Five Ways To Come Up With Great PR Ideas

Much of successful public relations has to do with simply spotting good ideas, and recognizing their PR value. But generating good press for businesses and brands also means coming up with fresh concepts on a consistent basis — especially after the cool new product has been launched, or the buzz from a seasonal campaign has died down. Consider these ways to generate ideas for the times when things threaten to go dry.

Spot trends.  People who are great at PR ideas aren’t just naturally creative; they consume and analyze media constantly. While reading the latest pop culture story of the week or getting up to speed on international politics, look for common threads that seem to converge, and make the connections for brands. Is your tech startup’s growth on pace with small business data? Does a new product appeal to an emerging demographic? How is it part of a growing trend, or does it buck that trend? All are good fodder for visibility.

Borrow other brains. Ours is a collaborative business, so when in doubt, pull others in. Include people similar to you as well as those with a different orientation or bias. Make it fun and worth everyone’s time by throwing in treats and making it an official brainstorm; or, just pull in two colleagues at lunch. Above all, let the conversation flow, don’t object to any ideas (no matter how off-target), and write everything down. Even a random remark can lead to a great idea.

Use the calendar. I’ve never been a fan of “fake” holidays for PR (no offense, National Bobblehead Day!), though if you’re really clever, it can work for PR. But there are plenty of legitimate calendar events to work with if you think it through. There are the major holidays, as well as anniversaries, milestones, and the changing seasons. Then there are pop culture events — Superbowl tie in? Oscars angle? — school related periods, elections, and anything else happening, really. Make your angle relevant by pegging it to something timely, and it’ll become a natural fit.

Try something wacky and fun. Often when thinking up ideas for generating press, we tend to be serious, putting on our “smart” hats, which is good and necessary. But once in a while, let yourself think about what would be really fun to do with the business or brand. If your product is a food or beverage, come up with a creative contest and offer to stock a party for the winner! If it’s a B2B service, try a competition where the winning company gets the service free for a month.

Consider a stunt.  A successful stunt doesn’t have to be huge and expensive, although strong visuals can help. Think in terms of a limited-time offer, photo opportunity, or even a prank (remember when Taco Bell announced it had bought the Liberty Bell? Or when Burger King said it had removed the Whopper from its menu?) It’s even better and less risky if the execution results in people being helped, like this New Year’s campaign by a British company which offered to dry clean suits for free for anyone who was unemployed.

Just One Crazy (PR) Idea…

I think they called the late, great Robin Williams’ cancelled TV show about ad execs “The Crazy Ones” because many great creatives – even PR types – are known for that one wacky idea.

At our agency we subscribe to a school of thought that encourages – with limitations – the full expression and exploration of crazy ideas, provided there’s a “sane” foundation that means the idea might turn into a workable concept. We’ve all experienced the “that’s so crazy it just might work” phenomenon, like our creative job searches for clients, or our Valentine’s Day “break up with your bank” campaign for a credit union that actually had some journalists humming break-up tunes.

Herewith we provide a method for taking those sometimes out-there concepts and smartly shepherding them into reality.

Nurture an effective idea system. This means an environment where ideas are actively encouraged—from all quarters. Make submission simple, and let staff know that evaluation of their suggestions will be quick, egalitarian and effective. Implementation of even one employee suggestion, no matter how “off the wall,” helps boost morale and can positively impact the health of the workplace, literally and figuratively.

Foster fun, not fear. Gather brainstorm participants (don’t necessarily call this session a brainstorm, though, because that adds “idea anxiety.”) Take advantage of a weekly meeting or other gathering and get each participant to come up with the most impractical ideas that could help solve a company need.

Use parallel thinking to mold and improve ideas.  Try this exercise to help mold a crazy idea into a workable, even breakthrough one. Then probe deeper to see how the “ridiculous” concept might actually work. Participants can do this on paper and not share with the group – just yet. Next, partner up some people to share and refine the idea more. Each team works on the idea until they feel they’ve got something to share with with the group, who can then build a way to implement.

Build in safeguards. While freewheeling thought and spirited discussion can lead to game-changing ideas, there have to be parameters to reign in the crazy. In our office we are always quick to use our past experience for what works and what doesn’t as a barometer for final idea selection for a client or company need. Sound rationales are bound to trump crazy in the real world!

If you lead with the crazy….You are taking a big risk whether presenting to your internal team or to a client or customer. Know the audience, be prepared to answer any tough questions and always have a few more concepts in your pocket.

The Idea-File-Phile

What do you do with all the good ideas you come across, whether business or personal? Do you see a great website and bookmark it? Spot a creative email and shove it in a folder? Tear out a magazine page and stick it in a binder?

Do you ever look at them again?

I propose that you take an hour a week to reign in all your best ideas and make a file. The cloud works better for some; for others, it can be a shoebox. The point is to get all the creative thoughts into a place that you can both remember it and access it when you need it.

This past Christmas I wanted a particular gift for someone and knew I had kept it in a “good idea file” but had to ask: was it a file in a drawer or on a drive? I later found I had it on both. Overkill? Maybe, but as a good idea-file-phile, I believe that more is more.

To generate more of your own good ideas, read this post from the Freakonomics guys. It makes the case that great ideas don’t come from lone geniuses, but from connected networks. Be sure to bookmark and stick in your ideas file!