Angela Benander, Vice President of Advocacy and Corporate Responsibility
Inspiration is a concept often reserved for the arts or more creative professions like graphic design or fashion. But the problem-solving we do for clients at Culloton Strategies often needs to go beyond the typical tools of our profession – we need more than press releases, media pitches and key messages.
To me, creativity means solving problems in a new way, looking at something familiar through an unfamiliar lens. Some of the best work we do in this field includes some spark of inspiration, often from an unusual place.
The summer months of 1994 were my last weeks of relative freedom before I left for college. Along with hours of MTV, there were three HBO movies that seemed to be on infinite loop in our blue-carpeted TV room with the ancient sectional: Fried Green Tomatoes, Showdown in Little Tokyo starring the recently deceased Brandon Lee, and Working Girl.
Setting aside the fact that I’ve had a raging crush on Harrison Ford since I was a first-grader, I couldn’t get enough of Working Girl that summer. Having grown up in a rural environment, what felt like galaxies away from the Wall Street professionals in the movie, I was fascinated by these characters who wore expensive suits every day, attended catered office parties, and generally seemed very cool and important. Also Tess, played by Melanie Griffith, was desperate to jump class, to leave her blue collar background behind and use the education she’d worked so hard for. As an 18-year-old with no professional connections, I could relate to her desire.
The icy boss character Katherine, played by Sigourney Weaver, ends up stealing one of Tess’ best ideas and passes it off as her own (I wonder what Sheryl Sandberg would have to say about this movie…). At the film’s climax, Tess wins the upper hand when she forces her way into an elevator with the executive she’s trying to pitch and explains precisely how she got the idea for the unorthodox merger she and Harrison Ford are proposing, whipping out clippings from her briefcase:
This is Forbes. . . . It’s just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting. Now the same day . . . I’m reading Page Six of the Post, and there’s this item on Bobby Stein the radio talk show guy. . . . He’s hosting this charity auction that night–real blue bloods. Now I turn the page to Suzy who does the society stuff and there’s this picture of your daughter . . . and she’s helping to organize the charity ball. So I started to think, Trask, radio. Trask, radio. And then I hooked up with Jack, and he came on board with Metro. And so now, here we are.
The big-shot executive Tess and Harrison Ford have been pitching then asks Sigourney Weaver to explain how she came up with the idea to acquire radio stations. Of course, she can’t, Tess is vindicated and rewarded at the end of the movie with a new job in finance, her very own office and an assistant she vows will never have to fetch her coffee. Oh, and Harrison Ford as a boyfriend, which is also a very nice perk.
Most PR professionals read the news and keep up with social media. But my advice is to remember that inspiration and ideas can come from anywhere. The more diverse your reading, media consumption and experiences, the more it can pay off.
Here are some examples of where I’ve personally drawn inspiration in what seemed to be an unrelated work challenge:
- *TV commercials
- *A restaurant menu
- *A conversation about renewable energy with my stepdad
- *Radio shows
- *Walking around the woods in Door County
- *Creative writing class
- *Eavesdropping on the El
- *Articles in The New Yorker
I firmly believe the more you exercise these “other” parts of your brain, it helps not just solve a problem, it helps you deliver surprising and unique results to your clients.
So, take a lesson from Melanie Griffith – read those gossip pages! (And maybe some Dickens while you’re at it.)