Best-in-class PR strategy: a room full of people in SXSW

Best-in-class PR strategy: a room full of people in SXSW Back to Trends

The room was full of people, and it was early. The organisers working fast (as usual), managed to find a larger venue, that also quickly filled to capacity.

A couple of CIA Creative Thinkers, Nyssa Straatveit and Jacob Eastham, delivered an impeccable storytelling about how the American Central Intelligence Agency educates its employees on how to solve difficult problems, using divergent and creative thinking. During the three years of SXSW festivals I’ve attended, this was the most well-rehearsed presentation I’ve seen. The presenters were not amateurs, but that’s what we expect from CIA employees, isn´t it?

The concept was simple: share tools in order to break four habits that interfere with solving problems. They also brought vivid examples of the challenge that agents have to face nowadays, showing that the CIA is worried about problems like autonomous vehicles, climate change, global food supply capacity, just to mention a few.

I will bring up more details about the creativity question, but not without saying that right before the end the session, the speakers still:

  1. Asked the audience to share our take on solving the creative problem presented at the beginning of the session, using an specific # and tagging @cia on Twitter (in exchange for content).
  2. Reinforced that the CIA recruiter would be happy to share more of their creativity approach with anyone who visited their booth…

Recruiters?? Yes!!

Because at the end, I mean, if you want creative persons, where would be better than SXSW in order to meet them?

It reminded me that while I was in college, my History professor, who was also crazy about movies, talked how the Top Gun film was funded by the Pentagon in an action to help recruit for American the Navy. (It is serious, you can have more information on this link:

And I wondered. We, as agencies, spend hours thinking about content strategies and creative ideas for our clients… And I’m not saying we need to have a film starring Tom Cruise, of course. But the truth is that a session, presented to the right public is always a big outcome for PR. And the CIA proved this yesterday.

But talking about creativity approach at hand, they created a model to reprogram the habits before we had the time to think of problem solutions. Each of them represented by animals (creative, isn´t it?)


Wombat to combat the framing bias (our pre-conceptions)
What if instead of asking for “How to make something”, we would ask “Which are all the ways of doing something”? This helps our brain to understand that there is not only a unique answer, but several. And that these answers can include different resources, persons, and so on.

  1. Wolves to explore beyond the comfort zone
    The idea here is to bring extended knowledge, sometimes from a totally perspective from how you would typically think of solutions. This include conversations with people from other markets and knowledge areas and even to turn to artwork (i.e. study a picture that you like in a museum), a hobby you have, and try to see if there are things in common with the question to be solved.
  2. Wood Ducks to escape from our tendency to think logically
    The learning here is that inspiration is everywhere. One agent saw a man that was taking pictures of wood ducks and decided to understand why, only to find out that these animals were rare to be seem in that region in particular, not only because of different habits – they stay in trees (hang out with squirrels) – but also because they have an unusual migration pattern. By observing that, he realized that sometimes people (and animals) behave differently than one would assume. That meant he and his team were adopting a “logic” paradigm, simply believing that a certain suspect would act in an “expected” way. While changing his perspective from obvious to illogical, he manages to achieve better results
  3. Otters to challenge the status quo and to break paradigms
    The idea is to go further from our understanding and knowledge (the status quo) through brainstorming to exhaust blockages. Thus, before thinking in solutions, the first idea is to first talk about “what is it that we generally do” or “what everyone knows”, in order to start the search for creative solutions.

[Originally published on Meio&Mensagem - 09/03/2019]

Did you like?
Share it
See also


The disenchantment of Latin America

See more
The disenchantment of Latin America


Talk to us Work with us

    We already received your message!

    Soon we will contact you by registered email.

    Send new message

      1. And/or
      We already received your message!

      Soon we will contact you by registered email.

      Send new message