Apr 15

Campaigns with Impact — in Six (Easy) Steps

Good advertising or PR campaigns have impact, make sense and have an overall sense of simplicity. But nothing simple or elegant is ever really easy, as oysters will tell you about the pearl necklace.

Based on my experience, the creative process flows through at least six steps, which clients generally do not understand, and which newbie internal or agency staff might even be a bit vague on. Understanding this creative process can help both clients and staff support the development of approaches that are on-target with impact, sorta like those recent Cheez-It commercials.

Fact Finding
A review of the organization’s situation and goals is the first step in the campaign development process. Typically, this will start with a meeting between the in-house or agency staff and the company’s administrative team. This will provide valuable information — situation, conflict issues, goals, audiences, product benefits and/or propositions, competition, budget, deadline and so forth — but will likely be strongly influenced by an internal perspective. Additional research — formal or informal, primary or secondary, quantitative or qualitative — is wise to consider at this point. Good creative is strategic, so making sure one has the consumer’s view of the situation will pay dividends. Otherwise you could end up with let’s-whitewash-the-issue, or let’s-hit-them-in-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat approaches.

Mandatory elements of a campaign are typically part of the creative brief, but it is worth mentioning them separately here as they can be an easily overlooked, but treacherous part of campaign development. It is helpful to have these up front in case any issues impact the overall direction of the campaign. Mandatories include elements that must be included in the final product such as:

  • Follow corporate graphic standards
  • For a co-op advertising, include Snodgrass Industries’ name and/or logo
  • In radio, use client’s brand name at least 3 times
  • Follow usage guidelines for any third-party endorsements or awards
  • Theme must be transferable to dozens of specialty items that the CEO loves
  • Be congruent with company slogan “We Care”

Creative Brief
The creative brief is a structured document that spells out the situation, strategy, mandatory requirements, and other items from the fact-finding section above. It is a tool used by the creative team as they go into the synthesis process, but can also be used the starting point for a description of the creative direction of the campaign once the following steps are complete. There are surprisingly large number of very good creative brief templates available on the Internet, and their construction and use are worthy of a separate post at some future time.

Here’s why you pay the creative folks the big bucks. And it’s why Thomas Friedman suggests that people who synthesize will have a better chance of being part of the new “untouchables” in the coming global economy. This step involves a creative team, which most often includes a small tight-knit group includes people with these types of skills:

  • A creative director
  • A strategist
  • A designer and/or visual thinker
  • A copywriter and/or word thinker
  • An account executive or staff close to the client (but NOT the client)

The creative team may be one person in a small agency, but more typically one to three or four people. The roles may overlap, depending on the people involved. The key is that this team is a small group with good brainstorming skills, developed from years of creative thinking. They will generally do a fair amount of what my father called cogitating before the magic occurs. I have never seen such a team involve a client, most likely because this would inhibit honesty and creativity.

The creative team generates ideas that synthesize elements such as:

  • Key points from the situation
  • An understanding of the consumer’s mind
  • An understanding of what is realistic within the customer’s set of goals
  • Insights into the benefits and unique selling proposition of the product or service
  • Cultural references that would resonate with the audience
  • A sense of “tone” – formal or informal, funny or emotional, and so forth
  • Ideas about what will break through the clutter
  • Knowledge of good communication theory and strategy, including use of direct and circuitous paths
  • Shape, size, colors, and communication tools
  • And likely a secret agency sauce

The Big Idea
The result of deep and creative thinking (a.k.a., synthesis) is a refined idea that defines the campaign’s direction. It is “the big idea” or the philosophy that drives the campaign and ties it together. It likely isn’t the campaign “theme” itself, but it is succinct.

Everyone has ideas (although unfortunately, they’re not all good ideas). After you have the idea you must do something with the idea. The big idea must be used to persuade, to communicate a message through the clutter, or otherwise use communication as a vehicle of change. So at this point, the creative process gives way to approval and implementation, including:

  • The client presentation
  • Approvals (or back to the drawing board… if you don’t get fired)
  • Copywriting & design implementation
  • Testing
  • Tweaks
  • Final reviews
  • Placement, production or execution

Applying the Six Steps for Improved Results
Understanding the creative process can help facilitate better creative results. Here are some ideas:

  • Develop a crib sheet to make sure you gather necessary information from clients during fact finding
  • Make sure you clarify mandatory elements of the campaign before you get too far down the road
  • Always gather up graphic standards and third-party awards and endorsement usage guidelines early in the agency-client relationship
  • If you’re not a strategic thinker, nor a visual thinker, nor a senior copywriter, then don’t expect to get invited to the creative team’s brainstorming meeting quite yet
  • Read a book on structured creative thinking or brainstorming. Start applying what you learn
  • Identify what data or elements your agency, creative director, or supervisor is going to need and start researching these items before they ask
  • As a client, develop a creative brief template that you can use to give your agency background information (saves billable hours!)
  • As an agency, develop a creative brief template with your logo on it (impresses clients, keeps creative staff on task)
  • Deconstruct advertising or PR campaigns that you like and identify the big idea and key elements of the creative brief
  • Do things to keep you abreast of the culture and your audience.
  • Get a hobby or sport. Be well read. Read something different. Go a circuitous route to work. Increase blood flow to the opposite side of your brain.

By understanding that developing a campaign is a process, and that big ideas don’t just pop onto the table, you can help structure expectations for clients and prepare your marketing or public relations staff for the unglamorous, dirty work that is the true foundation of developing a campaign with impact.

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