Work in PRogress – Issue 27 – Richard Paul

My Work in PRogress guest this month is the brilliantly talented Richard Paul, who is a Creative Director at Propellernet. Since joining Propellernet two years ago I’ve been lucky enough to learn from Richard’s crazily creative brain, and so it was great to chat more about his top tips for tapping into your most creative self.

In this issue we cover Richard’s eclectic karaoke choices, how to keep up inspiration when ideating, and what to do if you don’t consider yourself a naturally creative person. Enjoy!

What is your ultimate shower song? (The song you can give a 10/10 Grammy-worthy performance of in your shower on a Saturday morning).

So I would have answered Taylor Swift’s Bejewelled for this, but we recently did karaoke at Propellernet where I choose this song and I gave a very subpar performance, so now I’m second guessing myself.

Maybe Pursuit of Happiness by Kid Cudi is more within my Saturday morning vocal range, and is a nostalgic classic.

What are your three favourite campaigns that you’ve ever worked on? 

This is a real tough one and I feel like this will go live, and I’ll remember something I’d rather go in place of one of these, but:

The Rage Yard, Scrap Car Comparison: 

So I know it isn’t all about the numbers, but I do love it when a campaign goes huge, and this one was so much fun to work on too. It was actually the first campaign I worked on when I returned to Propellernet, so felt special to be working with old colleagues again, and because of COVID, it was the first time a lot of us had met the client face-to-face.

While filming, I almost fell off the top of the tank when it was moving and one of the clients pretty much saved my life, so it was the ultimate bonding experience. Plus, I feel it’s the ultimate example of taking a chance when it comes to PR. Without the pandemic this idea would never had existed, or it at least would have got no where near as much attention, but it ended up being the perfect time to place a car scrappage company in the middle of that very busy news cycle.

It was also our first campaign with Scrap Car Comparison, so everyone involved took a big risk on making it happen, which made it even better when it worked as well as it did. It’s such a good example of why people should take risks and not be conservative when it comes to digital PR. It’s obviously quite hard to get a car scrappage company covered by CNN, but tapping into how everyone was feeling at the time, really helped the brand to stand out.

FIFA Mums, Marathonbet: 

This stands out for me because it again involved taking a big risk and it paying off. I was hired to do the PR for a gambling company (please don’t judge me, I only spent a few months there before realising my mistake) that had never really done any PR beyond the standard B2B trade style stuff. They had insight from their social media team that beyond football, their predominantly male audience were most interested in video games, and YouTubers like KSI, who at the time was still doing FIFA reaction videos. 

I joined when the new season of the Premier League was about to kick off, and betting companies are generally going out with quite dry predictions for the season ahead. So I had the idea to create an alternative prediction of the opening weekend’s games, by pitting two mother figures who had never before played video games, against each other on FIFA to play each fixture and therefore predict the result of each game. Placing an accumulator on their FIFA results would’ve won you over £1 million, so created a nice story, but no one really ‘got it’ internally. I persevered feeling it would work, but definitely felt like I would have a lot to answer for if it didn’t.

It took until the day before the new season kicked off for the campaign to get approved, but then landed the brand on key titles like LadBible, ESPN, HuffPost and the Mirror, and did really well for them commercially, so was a HUGE relief – and helped to silence my imposter syndrome a bit.

Despite it being in an industry I’m not proud of having worked in, the campaign stands out as one that made me realise quite early-ish in my career, that audience insight can be so powerful for PR.

Return to Gold Hill, Evans Cycles: 

I picked this one because my favourite PR campaigns are the campaigns that are just so simple and leave you like ‘oh my god, why didn’t we think of that’ – so it was really cool to actually work on one of those campaigns.

The brief from Evans Cycles was to create a campaign that promoted their range of electric bikes, by highlighting two of their main selling points: how they make commuting to work much easier (and better for the planet) without arriving to work all sweaty, and how they can keep people cycling much later in life, as they require less effort to pedal.

The resulting idea, was to get the original ‘Hovis boy’ from the old 1973 advert back to Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, where he could only push his bike up the steep hill to deliver bread as a child, to now cycle up it at the age of 58, with the help of his trusty new electric bike.

The original advert was named one of Britain’s most ‘beloved’ adverts of all time, so there was huge interest in it, and The Mirror even covered the campaign with the headline, ‘Electric Bikes: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread’ which I think meant we completed PR or something. It was pretty amazing, and resulted in Evans selling a lot more electric bikes, which is the main thing!

Keeping inspiration up across several clients all of the time can feel draining sometimes. What tips do you have for those who might be feeling a little creatively burned out? 

  • Change your location: Quite a lot of the time, I find it hard to transition from Slack, outreach and admin tasks to coming up with ideas at the same desk, so find a change of location to be incredibly helpful. I’ve actually learnt I do some of my best thinking when I’m getting ready in the morning, so if I’ve got a brief I have to come up with ideas for, I make sure I have a think while brushing my teeth or showering and somehow the inspiration seems to happen. Although if the bathroom doesn’t work for you, I recommend a walk or even having a little think while making a cup of tea. Getting away from the screen can work wonders! I’ve made the mistake in the past of thinking all work has to happen at my desk, but it doesn’t – just jot stuff down in your notes on your phone or Slack it to yourself.

