Developing Collaborative Creative Strategies

I often assimilate developing a creative strategy, collaboratively with a client, to a dance. I realize it may sound crazy, but bare with me – this post gives a window into my thought process and reasoning.

The rhythm is commanding. The delicate footwork can be challenging. The dynamic nature of the various forms is intriguing. The accuracy of movement must be precise to be engaging and, even though I may misstep, must appear fluid. The cadence may become volatile in flow, but the select interchanges that are used, coalesce into a well planned and executed performance. Assisting clients in developing a creative strategy IS a dance, one of ideas and words; one that can collapse a company, or inspire growth on global proportions.

Expertise Derived from Experience

I have led countless creative meetings with clients and partners. Although the specifics of creative meetings may be very different, the general process remains the same – introductory pleasantries, discovery session, ideation discussion, feasibility outlook, strategy formulation, and action plan/implementation. The specifics that surround each of these general phases are extremely diverse; however, the over-arching reality is that strategic development is a mix of art and science, that deserves open-minds and an appreciation for risk.

To be fair, my perspective is my own. I understand the general nature of strategic development is subjective to each individual’s approach and methodology. My clients have ranged from extremely conservative, to wildly progressive; don’t misunderstand my generalization to a true account, as outliers can exist in any situation. In working with so many clients, in disparate areas of the world, ranging from small to large, I have experienced many interesting scenarios and commanded the execution and implementation of dozens of different creative strategies – all built toward achieving specific goals.

The Cadence to a Collaborative Creative Strategy

Often times, when collaboratively developing a strategy, it’s important to present ideas that are not only driven by the company, industry and market (the obvious elements), but also involve a certain amount of risk, calculated risk. As a creative strategist, my responsibility is to think of ideas which consist of a dual-priority, obliterating the complacency wall with innovative ideas and achieving performance metrics (I realize these are both very loaded).

Every company and organization is different, which allows me to create truly unique approaches to capturing market attention. However,  when working with C-level decision makers, rocking the boat with adventurous new ideas isn’t exactly a welcome approach. This is where the dance occurs; that “give and take” exchange where I must guide my clients through each step, patiently and respectfully navigating them through the motions to creating a killer new approach.

1. Starting Slow by Listening

Assuming I can walk into a creative meeting and immediately start spitting my ideas of total market penetration and inevitable world domination, is illogical. Ignorantly vomiting ideas is easy (any creative can do this); connecting those ideas to value, meaning and relevance requires a higher level of collaborative grace. I realize, that in order to gain my client’s trust, there needs to be a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s role in the meeting.

The foundation of the meeting is established by candidly discussing decisions made in the past, challenges that may be occurring at present, and illustrating a clear vision for the future. Without a clear picture of the situation, I would not be equipped to proceed with any presentation or discussion of potential ideas, either with the client or my team. During this discovery session, it is my duty to be salient of tactics that can be used, regardless of how vaguely conceptual they may be. Again, my priority is not to simply regurgitate trendy suggestions, but convey feasible, innovative, value-driven, market-centric, cross-functional approaches to achieving goals (a mouthful, I know).

2. Quicken Pace with the Exchange of Ideas

Once I have obtained a keen awareness of the past, present, and future, I can then proceed to preparing the client for the, always high-energy, exchange of ideas. During this process, connecting ideas with relevance and value is critically important. I’m not only pitching an idea, I’m establishing trust and viability that what I suggest WILL achieve the vision that has been conveyed. Empty notions are NOT acceptable during this stage of the process; every tactic discussed MUST have value, MUST have meaning, MUST have a target. I always think back to the 5 Why approach within the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle when moving through this stage of the meeting (keeping Kaizen alive!). I always identify the value in an idea, then dig a little deeper to find stronger meaning and relevance to the client and market.

During this process, tension can start. As we discuss a new paradigm of thought, it is important to gauge my client’s “risk tolerance tachometer.” My intention is to keep the needle right on the edge of the “Oh wow, how novel!”, without falling into the dreaded “No F-ing Way” red zone. Complacency kills growth, and sometimes taking a chance on new ideas can break growth plateaus and foster a resurgence in activity. However, foresight into the comfort-level mannerisms of the client is imperative, to avoid pitching adversely effective, higher-risk ideas, which may be filled with immediate negative feedback.

3. Crush the Finale with an Action Plan

During the barrage of conceptual visualizations and theoretical approaches, it’s important to keep budget and schedule in check. Creative strategists who possess a full understanding of the feasibility of the ideas discussed, and expectations of hours needed for team members, are crucial in these scenarios. I like to take the collaborative ideation process even further by devising an implementation strategy, involving key team leads, to facilitate a unified approach. To the client, this shows poise and confidence in the newly established game plan, and visually reinforces the expert team working on the project.

The tone of the entire project pivots on the effectiveness of this meeting. If the meeting is botched, the creative director and his/her team will have an uphill battle the rest of the project, as the client may question the expertise of the project team and/or the potential of the approach.

Contingency Planning

Fail to plan, plan to fail (I know. I know. You’ve probably seen this on a bumper sticker). I typically include an internally discussed (project team) Contingency Plan, just in case extraneous variables attempt to impact the effectiveness of the new approach. Having a few back-up plans, shows fore-thought and respect for the client/project. I typically do not involve the client in this process, unless there are complex variables that must be known.

Conclusion

Comparing creative strategy development to a dance may be a stretch (I get it), but both activities require skill, patience, intuition, and an appreciation for the balance and harmony that exists between the participants. I believe insight can be gained, lessons can be learned, and ideas can be produced in many different situations, whether you are working, singing, walking, playing, running or dancing your way through life.