Article | 18 Jun 2019

Creativity & Data: are they foes or a powerful match?

Posted in Industry news, Motivation & inspiration, Learning, Events,

Whether data and creativity are mutually exclusive and somehow opposite, is at the center of a heated debate. Rationality versus irrationality, knowledge versus imagination. But are they truly enemies or do they go hand in hand? Can they exist in a symbiotic relationship?

With technology advancing and predictive analytics utilising newly available data, the information we have access to is more forward-looking than ever. However, the question as to whether this extensive amount of data should be isolated from creativity remains. Indeed, many wonder if data can stifle creative freedom instead of supercharging the creative process by providing marketers and advertisers with key insights.

To unravel this knot and get to the core of the problem, on the 23rd of May we hosted on behalf of the PRCA a discussion on the Creativity in Data.

Alice Weightman, CEO of The Work Crowd, Hanson Search and Chairman of the PRCA Independent Consultant’s Group led the panel featuring:

> Camilla Lie Jenssen, head of planning of Brands2Life. Camilla has been working for over fifteen years solving communication problems of any kind. Throughout her career she has gained experience as an art director, developing creative offerings and working for world famous brands.

> Richard Palmer, Head of Strategy and Director at Mirum UK. Highly experienced in digital marketing and strategy, Richard works for one of the largest global agencies in the world. He is responsible for delivering Digital Change Management, Strategy, and Planning to marquee clients.

>Ged Carroll, Independent Creative Strategy Consultant. Working in communications for over 20 years under different job titles, Ged has worked across multiple sectors and drove digital offerings at big name agencies in London and Hong Kong. All his roles have focused on developing an effective and efficient solution to a communications problem.


Are data and creativity friends or foes?

As Camilla outlined, to planners, information is essential to conceive a more logical creative brief. Specifically, there could be three main reasons as to why they need to complement each other.

“Through data, we can challenge creative briefs, overturn companies convictions about their target audience and reframe the initial problem” -  Camilla Lie Jenssen

“Thanks to data, we can gain a deeper understanding of consumers and their behavior” - Camilla Lie Jenssen

“It allows us to break new ground as analysing customers conversations enables us to get instant feedback and make adjustments”-  Camilla Lie Jenssen

Seemingly, marketers and advertisers can leverage data to map consumer behavior, inspire creativity and shape big ideas when facing a particularly challenging brief.

Achieving the right balance between insights and instincts

When dealing with data, the question we should ask ourselves is: are there any grey areas we should be aware of?  To Richards, data is an effective tool to gain better insights. However, to find the real data that can really inform the creative process, it is crucial to proceed with caution and be more careful. On this matter, he shared a few useful pieces of advice:

“As the volume of data can be blinding, it is fundamental to remind ourselves that whatever data we're working with is only a subset of the data that is out there. Which data is relevant? This is precisely the challenge that planners are facing” - Richard Palmer

“Secondly, once used data become powerful so it is best if we take it with a pinch of salt, recognise that we are biased and that we are influenced by the world around us” - Richard Palmer

“Finally, never ignore data changes as it might stop being relevant” - Richard Palmer

Even though data can be a good ally,  we still need to know how to look at it and how to reason with it in order not to draw bad conclusions.

Deploying data in an effective way

Regarding the shape and size of data, as Ged explained, it is not just about graphs, numbers or spreadsheets. It might also be a video interview with consumers. That is because we are surrounded by data, either it is quantitative or qualitative.

The most financially solid PR agencies are usually the ones which can make effective and strategic use of data while doing exemplary creative work.

“To stand out from the crowd, professionals should now ensure that their insights along with the creative process are backed by data” - Ged Carroll

However, one of the biggest challenges remains to get good quality data from clients as it doesn’t always fit within PR and comms. And even if it does, organizations most often store data in silos which make it inaccessible from the outside.

For small businesses or freelancers, getting access to data might be expensive: so why don’t you ask the client directly? As Ged pointed out, “the cheapest data is the data the client already has”.  Asking for it should be the first step, before processing it, analysing it and monitoring it through Social Listening tools.

The opportunities of a data-driven world

When it comes to Machine Learning, the problem with it is that it's all effectively driven by human beings. We teach machines how to behave, what to learn. Eventually, there is still a point at which the machine will stop learning. Plus, deploying these technologies and writing codes doesn’t involve much creativity. Admittedly, these days we cannot just analyse this data through these technologies but we also have access to so much information.

“ In the past, when running Adv campaigns, we did not have this luxury” - Camilla Lie Jenssen

“Now, we can  look at the right end of the spectrum and take advantage of data to inform our strategy” - Camilla Lie Jenssen

In other words, we have a golden opportunity that we didn’t have in the past. So why not use it to enhance our Adv Campaigns?

What is hiding behind real-time marketing

If we think about the conflict between fast-food titans McDonald's and Burger King, we wouldn’t probably think that there is data behind it. The tweet Burger King posted last year to poke fun at Kanye West after he professed his love for the rival burger chain, is a perfect example of real-time marketing deploying data.

“There's a shed load of data behind it. And the person who has basically synthesised the Burger King brand voice is like properly living it” -  Ged Carroll

It’s more important than ever to keep your ear to the ground when it comes to your brand’s social media. However, this also shows that data can provide valuable information to use the right tone of voice and embody the Brand Personality. Indeed, this allowed Burger King’s social media manager to push the boundaries of creativity and develop a bold idea that engaged at scale.

The future of data

As Richard explained, if we are using data appropriately, according to the GDPR legislation, then we can still use it quite effectively. Likewise, this legislation is in place for a reason.

“We must be careful and somehow be even more creative to work around it” - Camilla Lie Jenssen

A good loophole, so to speak, could be gaining information directly, through face to face interviews and then use it on the fly.


Perhaps the winning formula to inform the comms process can truly be data + creativity. After all, data can provide valuable insights, but it cannot create an emotional bond with the consumer. That is when creativity and storytelling come into play. They can prove to be equally vital to developing effective marketing strategies. However, the challenge for PR agencies and companies is perhaps to find the best way of marrying the two and achieve the perfect mixture.