Release the creative brain

For agencies that do not have dedicated creatives, the challenge is having the ability to juggle day-to-day routine tasks and yet still find the time to come up with brainstorming ideas for clients

I am frequently asked by new business prospects, 'Who in your agency comes up with the creative ideas?' Some consumer PR agencies have a separate creative team but many, including Clarion, do not.

We all come up with the ideas, and we all, of course, do everything else too - including the less whizzy but still highly important everyday tasks such as administration, result measurement and research.

How do we cope? How can people switch continually from creative thinking to organisational thinking every working hour? We are used to swapping between the two parts of our brain - the free-thinking, boundless, blue-sky, creative side and the disciplined, factual, rational, ordered side.

The constant challenge is to make time for the creative side. Sorting the everyday (but important) stuff out must not get in the way of the creative process. This means switching from head-down efficiency (using all the time management tricks to juggle the tasks) to laid-back, messy, gazing into the middle distance, letting the mind wander aimlessly, untidy, unruly creative thinking.

Business management guru Charles Handy says: 'Creativity needs a bit of untidiness. Make everything too neat and tidy and there is no room for experiment. Keep a tight rein on costs and there is no cash available to try new things. Cram your days too full and it is hard to find time to think. We all need a bit of slack to give us the space in which to experiment.'

Exactly how much time we need to set aside to be creative is hard to judge. There is no link between the time it takes to create an idea and the value of that idea. People sometimes think, 'the longer I sweat over this, the better it will be'. That is not necessarily correct and could be the opposite. Sometimes, the great idea is the first idea - sometimes it comes after a huge amount of thinking and discussion, while sometimes it is built out of what had initially seemed a mediocre idea.

Creative comms guru Jeremy Bullmore says: 'Ideas do not have to be good ideas to be useful. Thinking impossible thoughts has a value. The deliberate suspension of censorious judgement may be the only way to liberate minds from the deeply rutted convictions of earlier times. The imagination flies free.'

Not only must we prevent our rational brain from stifling our creative brain, we must also stop it constantly trying to put a measurement on the creative output.

Numbers and so-called 'facts' can deceive, though we seek comfort in them. We overvalue what we can measure and undervalue what we can't. You can't measure a great creative idea any more than you can measure the love of your family or the strength of your friendships. The same goes for great ideas.

Bullmore adds: 'Numbers protect us from making subjective judgements that may be open to challenge. Numbers are like security blankets. But in our heart of hearts, we already know not everything that matters can be quantified, so we look for ways to measure the immeasurable.

'In certain competitive sports, judges ascribe a score to something called artistic excellence. You might as well mark a Monet out of ten.'

The final proof is that when consumers are choosing a product they are not only thinking rationally (price, size, ingredients) but also irrationally - responding to those great, creative, unmeasurable ideas that are influencing things such as brand love, character and familiarity. It undoubtedly pays to free the creative brain.

Gary Freemantle is chief executive of Clarion Communications

Views in brief

Which consumer PR campaign that you have not worked on has been the most successful at generating audience interaction in the past year?

Dove Real Beauty Sketches centred on a video in which a criminal sketch artist drew women as they described themselves, and as other people described them.

What about one your agency has worked on that also attracted significant audience participation?

We created the world's biggest water sprinkler for Juicy Water in London, attracting its highest Facebook, Twitter and website engagement, plus mass TV and press coverage.

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