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Harnessing Creativity: There’s no such thing as creative ‘fairy dust’

By Gail Parminter     
Harnessing Creativity: There’s no such thing as creative ‘fairy dust’

The myth of the creative genius alone in a garret, slightly dishevelled and maybe slightly inebriated, suddenly hitting on the ‘great’ idea, is an enduring one. And it’s one that’s been perpetuated in adland. There are legendary stories about how great creatives come up with ideas. For example, the famous Heineken campaign line ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’, was said to have emerged only when the team, Terry Lovelock and Vernon Howe, were sent to Marrakech. The story goes, their boss, Frank Lowe told them not to come back until they’d cracked it. After days of stress, Lovelock woke in the middle of the night and wrote two lines. ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’ and ‘Heineken is now refreshing all parts’.

Now, this is a near perfect example of a ‘creative genius’ narrative – a lone creative suddenly getting inspiration out of nowhere. But notice Lovelock wrote two lines. He didn’t realise which was the actual brilliant one. Imagine the campaign with the second line? You can’t now can you? But there was a debate as to which line would run. Recognising the best idea takes as much creativity as coming up with one in the first place. And often, it’s not the creative that spots it. Agencies are generally full of great creative thinking – the problem is recognising which are the best ideas, getting the whole team to buy into them and then selling them to the client.

So how do we make sure our best ideas don’t end up the agency graveyard of creativity? One of the problems is the disconnect between the creatives and the rest of the team. Creatives bear the burden of being the final part of a long process. The ‘hard’ work has been done … it’s taken weeks of research and countless meetings to get the brief signed off.  And now we light the creative touch paper and wait. We wait for a pair of creative ‘geniuses’ to ‘crack’ it. Once the allotted ‘cracking’ time is up, the bits of ‘brilliance’ are judged.

All those involved in the brief will already have expectations of the what the creative solutions will be, and this will affect the way they receive the ideas. Sometimes expectations can be unrealistic; for example the brief may be extremely restrictive and bland yet the team may be looking for something with ‘wow’ factor.  And yet they won’t really be sure what they mean by ‘wow’. The more we believe that creativity is simply ‘magic fairy dust’, the less chance we have of actually agreeing on what a ‘good’ idea is. So, to be able to create the most fertile ground for an idea to germinate, and to be able to spot a good idea and articulate why it is or isn’t working, the whole team needs to understand the creative process. From junior planner to account director, everyone involved needs to have experienced working on a brief and coming up with ideas. This way their expectations are likely to be less rigid, as they understand how ideas are often lateral leaps from the brief. With hands on experience of having their own work judged, they will see how important clear feedback is. For example, some of the most hated phrases for a creative are ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘it’s not quite there yet’. I once had an account man tell me to ‘dial up the creativity’. These empty phrases mean nothing and are worse than unhelpful. First-hand experience helps everyone involved to develop the tools and the language to talk about ideas in a constructive way.

Knowing how to articulate concepts and ideas, and how to argue your corner are crucial to getting buy-in. Never is this more true when in finally comes to selling the idea to the client. We can’t expect clients to understand how ideas work, so we need to be able to present our concepts not as something for them to ‘like’, but as solutions to their problems. Often we don’t get the right feedback because we don’t ask the right questions.  So we need to know exactly what to ask to get to what the client really means. And we also need to know how best to react to their objections and concerns. After all, when you get back to the agency and the bright-eyed creatives look up and ask ‘so what did they say’, you really don’t want to tell them to get out the ‘magic fairy dust’ do you?

Our next course is in central London on Thursday 13th July. There are a few places still available, so book now to ensure your teams don’t miss out.

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