When I think about my career (which I’ve been doing a lot in the last year) some of the moments I’m most proud of are those where I and my team, whomever that was at the time, pitched some truly crazy ideas to clients. It probably says a lot about my personality that these are the moments that jump out, that I keep going back to and revisiting.
Often these ideas are the result of me and whoever else is in the room just trying to make everyone else laugh. We’re trying to out-ridiculous each other and it becomes a kind of improv, as each person tries to one-up what’s come before. It’s all still on-brand and geared toward achieving program goals, but we’re also amusing ourselves.
That may sound kind of immature, but I prefer to think of it as indulging creativity.
There’s a difference between the behind-the-scenes brainstorming sessions, which often devolve into laughing fits and a shocking amount of nudity, and what is ultimately presented to the client. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t do that kind of creative thinking around clients. It just means you need to follow a few basic guidelines.
Be Fearless In Your Thinking
This may seem very basic, but you can’t let all the little mental roadblocks you may have set up over the years lead to your keeping your mouth shut. If something occurs to you, share it. Throw it out there. If you’re in a truly creative and welcoming environment you’ll be fine. Wherever you might think the line is in terms of what’s acceptable, aim five yards beyond that. Don’t go too crazy and veer into racial stereotypes and such, but also don’t let “polite society” apply a restrictor plate to the ideas you come up with and throw out to the room.
Have the Logic to Back Your Ideas Up
Creativity is great, but it’s not an end in and of itself. The goal is not just to be the most creative person in the room, it’s to get that creative idea you shared implemented. So make sure your contributions to the brainstorming are going to move the program forward toward its goals. You need to explain “why” this idea of yours will work and “why” it should be approved and adopted, otherwise there’s no reason anyone should take it – or by extension you – seriously.
Know the Resources Needed For Execution
We can all propose big stunts and insane gags, but what will it take to pull them off? Throwing out big ideas in a brainstorm is fun, but at least realize what has a realistic chance of being executed based on budget and other logistics. What other departments will need to be pulled in? What kind of timing is needed to pull everything together? When it comes time to actually propose for execution, keep all these things in mind and know who to ask as well as when.
Know the Room
While I’m 100% in favor of playing the role of a piece of dynamite in any given situation, you also need to read the room. If it just seems like everyone else isn’t in the right place for your level of off-the-wall creativity, tamp it down a bit. It’s also easier to let the ideas fly more freely with people you work with regularly and have an established dynamic with than it is, for instance, in a room full of higher-up stakeholders who you don’t deal with on a regular basis. Even with those you’re more comfortable with, be careful not to throw too much at them when they’re obviously not ready for it. This just comes with experience.
Be Ready to Report
Again, the goal is not to just be creative and let the chips fall where they may. Well…at least that’s not the goal of anything other than industry award submissions, where results don’t matter. In reality, though, you’re going to need to prove the ideas you propose and implement were successful in helping to meet client goals. So after you finish that beer celebrating all the cool creativity you just dropped, figure out how you’re going to measure it and report on it down the road. If you can’t do so your next idea won’t be taken as seriously. Even if the numbers show it didn’t work, you need to have those numbers and admit to it.
Have Faith and Carry On
It will all be fine, trust me. You may not get all your ideas approved, but the thought process that goes into them is what’s important. Make the ones that do make it through count and save the rest for later. Remember, George Harrison only got one or two songs on any given Beatles record, but boy those are great. More than that, even, take those ideas and see how they might be done on a smaller scale that doesn’t require extensive approval. Call them out to your boss and show you’re still bringing your A Game to the everyday program, not just the big, flashy moments. Those smaller executions add up to be just as important as the more high-profile ones.