As a marketing agency, people expect us to come up with creative ideas. But creativity is a mysterious and elusive companion, and as deadlines loom we seldom have the luxury to wait for inspiration to strike. That’s why we developed a process to help best harness our creative muse, and allow for a little magic without getting too hocus-pocus.

We call our process Room To Think, and we apply it, with some variation, to all of our content development. At its most extensive, it unfolds over three intensive weeks, but we apply its principles to our monthly content creation as well (which will be the subject of a future post).

The process begins by assembling the team and defining the schedule. Every business department is represented in the team structure to ensure the ideas are not only creative, but grounded in research and strategy. The creative team reviews the client’s current creative work while the content marketing team audits social media channels, and search and media audits SEO on websites and other digital channels. The strategic insights team does research to uncover audience insights, industry trends and then develops personas. All that research helps us immerse ourselves in the brand, which allows us to begin to live and breathe the brand, not unlike a committed actor.

We then launch the ideation process. Team members take time to cogitate and dream up ideas. When we move into the “spill” process (otherwise known as a brainstorm), we try to generate as many ideas as possible, including some that are totally off the wall or generally impossible. Casting a wide net and not being overly critical at this stage is crucial to the free flow of inspiration. Ideas are written down on sticky notes on the wall, and inevitably, as patterns and similar themes begin to emerge, these are common threads are grouped into “blobs.” Ideas begin to arise organically, and consensus on which ideas to pursue starts to coalesce.

The larger team decides on five ideas to develop, which the creative team then fleshes out more fully. We start to sketch out visuals, and the copywriter pens a manifesto, articulating the idea to make it inspiring and easily understood by the larger team.

Then the larger team vets the ideas, using a process we call creative agitation. Creative agitation recognizes that when you have established a deep level of respect and trust among your colleagues, you can intentionally invite some conflict into the situation. When done with kindness, this process can help mitigate groupthink, and help uncover the best ideas. It also helps see potential problems with the ideas. After some lively and often intense discussion, the five original ideas are culled down to three, and the designers and copywriters get back to work.

Once the three ideas are dialed in and approved by the larger team, the presentation deck is finalized and the team practices presenting to the client, because what good is all that work if the presentation falls flat? The final step is presenting to the client, who then loves all the work unconditionally and writes us a large check. We can dream, right?

By being intentional about our creative process, we seek to harness the magic of creativity in a repeatable way. We don’t try to dictate the direction creativity will take; rather we provide the space for it to arise and flourish. That’s what we call Room To Think.

James Thorpe

James Thorpe is a spirited marketer seeking to connect people and brands through great content and exceptional experiences. Eschewing the separation between right and left brain, he combines over a decade of professional wisdom with a lifetime of creative passion in music, writing and shot put.