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Unstructured thoughts about the agency creative process

Posted by: Nelson McConnell on 4 May 2017

Creativity and process. They go together like Tottenham Hotspur and league titles.

Whereas Creativity is an act of originality. Of breaking with convention. And doing something new. We all know that Process is the method whereby left-field thinking, inspiration, subversion, and difference are systematically compromised out of existence.

All worship the great, intolerant creative process. Forgive it; for it knows not what it does.

But in the fabulously undisciplined agency world, we gotta have a process. Or stuff don’t happen. But how do we prevent the tail wagging the dog?

Well for a start, let’s rebrand. (Hurray! Bring on the workshop). From now on creative process will be known as ‘the way we go about being creative’. That better?

Then, let’s break it down. On one level ‘the way we go about being creative’ is actually the different production stages through which creative work must pass, in order to increase the chances of a successful outcome. These stages are specific and they are important. They allow each of the protagonists space and time to think more deeply, analyse, reflect, and generally to do their bit properly – to help make the end result better.

The list of stages includes briefing, reviewing, checking and approving. Chief among these is the act of briefing. Whether written or not, templated or otherwise, it is of course essential that the creative challenge is clear.

As the old saw says “given seven days to cut down a tree, spend six days sharpening the axe”.

Even when the brief is wrong (and isn’t it always?) it provokes the questions, frustration and argument that drives a creative response. We all want to be the hero, we all want to be proven right, right? And of course, a brief provides some kind of objective benchmark to help us evaluate ideas….as well as someonething else to blame when it all goes wrong.

Anyway, we have created a helpful diagram to summarise this first part of the creative process ‘the way we go about being creative’. You can disagree with, but here it is:

 

But on a different level, ‘the way we go about being creative’ is about how ideas actually come out of someone’s head.

This is somewhat more idiosyncratic. Leaving aside the neuroscience (or ask an expert) it’s fair to say that everyone approaches creativity in their own way. And while it may not be not rocket science, it is about solving a problem, and there are some universal ‘actions’ (and inactions) that help lead us towards the solution.

In no particular order:

  1. Procrastination
  2. Reading all about the product, the marketplace, the competition, the buyers and the sellers. And all the boring bits about how they make it.
  3. Defining the creative problem. What is this really about? What do we need to happen? What’s stopping us? It usually helps to write things out in very simple sentences.
  4. Listing out what we have to offer. Again, in the most straightforward terms.
  5. Spending time with the problem. Letting it roam around in the subconscious.
  6. Just getting into it.
  7. Putting it all on one big piece of A3, so you can start to join the dots, and see what jumps out at you.
  8. Thinking you’d cracked it yesterday, but looking at it again today….not so much.
  9. Being away from your desk. And certainly your screen. Walking is good. So is the shower. And driving while listening to music. They are clichés because they are true.
  10. Being open and alert – to other people’s ideas, to contradiction, to chance discoveries.
  11. Committing to paper. Get something down. You can always improve on it.
  12. Endlessly seeking affirmation. It’s good, really it is. And so are you.

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