This is a faster, better, cheaper world. But big ideas are big ideas. They know neither price tag nor timeline. They come when they come.

Wait. Is that true? Then why are some agencies renowned for delivering creative breakthrough campaign after campaign? Is creative ideation a process you can influence with a degree of confidence?

In my experience, yes. I’ve run creative departments at several global agencies. And while creativity remains a mystery even to those who’ve made a career of it, there are a few “tips and techniques” to get impressive results, often sooner. Share these with your agency.

1. Create a creative environment. You would be amazed how many agencies thwart the flow of great ideas with punishing deadlines, soul-killing competitiveness, physical surroundings that are unkind, and more. Change the experience. Make creatives feel comfortable and appreciated. Some crave privacy. Some work better remotely. Some love it when you buy them lunch. They’re the talent. A big idea is expected of them. Their internal state is critical. Do what it takes to make them feel special.

2. Know your big idea go-to people. Chances are a big idea will come sooner from creatives who produced big ideas in the past. Insist these people work on your project. Common sense? You’d be surprised how often clients don’t insist.

3. Bring in outsiders. Your agency—and you—should cultivate a list of the best freelancers, even if pharma is not one of their specialties. The best creatives have highly developed empathy, which is key to any category, and they bring humanity and a sense of daring lateral thinking that is refreshing in healthcare creative. I used to hire outrageous brand creatives to work on direct marketing campaigns. They’d give us big ideas that we’d then have to “directify.” Extra work for us, but it got us to a place we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

4. Experiment with team building. Try upsetting the usual twosome. Have your agency create a threesome. A foursome. Talent can be combined for positive effect. I was once teamed with a hot young duo from Europe. Despite our initial reservation and multiple decades between us, we produced exciting ideas far faster than we would have individually. Do you have in-house creatives? They have a lot of knowledge. What if you teamed them with agency creatives? If you set the challenge, territoriality won’t happen.

5. Lose the nitpickers. Details and wording can all be corrected and honed later, but get those people out of the room when you’re evaluating big creative ideas. They are possibility destroyers.

6. Brainstorm with care. Nothing sinks the heart faster than having to spout a great idea on the spot in a roomful of people. Brainstorms save time, but successful creatives have their own way of working. Brainstorms can be useful, however, as an adjunct to the creative briefing process. Have a free-flowing conversation before anyone goes to work. It helps open up the problem and inspires greater flights of imagination.

7. Be an active participant in the briefing process. Don’t leave it all to the agency planner. Bring the project alive for the creatives. They’re looking for someone to excite them. Why not you?

  • Bruce Lee
    Bruce Lee

    Chief Creative Officer IPNY

    Bruce Lee is a much-awarded copywriter and creative director. His work raises the game for advertisers both creatively and measurably. After working at major agencies for over 30 years, he co-founded IPNY in 2012.


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