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The Secret to Brainstorming Like a Professional

We recently presented a simple 5 step process for creative ideation anyone could benefit from. However we also pointed out the technique for producing ideas doesn't encapsulate the way we as professionals manage to shoehorn the whole process into the deadline packed world of marketing where ideas are not the purview of a single person. So how do we come up with ideas as an agency–incorporating everyone's creative labor into the process–without defaulting to design by committee?

Step one: The Pitch

All of our projects being with a creative brief. Before the creative process can begin the account team develops a one to two page summary of the project with the all necessary technical specifications from the target audience to the client's list of mandatories. A good creative brief identifies the goals for the project and provides the creative team with a solid jumping off point. We outline the schedule, the deadlines, and the next steps for the project. This sounds like a pretty dry process, but it doesn't have to be.

Step two: A Brief Discussion

The brief is more than a piece of paper, it’s a presentation. Each part of the brief is discussed with the creative team and their feedback is incorporated into the development of the project's parameters. We discuss the client and the problem we’re trying to solve and if inspiration strikes we quickly sketch out our initial ideas for possible solutions. This isn’t a proper brainstorming session so much as its getting everyone on the same page so we can work together on developing solutions.

Step three: Homework

Once we’re all on the same page and we share an understanding of the project we break off for each of us to work through our own process. The account team digs into any questions the creative team has and tries to provide as much information as possible while they hunt for inspiration. Some are fans of the mood board, others jot down ideas while listening to music and working on several projects at once. What is important to note here is we don’t “brainstorm” together, we each practice our own style of ideation.

Step four: And Then We Wait

Ideas don’t happen overnight. Well okay, sometimes they come to us in our dreams, but that's not what we mean. Ideas need time to gestate, there needs to be a pause where the subconscious takes over and ideas are formed without direct attention. Since this is such a personal process we each take this step at our own pace. When we first meet to discuss the project and build the schedule we incorporate enough time in between meeting for ideation and for the unconscious processing. We like to have at least a day, but we can do in a few hours if we’re in a hurry.

Step five: Circle Back

Once we have our ideas we meet up again for our internal pitch. Criticism might seem like a dirty word that to many means only negative feedback. But we see criticism as the necessary process of identifying what works and what doesn't with every idea. Some ideas fall flat, but when we have an idea that really works, we polish it up with critical feedback and put it on the shortlist. Our goal is to walk away from these meetings with anywhere from 2-5 ideas we love and a strategy for executing them.

Step six: Mock Ups

With a few ideas in tow, the creative team knuckles down and gets to work. We don’t try to get all the way to a final draft, just far enough to show them what we have in mind. The ideas will get a few more rounds of criticism and feedback at this stage as the design team brings them to life. Once we have something were comfortable showing to a client, we do one last check to make sure we still like them and then we get ready to present.

Step Seven: Polish and Post

At the final stage and the final part of the process we open our door–so to speak–to feedback from the client  Sometimes this can take dozens of drafts to get it right, sometimes we get it right the first time. There’s no magic number, but on average we go through about three rounds. Once everyone is satisfied we’ve reached the best possible form we polish it for the big lights: purchasing stock photos or music, mixing or color correcting, replacing any filler copy, and exporting it to whatever delivery specifications were specified in the creative brief.

Great ideas and great work comes from a place of structure and organization. The visual of the crazy artist finding his or her muse in an Italian bungalow just won’t cut it for marketing, and maybe it shouldn’t. After all, it’s advertising not art.