‘Innovation’ is Less Complicated Than You Think

Innovation is a white-hot subject in PR and advertising circles.

However, more often than not, when PR and ad pros talk about “innovation” they actually are talking about “creativity,” said Chris Penn, VP, marketing technology at SHIFT Communications and author of the recently published ebook, Leading Innovation: Build a Scalable Innovative Organization.

But there’s a significant difference between the two disciplines, and the failure among agency owners to recognize that can be costly to the top and/or bottom lines. The “creative” is original content created for a campaign or message while innovation is “improving the wheel, not reinventing it,” Penn said. “It’s taking something old and making it new.”

For example, SHIFT regularly develops proprietary research—stemming from its online analytics—to provide premium value to its clients. The Boston-based agency via its database is able to develop artificial intelligence (AI) tools for its most progressive clients, as well.

Whatever the effort, agencies can ill-afford to be intimidated by innovation. “You have your savants” in innovation, Penn said. “But all of us in PR, with lessons and a good teacher, can contribute to innovation, from a junior account executive to the CEO.”

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down.
The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down.

With that in mind, Penn recommends three tips for how agencies can cultivate an innovation strategy:

1. Have leadership buy-in. Agencies are able to innovate only because senior management gives its blessing (and adequate budget). “Leadership has to recognize innovation for you and your team and get out of the way,” Penn said, adding that a mandate for innovation means allotting time for training and reconfiguring internal budgets to reflect new processes.

2. Establish a framework. Agencies have to bake innovation in the day-to-day operation. If you want to take innovation to another level it has to be at the intersection of everything you do as an agency.

3. Every individual has to embrace innovation. In order for innovation to pay legitimate dividends, all your employees have to be vested. They can’t just put out fires and perform tactical duties. They have to track what’s going on in the industry, what the latest chatter is about the best PR practices and “build a mental cookbook” of what you have to do to innovate your agency. “You need to expand your mental storage,” Penn said. “People get so rooted in the day-to-day they don’t have time to talk about innovation.”