As a seasoned buyer of creative solutions and a proactive collaborator with many graphic and web designers, writers, illustrators, and photographers, it makes me weep and hang my head when I see good talent go to waste. And that waste doesn’t simply manifest itself in discarded ideas and untapped creativity – it very often results in ineffective, confused and disjointed messaging.
What can start out as a vital messaging and communications need can all too easily develop into a compromise solution: a mash-up of what you, the client, thinks is right, having exerted a presumed authority over the creative team, and what the designers think they can 1) get away with to move you on, and 2) a rehashed idea that they have plundered because it satisfied others once. So why the heck not try it again, to get this interventionist client off my back?
These are not the creative communications solutions you – or they – want to deliver to your audiences.
That Isn’t Good For Business, Is It?
This article honestly could run as a multi-part work over some months, so emotive and contentious is the topic. (Subject to your feedback, I can do that if you want.) But what I seek to achieve today is to offer my humble advice to managers and creative teams that will help you speak to your audiences in the right place, through the right channels, with the right tone of voice, and with the right visual stimuli to help them assimilate your message(s).
And remember most of all you should be working as a team, with one mission. You’re not in competition with each other. You’re both great but at different things. This is important.
Collaborate more effectively. Communicate more persuasively. Up your creative game.
In my experience managers – marketing or otherwise – tend not to understand creativity and good design. They sort of know what it is for but have a problem in getting the best out of creative people. This really does go for a lot of marketing professionals in addition to general business owners and other buyers of design, writing, and related services.
It really needn’t be like this. Get comfortable with creativity and you’ll unleash talents in you and others
The Hi-Fi Rule
Without further ado, I want to get stuck into what I might grandly call a checklist for success when working with designers. Limitations of space prevent me from offering similar advice to the design teams; that will be for another time.
But before I launch into my list, be reminded of the old hi-fi rule: It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your speakers if you have a poor turntable and needle. Your music will still sound like Rod Stewart singing from the bottom of a tub of molasses. Or worse, sound like a clear recording of Rod Stewart. But, I digress.
(I know, I know – I am showing my age. I should have said: If you download a poor MP3, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on earphones. But you get the drift.)
Key Tips To Commissioning Design Solutions That Work
Before you brief any creative team, answer these questions:
- Who are you talking to (your target audience)?
- What do you want your audience to do differently after your message?
- How do they contact you / respond / take this action?
- Where are they? How are you going to reach them?
- Are they informed or uninformed buyers?
- How much information do they need in your (first) communication?
- Do you know their language? Are you speaking the visual and verbal language they understand? Different roles have different languages.
- How do your audiences consume their news? How and where do they research?
- When do you want/need to get this message out?
- Check all your answers with your “critical friend” (see below).
When (and after) you brief your creative team, bear these points in mind:
- Don’t ask them to copy something else. Show them what you think has worked elsewhere. Discuss what you think might work, but allow them to develop a unique voice for your message. This will be an asset for the future – don’t underestimate or undervalue that asset.
- If you are active with content curation, then you will have curated a selection of material, gleaned from competitors, your own past work and other sources (and they needn’t be from your sector). Don’t copy it – learn from it.
- Cross-examine your own brief so that you can deliver to the creative team a top line for each audience. See the point above about using the right visual and verbal language for each target audience.
- Do not attempt to communicate more than 2 key messages at once. Therein lies madness, confusion, and one heck of an irritated reader.
- Do prepare at least the semblance of rational, relevant and concise copy. As a rule, designers don’t write, they design. Give them rubbish and you’ll more than likely get rubbish.
- Find someone on your team who can act as a critical, proof-reading friend. You won’t always spot mistakes of your own making, and it’s harder still to tell yourself you’re talking pretentious and irrelevant nonsense that no one in their right mind will ever finish reading. Really, I know this, as I learned the hard way. 🙂
- Give prompt, meaningful and constructive feedback. When you receive creative work for comment do not go silent. The longer a project runs, the less interested people get in achieving the best for you. Designers and creatives are keen to get their juices flowing and deliver great work – but not over a 6 month period for one piece of collateral. Get with the program. Make it happen.
OK – Now Some Weird Stuff…
Harness wacky. Be prepared to let your creative teams go way left field in addition to your (often preferred) conservative “I think what it should look like, exactly..” approach. The best solutions can come out of the wackiest initial ideas.
A rule of thumb I encourage is: Go to the limits on both sides – dull and highly creative. Then take a step back to the middle. You’ll be surprised how quickly – and more frequently – the oddball ideas actually stack up!
Be brave for once! And then be brave again. Memorable communication in whatever form, through whatever channel is memorable for a reason. If you’re never brave, you will never experience the elation of a good idea that became great once the metrics were in.
Now to close: I love creativity in whatever form. I live it, eat it, read it and listen to it. I have worked with and mentored young designers through to real success (not all my doing I must add), and I have coached managers to do something they never thought they could: Communicate effectively and creatively with PowerPoint. Yes, PowerPoint. That’s tough.
Focus on achieving better collaboration between creative teams and managers, a well-oiled slick ideas-machine where the organization understands its audiences, and how its products and services can be distilled into two or three key benefit messages to add value to those audiences. That is design and marketing nirvana.
By the way – to spur my creativity, I listen to groovy music and tend to write far better at or before dawn.
What’s the soundtrack to your creative success?
Jonathan is a seasoned veteran of the B2B marketing, design and communications industry. He is always interested in new and challenging opportunities – feel free to contact him.
He writes from the perspective of a marketing “old timer” steeped in the knowledge, experience and skills that underpins all great marketing, advertising and communications practice. He applies this experience to the brave “new” world of content marketing, social and all things digital, and how they work – or should work – more effectively when marketing basics are remembered.
Jonathan has a lively and unique way of delivering his messages and points – controversial to some, amusing to others, but always with the goal of helping people develop their marketing understanding and gain knowledge and skills to improve their careers.