When ideas become real

Every creative has a metaphorical bottom drawer of old ideas that never came to be. This post is all about the tricky transition from a great idea in your sketchbook, to a great idea which becomes reality. But first, let’s take a look at the idea bit.

For me, it usually goes something like this; A brief lands on your desk. You read it, read it again, read it once more for good measure. Then you pick it apart, you cover it in highlighter pen, doodles and weird cryptic shorthand. That’s a start, but then what? The magic happens? Eureka! Lightbulb moments aplenty… Sadly not. You feel a vague sense of panic rising that you don’t have a decent idea… maybe this is it? You’ve got creative block; you’ve lost your mojo. Throw in the towel, become a bin man. Who were you kidding anyway? Well it was a good run…

Then, you come back to it, you put your first thoughts to paper, you realise they’re mediocre at best, literal and obvious. The same ones every other creative would have in every other agency if they got the same brief. So you take another look. You read the brief again and question it some more. You approach it from different angles, some interesting thoughts start to appear. Maybe there’s something in these ones?

You relax into it. Leave it for a bit, letting your sub-conscious pick up the slack. It probes your memory banks of books you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, movies you’ve seen and places you’ve been.

Then, probably at a really inconvenient moment, in the toilet, in the car, in a meeting; Bingo! An idea pops up right in front of your eyes, and it feels like a good one. One of those ones where you get a wee rush of excitement, an eye-widening, heart stopping moment where you realise, it has legs, it could work, you love this idea! So, you scribble it down as fast as you can before it flies away, never to be seen again.

Then you develop it, proudly craft it to the point when its ready to be shared with your colleagues. You’ve cracked it! That’s the hard part right? Wrong. The hard part starts here. Now you have to make it happen.

Step 1: Proving the idea.
OK, you’ve got your awesome idea. You know it, it played itself out as a full campaign in your mind as soon as it came to you. It was so good, you saw yourself on stage winning one of those shiny trophies, cheered and jeered by your peers. You pictured it going viral, the YouTube hits sky-rocketing as your clients and colleagues rub their hands in glee. You know it. But none of that matters if you can’t persuade anyone else of its potential. So you have to prove it.

You need to show how it answers each aspect of the brief. You need to prove that it works with different variations, and demonstrate how it can evolve over time. If it’s a brand, you need to show how it works on big stuff like billboards, and small stuff like business cards, and tiny stuff like app icons and favicons. Prove it and leave no stone unturned.

Step 2: Selling the idea.
You’ve demonstrated that your idea answers the brief and could really work. If you’re lucky, everyone’s already on-board and can also see its potential. But there’s more you need to do.

Show how it can go beyond the brief. That’s what will make it exciting to everyone else. It needs to surpass their expectations. Maybe it’s just a press ad, but you show how it could work as a radio ad, a social media campaign and a quirky bit of ambient that no-one expected. Does it have the potential to be shared and go viral? Excellent. Show that.

You should write a rationale for the idea. Arguably, if it works then it should speak for itself. But the rationale helps you articulate the idea, crystallise it your mind and gives your colleagues a valuable tool to sell on further to their clients. It makes your idea more robust.

Then you present it. Do this with the same passion you felt when you first had the idea. Stand up if you need to, practice it if you want to (but not too much. A scripted presentation has all the charm of a PPI call) Your enthusiasm should be infectious. If you love it, there’s a high chance everyone else will.

Step 3: Keeping it going
You’ve managed to convince everyone else of your wonderful idea. They love it too! Job done right? Not yet. You still need to keep it intact.

The best ideas are exciting because they stand out from all the average ones. This means they are usually braver, bolder and more unexpected. They need to be, in order to be memorable.  Unfortunately, this also means they involve a bigger shift from the norm for your clients. They may see this as a risk. Nervousness can set in and a tendency to play it safe can come into play. But safe ideas aren’t as effective.

There’s a danger, as time passes that collective enthusiasm can wane. What was an all singing, all dancing piece of work can gradually be pared back, compromised and toned down, until it no longer resembles the idea you loved so much. You need to keep it on track as much as possible.

The more robust your idea, and the better you have proved it (steps 1 and 2) the more you have to hand to keep the idea alive. So refer back to what makes it great. It’s up to you to fight for it.

Step 4: Producing it
You’ve managed to keep your great idea more or less intact, and it’s time to produce it. Time to hand it over, kick back and bask in the glory, right? Not quite yet.

You may be working with a range of specialists to bring the idea to life. These people share your desire to produce great work. But you may have different ideas of exactly what that will look like.

Illustrators, filmmakers, photographers and animators may interpret your vision. You need to  strike the right balance between micro-managing and letting them loose with your idea. Then, you may have studio people preparing your project to be print or digital ready. These clever people will make it technically correct to make sure it works best in its end use. But the idea can still be interpreted.

In a healthy situation, you can trust each other to make the best of the idea. It is really important to make sure you are on the same page early on, so that you share the same vision. If you communicate your idea properly, you can allow enough freedom for the expert skills of specialists will make it look better than you could have imagined.

Step 5: Launch
Your idea is now out in the real world. If everything has gone well, it is an immensely satisfying experience. The hard work has paid off and it’s a strange feeling of pride, relief, satisfaction and a wee bit of sadness. It’s done now and you’ll never get the buzz back.

There’s still stuff you can do. You can become a champion of your idea. You can share it and promote it in all the usual social networks. Photograph it as well as you can for your portfolio and get samples of it for your box of tricks. Tell people about it, launch it on your Behance page etc. etc. All these things can help make it more successful.

If you can get access to stats on how effective it was, then keep these stats. Bank them for case studies, award entries and credentials.

It takes a lot to see a great idea through to completion. It takes enthusiasm, collaboration, energy, doggedness, and (though you may cringe at the word) selling.

Either that, or bung it in the bottom drawer and slam it shut forever.