There are 13,000+ advertising agencies in the United States. Each of those agencies, no matter the niche they’re in, have very few competitive levers at their disposal. One might argue that people are the only real advantage, so what makes those people so valuable?
As advertising mogul William Bernbach famously said, "There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately, they talk the best game. They know all the rules ... but there's one little rub. They forget that advertising is persuasion, and persuasion is not a science, but an art. Advertising is the art of persuasion."
Preparing for Your Creative Brainstorm Session
Before even thinking about running a brainstorming session, ask yourself…
Why are we doing this?
While we love hanging out in a room bouncing ideas around for hours, we can’t afford to brainstorm just for the heck of it. Whether you’re generating creative for a specific campaign, launching ads along with a rebrand, or simply refreshing old creative, it’s crucial to know your intentions.
What are our goals?
Once you know why you’re holding this creative brainstorm session, you’re ready to set your goals. Your intent should dictate your goals and should be measurable and reasonable outputs. For example, you might want to come up with 30 new static image ideas, four campaign concepts, or just one multi-channel creative concept. Set these outputs upfront, make sure every participant is on board, and let them guide the conversation.
What constraints should we keep in mind?
Your goals will also dictate many of the constraints or parameters. These might be regarding mediums (image, video, etc.), channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), budget, or resources available. For example, are there new or existing visuals you can make use of? Is there budget to have a photoshoot or buy stock images/video?
Much of this information may be known, but it’s always a good idea to discuss as you’re going into a session, which leads us to several other questions to answer up front…
How much time do we have?
Another constraint we acknowledge up front is time. Place hard limits here, and be reasonable. While longer sessions are great to get in the zone, they’re much harder to schedule. We typically aim for anywhere between an hour and a half to half a day depending on our goals.
Pro tip: coffee and pastries or lunch is always a good way to keep butts in seats for more extended periods of time.
Who should participate?
Be mindful of who you invite to participate…
It can be tricky to balance diversity and focus, so regardless of who you invite to the table, be sure to communicate the shared goals to everyone up front.
What are the rules?
You may or may not need to spell out rules explicitly, but here are some of our creative workshop guidelines:
We try to balance diving into specific ideas and reigning in the dialogue in the interest of time. Whether you maintain an ‘idea parking lot’ to revisit later, or you shelve an idea altogether, a good leader knows when to step in without shutting any ideas down.
How are we documenting this process?
Prepare yourself for this blasphemous statement… You don’t need sticky notes.
Brainstorming Exercises and Tips
Once you understand your goals and parameters and have laid your ground rules, it’s time to jump in! There’s no “right” way to do this, and many different brainstorming exercises you might want to try out depending on your goals and desired outcomes.
What is the value proposition?
It might seem like you all already know the answer to this question, but humor us and take a few minutes to explore it. What is the value of buying this clients’ product/service? What value does the brand itself have? How does it make us feel? How is it better than competitors’ offerings?
Don’t spend too much time here, but try to put together a comprehensive list of describers–you’ll likely throw around some things you haven’t thought of before. Then, with those responses fresh in mind, ask yourselves…
How would you describe those value propositions in a single sentence?
Go through your existing list and pick out some favorites to simplify and consolidate. Try to agree on one sentence (or two) that will drive the rest of your discussion. This sentence should encapsulate the ‘what’ of the client as well as the ‘why.’
Your future self will thank you, as this becomes a group-agreed-upon qualifier that you can keep referring back to.
How would you describe the ideal audience?
Urge each participant to come up with four or five profiles of individuals that would buy or use your clients’ solution. Think about demographics (gender, age, geographic location, level of education, profession, salary, etc.) and psychographics (motivations, fears, desires, etc.).
Here are a few exercises that help us come up with those…
Although there’s no ‘right’ way of doing these exercises, organized documentation is crucial. Whether you break out into groups, spend time individually, or stay together for these exercises, be sure to constantly organize your ideas while going through these exercises.
Wrapping Up Your Creative Workshop
In our opinion, wrapping up our brainstorming sessions can be one of the hardest parts. It’s easy to riff off of ideas and come up with great theoretical concepts over an hour and a half. The hard part comes when you have to make things happen with those concepts.
What ideas make you excited?
During this brainstorming wrap-up, think back to your communication rules, staying positive, respectful and open-minded.
Whether you vote with a show of hands, tallies, or tabs, it’s important to leave enough time to do this as a group, giving everyone a chance to share their ideas and vote on concepts that stand out.
What ideas are most in line with our goals and most feasible in the short-term or long-term?
Now that you have some amazing concepts ready to go, it’s time to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Most of your sessions’ outputs should be feasible, either in the short-term or long-term thanks to your upfront preparation, but if you’re like us, you might have A LOT. Whether you do this after the brainstorming session or as a group, make sure each idea is clearly prioritized and tied to specific initiatives.
But remember, it’s never too early to start planning for future campaigns. Don’t spend too much time on this, but don’t scrap a brilliant idea just yet. Once you’ve prioritized, it’s time to delegate.
What are the next steps?
These workshops are only successful if all parties are involved in the actual session, AND are committed to following through on the outputs. Give everyone tasks, deliverables, and deadlines.
As a rule of thumb, the faster you can follow up with the group, the more engaged your stakeholders will be. Make sure you follow up with everyone, regardless of their involvement in the project. Don’t underestimate the power of giving your team and your clients’ positive affirmation after a sometimes hectic or mentally draining session.
Whether you read that entire post, or just grabbed the guiding questions, you’re in a good place to start preparing for some creative brainstorming!
For your convenience, here’s a handy checklist to help you prepare:
If you’ve taken one thing away from this post, it’s to keep your goals and restraints in mind, balancing reasonable and concrete outputs with crazy ideas.
At the end of the day, we’re advertisers, selling products, and in the fine words of Mr. Ogilvy, “If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative.”
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