C-suite executives often question why their agencies don’t come up with better strategic and creative ideas. Agencies often are confounded that the ideas they pose to clients result in cool reception. Why is this mismatched phenomenon occurring, and what are ways to strengthen brainstorming in agencies? Failure to generate creative ideas is a powerful negative that can fail to move brands forward and diminish dynamic relationships with end users.
As agencies downsize and senior executives experienced in brainstorming are part of cost-cutting, there is a new crop of agency folks who are less prepared for the process and rigor of solutions-based brainstorming. They are gathered into a room and told to “be creative” and “generate breakthrough ideas.” It’s no wonder after the appointed time for the task; participants look at their efforts and wonder how they can make something of the fodder.
The need to improve this skillset is imperative to drive agency business development and ideas to pitch as well as to retain existing clients through ongoing, high-quality ideas to gain and hold competitive advantage.
Use the following suggestions to give your brainstorming efforts greater chances to succeed.
- Appoint a designated leader. Agencies tend to use an account lead, strategist or the creative director to run brainstorming. It is often an informal choice based upon availability and individuals chosen to lead may not be vested in the process, perceiving it as outside of their job descriptions. In choosing a leader, clarify that that individual is not just the “scheduler” of the meeting, but a true leader who is responsible for running the meeting, selecting inventive methods to generate ideas and presenting usable outcomes back to the team for further development.
Also, populate the team across disciples. The era of “only the creative department does the heavy-lifting of brainstorming” is a dysfunctional approach. Bring a wider source of people to the table, making sure the leader can facilitate divergent viewpoints.
- Schedule meetings only after time to “mull.” It’s difficult to generate highly creative ideas from a dead stop. Given the rough parameters of the assignment, ask participants to look at direct competitors or other industries for insights on what consumers/customers are currently experiencing. For example, if the client’s desire is to showcase the physical beauty of a new automobile, then investigate what is being done in fashion and make-up that may be similar. Have participants identify visual analogies in and out of the client’s industry to help populate the landscape of ideas. Everyone who comes to the table should have experiential pre-assignments and have them completed to participate.
- Align brainstorming with business strategy. This sounds so simple, but in many sessions, it devolves to what tactic can be used, such as a Facebook execution or a Pinterest idea. Before delving down into the details, make sure that the team strategist has formulated a simple set of strategy guidelines to serve as the organizing paradigm. All ideas eventually need to be rated against their ability to connect to a business plan through strategy.
- “Blue sky” brainstorming scatters “gray clouds.” An often asked question is whether brainstorming can explore ideas that the client can’t afford now or may be a push on a strategy. Allow and encourage divergent thinking and creativity. Out of big ideas, more scalable ideas can emerge.
- Energize the group. It’s important to have people not sitting complacently at the table waiting for others to come up with ideas. Get people on their feet. Use small group and rapid-fire brainstorming on large post-its. Get everyone into the action. There are many effective techniques that can get the group interacting and producing. Focus on leveraging the experiential pre-work by having participants share their thoughts and observations, recording and building upon them.
- Winnow ideas based upon benefits. Funnel concepts through the lens of end-user benefits. Ultimately, users are going to be satisfied in the ideas presented, if concepts make them aware of an unknown benefit. Show them how to leverage the benefit resulting in optimized time/savings or enhanced personal attributes.
Creative brainstorming is often seen as a self-contained, limited activity. In reality, it’s a process where the initial brainstorming needs to be massaged and given substance and shape. As in a football game, a session may lead to a touch-down, but the additional three-point conversion is for those wishing to go further and push their advantage through refinement.
The diminished capacity for creative brainstorming is a trend that can only be reversed by proactive agency leadership. It’s also a scenario where success breeds success as individuals start learning to build upon each other’s ideas and actively align strategies and tactics with clients’ business initiatives.