  • Turn off Slack and notifications: Speaking of Slack, e-mails and things like that, I find it can be such a mood killer when it comes to thinking of ideas. Like I could just be getting going with a thought and then a Slack comes through and ruins it. Turn it off, or definitely make use of the ‘status’ function on there, to let people know why you aren’t responding.

  • Allow time at the beginning of the day: This sort of goes hand in hand with me thinking well when I’m getting ready, but at the start of the day you’re (hopefully) going to be feeling quite fresh, and is generally a good time to come up with ideas. I can tend to feel frazzled at the end of the day, and aren’t ever feeling too inspired at that point, so find it can really help to allocate time when you know you’re going to be feeling awake and well.

  • Try some rapid-fire ideation: Saying that, something I’ve found can help on the odd occasion is to force yourself to come up with ideas in a short period of time. For example, if I’ve got 15 minutes before lunch, I’ll try and come up with ideas in that time, and you can be surprised what your brain can pull out when it’s against the clock! Even if they’re just thought-starters you can then return to, that 15 minutes could be so worthwhile.

  • Keep a doc of all of your ideas: I’ve got this 100+ page Google document with every idea I’ve come up with at Propellernet, and while there is some absolute garbage in there, I do find it can help to get me thinking, to look back at old ideas I’ve come up with. I think it just helps to put me back in that headspace, or at least I’ll find an old idea that might not have worked at the time, but could potentially spin in a way to make it work now. It definitely pays to note everything down and not let it fall into the ether.

  • Try and think of something you would want to show your friends or family: How I tend to test out a lot of ideas, is to think of whether I would be happy to tell my friends or family it was something I was working on. If I would feel embarrassed by it, its probably not any good. I also think that trying to come up with ideas that people you personally know would like can do a lot of help when ideating, because we are trying to create stories that real people will engage with at the end of the day. Kicking off your thought process with ‘what would X’ think is cool/funny/interesting can be a good way to start. 

What would your advice be for someone who doesn’t consider themselves naturally creative?

  • Stop telling yourself you’re not creative: I think the first thing is to stop thinking you’re not creative, as that’s going to immediately put you on the back foot when trying to come up with ideas, as you’ll just be thinking everything is ‘no good’. It’s like telling yourself you’re going to give a terrible presentation – you’ll inevitably give a terrible presentation. Anyone can come with amazing creative, so stop being silly, basically.

  • Think about what you like to see: Whether you’re a more analytical or creative personality, you’re still going to like and engage with things you see on TV, social media and in the news – which means other people will like those things too. Applying your own interests to your ideation can make it a lot easier, as you’ll be more invested in those ideas. This is especially valuable for reactive PR as you’ll know what’s happened in the latest series of Selling Sunset, or whatever it may be.

  • Twist someone else’s idea: A mistake a lot of people can make when it comes to ideation is to think that absolutely everything has to be completely original and unique. That’s so hard to come by in 2023 and you can quickly notice that a lot of great, award-winning campaigns are smart twists on something that came before it. I like to look at other celebrated marketing/PR work and think ‘what would be my client’s version of that?’ You don’t need to magic something out of thin air, and taking inspiration from elsewhere is key!

  • Be vulnerable: When you think about it, it actually takes a lot of guts to sit in front of a group of peers and talk about this thing you’ve come up with, not exactly knowing how it’s going to be received. But the most memorable PR or marketing campaigns will have come from someone going out on a limb, and just saying it anyway. The worst thing would be to think ‘oh no, that’s stupid’ and never tell anyone the idea, which you might have a tendency to do if you’ve labelled yourself as ‘not creative’. There should be no judgement when sharing ideas back with others and I would hope people feel comfortable enough in their teams to be vulnerable and talk about their more ‘weird’ ideas, because they’re usually the best ones – or there could at least be something in it that could be built on by someone else. Learning to back yourself and not be concerned if an idea falls flat can help you to allow yourself to think of more unique ideas, as opposed to falling back on ‘safe bets’ you’re comfortable with sharing.

Finally, what does being a work in progress mean to you? (Both professionally and personally)

For me being a work in progress is getting to the point where you’re comfortable in your own skin, and happy with who you are. There’s a lot of imposter syndrome in this industry and throughout my career I’ve had times where I’ve felt like I need to be like this or that person to succeed or be good at my job. 

It happens a lot now with people feeling the pressure to be ‘known’ on Twitter and things like that, but I’ve come to learn (or am at least getting there) that it’s best to focus on the value you add in your position, and that it’s actually a really good thing to have a team, friend group, family or whatever, of varied skillsets and personalities – it would be so dull if everyone was the same!

You can keep up with the brilliant Richard on Twitter here and LinkedIn here.

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