HOW TO STRUCTURE AN EFFECTIVE CREATIVE BRAINSTORM All of our work comes from our creative brainstorming process, which is something we’ve honed over time. Here is our simple four step process that we use to create online viral videos that change hearts, minds and, in their own way, the world:
Step One: The Brief
It all starts with “who do you want to do what?” Define your target audience and be clear what do you want them to do afterwatching the video (share, like, be angry, be happy, sign up for a newsletter, sign a petition, change their name to Alfonzo Bonzo, buy a pair of shoes, campaign to have an evil dictator dethroned…)
At Catsnake we like to devour as much information about your organisation and goals as we can get our hands on. You can’t send us too much! You never know where the inspiration might come from.
Other vital factors are schedule and budget. Schedules are almost always tight – we can work with that but we need to know. Budgets often aren’t stated because clients want to compare quotes from different agencies. We think this is a mistake. If we have an idea of budget we save time by avoiding avenues that are unworkable and we can pitch something that makes the most of what the client has to play with. We once pushed a huge company on this but they wouldn’t give us a number. Against our better judgment we brainstormed anyway and came up with one of the best ideas we’ve ever pitched. The client LOVED it idea but said their budget was way below what we needed to produce it.
Step Two: Brainstorm One – Finding “The Core”
The first brainstorm session is the most intense. The goal at the end of this session is to find what we have defined as “The Core”.
Other than sounding like a bad 1980’s movie starring Sylvester Stallone, “The Core” is vital – a short paragraph that defines what the creative idea should be. It addresses why someone would want to watch the film and why they would share it.
We start by breaking down the brief and supporting information. We consider and research the type of content that’ll be enjoyed by the target audience. We delve deep into the client and what they’re already doing.
Then we discuss this, identifying themes and ideas. This conversation can become spirited but that’s all part of the process. We focus on identifying what will connect with the target audience’s gut instinct and what emotions we want to evoke. Once we’ve agreed on the final wording of “The Core”, we high-five, have a celebratory cup of tea and crack open the celebratory Smarties!
“The Core” of some of our favourite work so far…
“A Love Story In Milk”
The Core: Everyone knows that they should recycle, but not everyone does. Make people want to recycle by creating an online video that makes the audience fall in love with the items they are recycling.
The Core: Inspire awe by making the audience feel part of something bigger than themselves, which should act as a catalyst for them to share the video. The video should also encourage the audience to think differently about older people, by viewing them in fundamentally the same way as they view themselves.
Step Three: Brainstorm Two – The Creative Idea(s)
If everything has gone well in steps one and two and all the hard work has been done, then step three is a lot of fun.On a different day (you can’t have Brainstorm One and Two on the same day – it just doesn’t work) we schedule another 3-4 hours to focus on coming up with creative ideas that answers “The Core” perfectly. If we come up with an idea that doesn’t do this then we discard it like an old friend that has betrayed us in some way. This, for me, was the biggest learning experience. When you come up with a good idea it is your baby…you love it, you care for it and you don’t want anyone to criticise it. This attitude doesn’t work in real life.
Pixar’s 17th rule of storytelling is “No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on –it’ll come back around to be useful later.” This is true when brainstorming. Say the idea out loud, no matter how good or bad it might be, and be willing to let it go if it doesn’t fly.
We have what is called as a “trust tree” in our sessions, meaning you can literally say anything without fear of being judged or mocked. It allows unlikely ideas to be discussed and, you know what, sometimes that TERRIBLE idea about the motorcycling gerbil was the catalyst for a great idea later on.
The biggest hurdle for me was proposing what I knew was a great idea, but it being politely dismissed because it didn’t perfectly answer “The Core.’ I found it hard to let it go and pushed for my ideas for longer than was helpful. As soon as I realised that letting it go was best for the outcome, it allowed the sessions to flow better and move faster. If you can let a good idea go, then you can move onto the next idea and then the next until you have one that works.
A lot of creative people find this difficult when working in teams and my advice is to be confident enough to know that another
good idea will come along. Let your ego go, but at the same time be confident in yourself and in the process. Also, YOU don’t have to be the one that comes up with THE idea. If the session you are in cracks it, then the idea(s) belong to the room – you have all contributed in a significant way.
Step Four: Pitching
There are two ways we are asked to pitch – either in person or sending in a pitch document via email. We always prefer the latter and it’s for a reason you probably won’t expect.
We think it’s probably easier to get a pitch commissioned in person and that’s why most agencies push for face-to-face pitches. It’s much harder to say no to someone in person than it is over email. Also, when you get to know someone better, that may sway your opinion of the ideas they are pitching to you.
It may not be the smartest business move, but we like to live and die by our ideas (on a side note, this is also why we pitch for free). The audience of the video don’t “get to know” the film makers, neither do they see their previous work and trust them, they come to the video fresh because someone has shared it on their feed, so we like the pitch to have the same environment. Pitching via a document allows the client to read the idea without the distractions of a face-to-face meeting. They can judge the idea purely on whether they like it or not – exactly the same way the audience of the video will feel when they first see it. Obviously it’s a little bit more nuanced than that, the audience of the film are seeing a final, fully rounded, production of the idea and the client are reading a summary – but the bare bones of it should still work, even at this early stage.
A music producer once said to me that a good song should work on an acoustic guitar, with a full orchestra or on a fisher-price toy piano. I believe the same can be said for a good idea – it’s always a good idea, regardless of what stage of development it is in.
So we put together a comprehensive pitch document, send it to
the client and eat some Smarties.
Catsnake’s 10 rules to brainstorming:
- Structure your sessions so that you can meet deadlines.
- Set achievable goals to hit at the end of each step. Do not move to the next stage unless you hit that goal.
- Believe in the process.
- “The Core” is just as important as “The idea”.
- Be willing to let good ideas go.
- Be confident enough to know that more good ideas will come.
- Do the work. Nothing good will come from jumping straightinto it. You have to do the research and really get to know the subject matter.
- Three is the magic number. Three people in a brainstorm is the perfect number because it allows disagreements to be settled quickly and thinking time while two people discuss something.
- Pitch via email and not in person. A good idea should work on the page without any additional convincing.
- Stock up on plenty of tea and Smarties.