January 31, 2018
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.”
At Bamboo, we are blessed to have an equally technical and creative team, but we don’t let that go to our heads. We work just as hard as the next agency to put those million-dollar-ideas into action. To help us do that, we hold creative brainstorm sessions–or as we refer to them internally “workshops”–on a regular basis both with our clients and on our own.
We take pride in our creative process, and while it might not solve all your problems, we’d like to share how we approach it. When boiled down, that process can be broken down into three parts–preparation, execution, and post-brainstorm. This post will walk through each of those components and the questions we ask ourselves along the way.
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…
- Is it valuable to involve team members not directly involved with this client or project?
- Do you have diverse representation regarding roles, expertise, and perspective?
- Is this a good forum to involve clients? If so, make sure you work with your primary point-of-contact to get all the appropriate parties on board.
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.
Also, think about who will lead the session…
- Are you the leader, or do you want to be more of an active participant?
- If your client is involved, does it make sense for one of their team members to lead the discussion? If so, get them looped in as soon as possible.
- If it’s a large group, consider prepping multiple participants ahead of time to make it easier for everyone to stay on track.
Once you know how many people are participating, think about the space. Do you have a conference room to fit everyone? Will participants be remote? Do you want to get in a new environment? We often rent a conference room by the hour like this trendy one from Breather.
What are the rules?
You may or may not need to spell out rules explicitly, but here are some of our creative workshop guidelines:
- Be open-minded – every idea has merit
- Don’t say no – encourage one another with positive language
- Listen then speak – don’t talk over or interrupt your colleagues, and hear everyone out
- Be present – we’re all busy, but if you can, shut your laptop and leave your phone at your desk
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.
As a highly visual bunch, we often like to put pen to paper…
In the interest of saving time while documenting and debriefing, however, we sometimes prefer to document our sessions digitally.
There are pros and cons to each and should be dictated by your goals and constraints. Regardless of which path you take, make it collaborative as possible (shared Google Doc, whiteboard, index cards, etc.) and be sure to let all the participants know in advance what they should expect.
Brainstorming Exercises and Tips
Just remember to keep your goals and guidelines in mind, and most importantly, have fun!
As a primarily paid social ad agency, we’re usually coming up with Facebook (or other social platforms) ads for specific initiatives. To come up with those concepts, we take a particular approach, starting broad, and doing a few exercises along the way to get juices flowing.
We tend to start most of these sessions as a group, breaking out into smaller groups or individually to jot down ideas before coming back together. Starting by focusing on our client as a whole, we ask…
What is the value proposition?
How would you describe those value propositions in a single sentence?
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.).
How can we visually communicate our value in line with our goals?
Now that you have your audience and value props in mind, agree as a group on the concepts you want to tackle and get visual.There are hundreds of fun and engaging brainstorming exercises that you can apply to these concepts. As social media marketers, we have specific outputs and thus focus on visual concepts for images, carousels, GIFs, slideshows, and videos, as well as text ideas for headlines, ad copy, and descriptions.
Here are a few exercises that help us come up with those…
- The word dance: Similar to mind mapping, this exercise urges you to come up with vivid descriptions, synonyms, or metaphors for your concepts. For each of your topics, start with one word at the nucleus and contribute the first word that comes to mind. Repeat for each new word until you’ve gotten far enough away from the original.
- Go through top-performing ads of the past: Don’t dismiss past success! Jump into Facebook Ads Manager or past performance reports as a refresher on retired creatives that did well, and ones that didn’t. What insights and learnings can you apply to the task at hand? In addition to noting creatives with the best/worst CTRs, look into bottom-of-the-funnel metrics, as well as what worked in different audience demographics.
- Go straight to the source: As an agency, we don’t always have the luxury of speaking with end users, but the Internet is a good stand-in. Search for reviews in app stores, or on sites like these for first-hand accounts of your clients’ experience. Youtube is also a great way to find footage of users reviewing or using the product.
- Get inspired by others: Depending on the channel, we like to borrow from a mix of inspiration–from magazine and newspaper ads to our own ad design guides. Here are a few digital resources to get you started:
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?
What are the next steps?
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:
- Before you even schedule your brainstorm, think about why you’re having this workshop
- The first thing to discuss is what your specific goals or outcomes are, from ad images to campaign concepts.
- Set the ground rules for how much time is allotted, who’s participating, who’s in charge, and how everyone is expected to communicate.
- Start broad, discussing the high-level messaging and value props
- Balance the broad and specific to make sure you’re not forgetting the context of your clients’ needs and brand.
- Don’t be afraid to borrow inspiration from others
- Post-brainstorm, make sure to prioritize, communicate and delegate ASAP.
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.”
We work with the world’s most disruptive brands to design and implement direct-response campaigns fueled by creativity.
Interested in learning how we can work together? Check out our paid social advertising agency services and drop us a line >
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