Work first, play later
People always think being in marketing or advertising is fun, fun, fun.
Well, not really.
Sure there’s the creative part, but quite often people try to skip steps and get to the fun part first. You know, they want to eat dessert before they’ve had their vegetables. It’s human nature. But sometimes you just have to be an adult and do the hard work.
When coming up with creative ideas, whether it’s a corporate ID, a website, an ad, a brochure, a tradeshow display, first you have to figure out what you’re trying to say–in plain English, not in some kind of cute headline. It’s a process, not one-step instant gratification.
I sometimes call this the slogging through the mud phase. Yes, you must get down and get dirty before all becomes clean and bright. So you sort through a lot of stuff which doesn’t seem to really make sense but as you sort, gradually it becomes clearer and clearer. Suddenly you know where you need to go. Then you can come up with the way you’re going to get there.
This is something I learned when I did a two-year program of advertising classes focused on copywriting and creative concept. We studied and had to practice the process over and over. It was the same process we followed in LA at ad agencies. No coming up with the headlines and main visual, let alone writing the body copy, until you knew what the purpose of the communication was, who you were talking to and why.
Only after doing the hard work did you get your reward, getting to begin coming up with the creative for the project. Of course thinking of good creative concepts can also be hard work in its own way, but in some ways, it’s more like play—a challenge, but fun.
If you define what you want to tell your audience first, then it’s much easier come up with a creative way for the words and images to say that. Not to mention that you’ll end up with a much more effective communications piece.
The clever headline and pictures will come, but they’re not first. When you do them first what you end up is a communications piece that doesn’t work. Sure, at first glance it may look slick and professional, but if it’s not really about anything, what’s the point?
When clients want to jump ahead to the creative phase first, I try to educate them. When communications professionals I’ve encountered do it, I think, shouldn’t you know better?