Ever wondered how a creative agency comes up with ideas?

Read our piece to find out …

The process and price of creative thinking

‘Creativity’, said Albert Einstein, ‘is intelligence having fun’.

It’s a commonly held belief that ‘eureka moments’ of blazingly original or momentous thought are most likely to happen when a poet, philosopher, composer or writer sits alone (possibly atop a mountain), contemplating the human condition or when a scientist burns the midnight oil peering down a microscope or gazing at the cosmos.

In the creative world, ‘eureka moments’ tend to happen when they’re least expected – often when you’re having a shower or staring into the distance on a daily commute – but it’s highly likely that before the idea emerges, there will have been a more formal process in place, typically an agency brainstorm.

Contrary to popular belief, brainstorms don’t tend to throw up the ultimate idea but they do act as a catalytic session to discuss the brief, throw around some initial ideas and, crucially, get the creative juices flowing into the collective subconscious.

Trying to force a moment of creative genius during a brainstorm doesn’t work. Although these sessions are an essential part of the creative thinking process, they’re only the starting point - the fertilization/incubation stage.  This is something clients often don’t understand – they seem to think we hold a brainstorm and voila, a brilliant idea emerges in perfect form!

Typically, during a brainstorm, the team will sit together, mulling over the brief and treading countless well-trodden paths in the hope of straying onto a patch of uncharted, fertile territory.

Clearly, the odds of having a ‘big idea’ are improved by having more creative people involved in the process.  Creative thinkers are more likely to ignite each other’s pilot light when working collectively.

The hope is that they’ll stumble onto a ‘concept’ that has:

  • Verbal and visual merit
  • The ability to catch attention and a favourable reaction. One of the oldest aphorisms in the marketing handbook is AIDA (attention/interest/ desire/action) which still applies
  • The potential to capture the hearts and minds of people
  • ‘Legs’

By ‘legs’ we mean cross-media flexibility, durability and usefulness so that the concept will work equally well across lots of platforms and routes to market – advertising, social media, PR, direct mail, email marketing and so on.

Without giving away too many trade secrets, brainstorms always produce a selection of ideas. They can range from the tediously familiar to the moderately interesting to the possibly useful.

The best brainstorms are when an absurdly improbable digression throws up something that lights up the room like an irresistible, spontaneous joke.  Whatever it is, ground has been broken.  An original idea has sprung into existence to take on a life of its own.

Bizarrely, the people who’ve had the digression often don’t realise they’ve had a ‘eureka moment’ because they’re off on their next tangent.  However, some sharp-eyed observer in the group will have made a subtle note to pursue the idea when the silliness has subsided.

Which takes us back to why brainstorms are only the start of the process.  Having identified a potential idea, there follows a period of examination:

  • Is it a genuinely good idea or are we being silly?
  • Has it been done before?
  • Does it really meet the brief?
  • Will it work across all platforms?
  • Could it be misconstrued or misinterpreted?

And then refinement where the idea is ‘worked up’.  Just think, somebody in a brainstorm probably said something about Heinz being all about beans before it was polished into the iconic phrase, ‘Beanz meanz Heinz’.

Come up with something!

In our world, the phrase ‘come up with something brilliant’ is casually appended to more or less every brief we receive.  As explained, the process is of necessity, more complex and collaborative than clients often realise.

And, let’s face it, ‘coming up with something brilliant’ is not within everyone’s reach.

Marketing executives tend not to be the most creative thinkers. Yes, they know a good idea when they see one but the most enlightened ones tend to leave the development of scintillating creative ideas to the specialists.

They are, of course, prepared to pay for it which raises the eternal question: ‘How long does it take to have a genuinely original idea? How much of the budget should be allocated to finding one?

The eternal answer remains unchanged. Having an original idea that exactly meets the brief can take 10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days or more.

So how much of an agency’s time (your budget) should a client allocate to this unquantifiable, unpredictable but invaluable task?

Sufficient!  The germ of the idea may have to be verified, researched, bent, stretched and amplified before it becomes a viable, valuable property that’s presented to the client.  All of which takes time, which is money.

A good marketing idea won’t change the course of human destiny but it could be powerful enough to separate an individual, organisation, product or service from the crowd.  And that makes it priceless.

One powerful, incisive and memorable thought can solve a major communication challenge – whether that’s naming a new product, launching a new brand, reinforcing a corporate reputation or raising awareness about what’s for sale.

At the very least, the creative concept will meet the brief.  At best, it can be worth millions of pounds in added value to a company.

What price can you put on Parma Violet flavoured cheese; travel superheroes; or hummable headlines for a law firm, all of which have taken on a life of their own and delivered a very healthy return on investment for our clients?

Allow your agency to brainstorm and be as creative as they are able and be prepared to pay for this time because their next brilliant brainwave could multiply the effectiveness of your spend beyond your wildest expectations.

Everyone at RMS loves the challenge, process and buzz of coming up with winning ideas so give us a call when you need some inspiration.



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