, until I realised I’d probably end up arguing with the people I should have been translating for.

My first job out of university was with a PR firm.  I saw an advert asking for people who were interested in PR and travel to apply.  I loved to travel, but didn’t know what PR was, but thankfully got the job and have loved working in the industry ever since

The job I learned the most from? I worked for the Red Consultancy for the formative part of my career – from 2000 – 2005 – where I launched the Xbox console, opened the first toll road in Britain, and handled plane crashes.  It was a highly creative agency and taught me all about the importance of creative ideas.


All roads led you to Golin EMEA

At Golin, we believe clients want specialists to work on their business – rather than the more traditional generalists that most agencies employ.  They want someone who lives and breathes strategy, creative, media pitching or account management – rather than a team who all does a bit of both.

Before we switched to the G4 model which delivers this, I started to focus on creative development as this was my true passion – and then helped the agency develop the key competencies needed within a truly successful creator community.


You became CD in a PR setting in 2010. Evolution of the agency

Creative directors within the PR industry are still a relatively rare breed – this was even more pronounced five years ago. Having specialist creative talent is important for a number of reasons – to inspire clients, to develop great work and ensure our ideas are disruptive, engaging and relevant.

Because all I do is focus on creative, we’re able to develop specialist tools and products which improve the creative development process.

Such tools include the Bright Collective – an online co-creation platform we built which now has over 500 creative people from around the world who collaborate to develop new and unusual ideas.  This wouldn’t be possible without specialist creatives.


The relationship between PR & creativity, as you see it

Whether you're selling fast food, promoting supermarkets, launching software or managing a crisis, creative thinking is key for any successful PR agency. With the proliferation and fragmentation of media over the past decade, consumers are now surrounded by so many messages, campaigns and content that you need something special to cut through – that’s the role of the creative.

There are many areas of PR where creativity per se has had less of a role to play, but I believe creativity is valid whether you’re dealing with internal communications, B2B technology or even crisis communications.

Consumer marketing is a very crowded space and so, naturally, you need to work that much harder to get your ideas to cut through. In areas where there has been less attention or demand for creativity, there is a big opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition.


Why has this been such a hot topic in the last few years?

I think this is due to the changing nature of the media landscape and the fact consumers are getting better at screening out the messages and campaigns they don’t think are relevant. Because of this filter, brands need to try hard to find ways to show they’re relevant to the audience they’re trying to reach.

As traditional print media struggles to find its role and the popularity of social media content becomes increasingly determined by algorithms, the role of creatives within the industry will continue to increase.


Trends currently "guiding" the PR industry

The key trend is social purpose and the opportunity that exists for brands to step in and tackle some of the issues audiences care most about, the things that matter to them more than anything else. A brand that does that will build long term engagement, trust and find a place quickly in the hearts of the people they’re talking to.

And so – at events like Cannes (and many others) – awards are often won by campaigns that show how PR can be used for good. Which is how we get to a place where five of the Gold winning campaigns were for nonprofit causes and at least half of the remainder either promoted socially-responsible products or focused on companies associating themselves with good causes

I believe it’s fundamentally important to build sustainability and purpose into brands – it’s not just good for you, it’s good for the planet – and if you look at Unilever's 'sustainable living brands' - e.g. Dove, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry's – they accounted for 50% of the company's growth last year. In fact, they grew twice as fast as Unilever's other brands.


The Romanian communication industry. The PR segment

When I look at the work coming out of the network, I am excited to see Golin Romania developing some of our most innovative, creative and disruptive work. I’d like to build on that and ensure that they stand on stage in Cannes next year and pick up some much deserved gold or silverware.


What's in store for you and your agency?

It is hard to describe Golin as a traditional PR agency – we reset the agency model and continue to innovate through the tools and products we develop, and the campaigns we’re developing. 

Across the network, we’re producing TV ads, outdoor campaigns, digital activations and building websites – I’d like to see us continuing to drive the industry forward and be the agency that defines what communications looks like in the future.

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