PR Fish Bowl

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July 1, 2014

PR Pros: How Thinking Like a Pre-Schooler Can Give You Some Fresh Perspective

PR.lessons.children A recent study found that pre-schoolers actually beat college students when it comes to figuring out how certain gadgets work. This is no surprise to anyone who has seen a young child play with a smartphone, but the type of thinking behind it can help PR practitioners problem-solve differently and perhaps more effectively.

It seems that when a group of four-and-five-year-olds were asked how to get a gizmo to go, they tried a variety of ways. This is evidence of what the researchers term “flexible, fluid thinking” which comes naturally to young children who haven’t been conditioned to think one way or the other.  The adults, on the other hand, knew enough to think they had the answer, and they were overly focused on a single solution, which they stuck with even after it failed. Their actions, of course, showed inflexible, narrow thinking. The upshot is that the children are better at solving problems because, in a way, they don’t know any better than the rest of us!

Here are some examples of common PR conundrums and some ways that fluid thinking might be applied.

The client PR budget has been slashed. Inflexible thinking, like that shown in the study, might move a PR team to stick with the current concepts in the plan, just scaled back. Do half as many bylines, or cut the executive travel to local-market media meetings. By contrast, flexible-thinking individuals might take a bigger-picture look at what’s driving the budget cuts and ask if the current plan is still relevant. If you throw out everything and start from scratch – at least as an exercise – the client may appreciate the fresh approach and the result may be a better, tighter program.

The PR account team is stagnating.  Conventional wisdom would say “don’t rock the boat” with the team, particularly if they get on well with the client and no one wants to fix what isn’t broken. But to wait until something’s broken means you’ve waited too long to address creative issues.  The flexible, fluid thinker will embrace the idea of change and swap out a new member or two as a shot in the arm for all parties.

A negative client story looms.  The first instinct of many PR pros is to do everything possible to bury that story. Much energy and resources are often brought to stamping out negative stories, but they’re often a distraction from proactive work, and they often backfire. We recently had a client choose to embrace the negative story and tackle the questions it raised head-on to correct inaccuracies and move past a negative situation. This approach, while risky to some, proved the benefits of choosing the unexpected solution – the result being a balanced follow-up piece.

The”big idea” was nixed by the CMO.  All agency professionals have experienced a seemingly sudden thumbs-down on a solid creative campaign idea. This is often for a baffling reason – because a higher-up had a negative experience with a similar campaign, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Some ideas are worth fighting for, but, where pushback isn’t advisable, flexible thinking can help. There are many ideas whose essential ingredients can survive if repackaged with a fresh name, new context, or different delivery vehicle. And if all else fails, that “flexible and fluid” mindset can help set the stage for a new creative session – this time, with a few four-year-olds!

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