PR professionals were put on Earth to pneumatically churn out strategic, creative, breakout, and garden-fresh-great ideas for clients so that they can, in turn, connect with their own customers in consistently new, energetic, and meaningful ways.
Good PR people need to know what's hot before it cools off, identify what's new while it's still in creative utero, and then find ways to aptly and deftly bring these insights to bear on behalf of clients.
But even the most gifted people operating in the most happening surroundings (which is the setting I'm blessed to be working in) need to shake it up on occasion. When this happens, I suggest you jump-start your brainstorming engine by replacing your usual creative process with something radically different. I humbly submit the following case study as an example.
A short while back, our team needed to brainstorm on a number of client accounts all at once. But rather than booking a conference room for a full day and locking everyone in like felons, we went in the opposite direction.
Our 12-person team left our Manhattan office in a rented passenger van for a daylong excursion to Bushwick, a burgeoning but still-under-the-radar arts hotspot in Brooklyn.
Now, plenty of groups conduct team outings. But our “Bushwick by Bus” expedition featured a few points of departure from the formula that I think qualify it for inclusion in the excursion hall of fame.
For starters, Bushwick is a part of the city that none of us had ever been to before, except for one team member who lives there. This meant that we were all doing something for the first time - together. Presto! We all now have an experience under our belts that is inextricably linked to the group. Instant bonding.
Also, we made sure the day had an organizing principle – namely, we set out to soak up the Bushwick art scene, which is gaining in global notoriety seemingly by the minute. Here's what made this a smart move:
1) The art theme directly related to – and inspired us in – our jobs as creative thinkers dealing in imaginative puzzle solving. In every spot we visited, the team instinctively formed into shifting subgroups and linked what we were all looking at directly to their specific client challenges.
2) Bushwick has so many points of interest that we never lingered long enough at any one for things to get stale. By spending only 15 minutes at a gallery or 20 at a photo shoot, we kept the proceedings moving. This kept us on our feet creatively as well – our thinking was driven by the energy of the schedule.
Another lesson from Bushwick by Bus: we let that one team member who lives there – I'll call her Rachel Friedman (because that's her name) – own the event and set the agenda for the group. Rachel is a new account executive, and she used the day as an opportunity to shine. Letting a younger member of the crew run the show is crucial. The “kids” are dialed in to the hip places to go, they know music, places, spaces, and happenings that are usually not the milieu of the over-30 set. Additionally putting them in charge of a project gives them a taste of what lies ahead as they advance in their careers.
A couple of other tips: try to have an “airplane mode” policy regarding email, but allow for smartphone breaks so people don't get disconnection anxiety. And set the day to music: prior to the trip, we polled the team on current playlists and created an audio mix that provided a collegial mood for the bus ride.
I could go on about the day's benefits – like meeting the young guitarist who we'll definitely be hiring for events; and about Roberta's restaurant, which has since become our default destination for dialing up hip client dinners.
But you get the point. And just in case you don't, I'll spell it out: even if you can't actually go to Bushwick, find some way to “go to Bushwick.” The sights, sounds, tastes, and goings-on that surround us can be a powerful creative muse. Museums, parking lots, rooftops, food trucks, beaches, meadows, and mountaintops are there to inspire us if we let them.
Get out of the office. Do something none of you have done before, whether it's shooting marbles or making marshmallows.
Change your setting, change your thinking. Free the staff, and the minds will follow.
And wherever you go, enjoy the ride.
See it for yourself: #bushwickagogo
Margie Fox is creative director and MD for US brand marketing practice at Ogilvy Public Relations.