I was reminded (again) of its importance after conducting and/or participating in a number of brainstorms during the past week. At one meeting in particular, the person (facilitating their own brainstorm – eek!) announced with a sigh at the beginning of the brainstorm, “Well, here we go again. I’m sure we’ll get the same ideas as last time.”
Indeed. Despite the inappropriateness of launching a brainstorm with a broad slap of a negativity brush, ‘Mr. Optimism’ was right, going so far as to admit afterward that the reality was much his own doing. Why?
The majority of most brainstorms in public relations and communications begin with the same two hoary objectives:
- Generate (traditional/social) media coverage
- Generate awareness
There lies the problem. Why would you generate any new idea if you always start at the same place and take the same route? Worse, the client in this specific case fell into their weekly routine:
- The same meeting tactics (always at 10 am, the same horrifying conference room, no food, the same people)
- The same agenda (no ice-breaker, no creative warm-ups, no brief, Mr. Optimism virtually started with “Achtung! Who has any ideas?)
- The same product background (men, aged 1 to 99 who live in Australia and breathe at least once a daily basis.
The logistics of the meeting have been/will be addressed in other posts, but in this one now, I want to focus on framing the problem.
It doesn’t matter which creative methodology you use, all of them – literally – begin with the same step: you must to articulate the objective or the problem which is, more often than not, the same thing. Many people in communications default to the same objective (see above), but expect different P.R. tactics. (Brings to mind Einstein’s quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”) But, if you look at the same problem from a different perspective, the new angle could very likely lead you toward different options or solutions.
For example, in this brainstorm, we took a typical objective and used five minutes at the beginning of the meeting to reframe the problem. Here’s what we came up with:
Generate traditional and social media conversation about Brand X’s new Product Y.
New and Improved?
Change people’s notion of how the category (of Product Y) has changed in the past five years. (We began by discussing how history changes, who changes it, who’s cutting edge. Because the product returns to some of its original brand attributes, we also brainstormed how history repeats itself in interesting ways, how does something go from ‘old’ to ‘retro’.)
Make Product Y unobtainable – “it’s too exclusive for you.” (We brainstormed how we’d do the opposite of the brief. We’d make Product Y so covetable, it would feel like a limited edition, a must-have.)
Make Product Y as timelessly chic as Audrey Hepburn (or is that chic-ly timeless?). (We brainstormed style icons, style icons of Australian fashion, the differences between style icons in Australia vs. one from Europe or America.)
Make the knowledge of Product Y “explode” all over Australia. (We brainstormed how things ‘explode’ – both literally and figuratively. We discussed the biggest PR events in Australian history, the ones with real power, and discussed how something as nominal as Product Y’s category might parallel that level of interest. This led to the next re-framed objective …)
Let’s make Product Y the butt of its own joke. (Given that so many of Product Y’s competition takes itself soooo seriously, we wondered whether we’d make more of an impression with Aussies if we took the piss out of ourselves. We had the greatest number of ideas in this area – all of which were totally un-doable, many of them illegal – but in the end, we brought one of the ‘out-there’ ideas back from irrationality and found a way to make it manageable and media-genic.
A couple of points here to help you re-frame (communications) problems:
Get someone else – preferably from an entirely different category – to give you a new and unique perspective on what you’re trying to achieve. If you can’t do it with a literal person, use a famous, historical or fictional person. (What would Jacques Cousteau, Gough Whitlam or Dame Edna say our objective should be?)
Reverse the situation entirely. Like we did with Objective #2 above, change your perspective 180 degrees. How would you do the opposite? (This suggestion always drives linear people crazy.)
Brainstorm the assumptions you bring to the objective. Like the purpose behind the famous nine-dot puzzle (here), what assumptions are you making about the problem. How can you alter, eliminate or re-dress that assumption into something else?
Detach yourself from your own problem. This is a hard one, I know. But sometimes, you’re your own worst problem. I heard it again last week, in a different brainstorm. A well-intentioned person blurted out: “But I’m necessary to the business.” As Tammy Fae would say, Bless you darling. When you say something as ridiculous as that, you are probably totally unnecessary to the business. It reminds me of a key fact in creativity philosophy: the more you know about a topic, the less creative you are.
Check the tags for ‘framing’ or ‘reframing’ for more posts on this topic.