Is Insight Essential For Creative Ideas With Impact?

Planners and senior marketers debated the source and role of insight in the creative process during a lively webinar on Thursday, January 17, largely agreeing that deep human truths are necessary for sparking ideas with visceral impact. “Do the ‘I’s’ Have It?; Do Great Ideas Depend on Insights for Achieving Impact as a Communicator?” lifted the curtain on why PR firms lag advertising agencies in perceived creative muscle, with company culture and place in the strategic planning pecking order both named as culprits.

Moderated by myself, Ketchum’s Chief Innovation Officer, and the Holmes Report’s Managing Editor, Arun Sudhaman, the webinar featured:

  • Leontyne Green, CMO, IKEA
  • Brett Groom, SVP, Content Integration/Activation, ConAgra Foods
  • Susan Bean, EVP/Creative Catalyst Group, Marina Maher Communications
  • Amelia Torode, Head of Innovation & Venture Strategy, The Good Relations Group
  • Ruth Yearley, Planning & Development Director, Ketchum
  • James Kelly, EVP/Global Director of Strategic and Creative Planning, Ketchum

An impetus for the webinar was the discovery that only 41% of PR practitioners stop to uncover the consumer problem or tension that is “the linchpin between the brand and the target audience” before jumping to tactical brainstorming.  This was one of several alarming findings in a new study on PR creativity, which revealed that 61% of the PR world itself thinks big creative ideas are lacking.  One hypothesis for why insight tilts more to advertising than PR is its origins in the ad business.  Another is semantics.

The panelists shed light on how simple insight is, calling it “not mind blowing and often obvious,” “a fertile revelation” about the consumer in relation to the brand, and ultimately “a fundamental truth that connects viscerally with the consumer in a universal way.”  Amelia Torode, who was an ad planner before crossing into PR, provided one simple clarification — every New Year, people feel compelled to make resolutions.  She described that as an observation.  Every New Year, people try to change too much and end up frustrated.  She described that as the simple realization that sparked “Change one Thing,” a successful campaign for Boots in London.

Sounds easy enough? Panelists debated where great insights come from.  Answers ranged from leading an “interesting and interested life” and “being curious and inquisitive” to being a student of human nature and using emotional intelligence.  Where the experts differed was the extent to which research plays a critical role in fostering insights. Ruth Yearley, a Ketchum Planner in London who learned planning in a branding firm, said sometimes planners “use research like a drunk uses a lamppost,” implying that an over-dependence on data can make spotting the human truth more challenging.

Beyond the research debate, most agreed the journey from research to insight to idea is never linear and often “messy” and the desire to make it neat or siloed should be resisted.  Both Leontyne Green of Ikea and Brett Groom of ConAgra Foods said they strive to not limit strategic planning to their internal Insights department.  Both are happy to collect insights from their marketing partners and employees and believe the responsibility to uncover and understand what makes the consumer tick is shared by all employees.

Susan Bean of Marina Maher Communications discussed her “Eureka Sessions,” which require participants to talk to the target audience in advance of the session and arrive with multiple quotes from the target — in essence, bringing the voice of the consumer into the room.  Campaigns like the Moms Olympics campaign for client P&G originate with a consumer “aha” — in that award-winning case — with the realization that behind every great Olympian is a mom; that P&G is dedicated to helping moms; and moms enjoy watching the Olympics to hear the backstory of each Olympian.  That simple insight produced “Thank You Mom,” the tear-jerker campaign of 2012.

Is insight essential to producing creative ideas with impact?  Quoting Marc Pritchard, the CMO of P&G, Susan Bean answered, “an insight without creativity can be boring but creativity without insight is worthless.”

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