Building and Nurturing a Creative Team

Having just completed a round of interviews for the role of content marketing executive for the ever-growing Zazzle Media content team, I’ve heard the phrase “I’m very creative” being banded about as freely as “yes, I can drive” or “speaking is just not a problem for me”. But what defines creativity, how can we, as content managers, create a culture of endless ‘creativity’, and what can we do to help the creative process?

Maintaining a constant stream of original creative ideas for new and existing clients, and the ability to sell an interesting story is the content marketer’s bread and butter. But keeping this process alive within a busy team can be overlooked, particularly when you’re rushing around just trying to get the job done.

However, failure to keep new and creative ideas freely flowing will mean your content ideas will quickly run dry, and your clients will go elsewhere to find someone who is willing to invest the extra time understanding their brand, audience, content aims and come up with fantastic, original ideas which will positively impact their bottom line.

Creativity is defined as: The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations.

In other words, to use what you already know as a starting base, but go beyond this to come up with something completely new and original.

The secret is that in actual fact, every single new and ‘original’ idea is actually a remix of something else; a view endorsed by Kirby Ferguson in his Everything is a Remix video series.

Having managed teams for the past 10+ years, it is my humble opinion that many of the same traditional tried and tested management techniques can be adapted to assist the creative team, helping to grow and develop exciting, enthusiastic creative people.  Even at our busiest, my team and I will regularly get together to brainstorm content ideas for both existing and new clients, considering every type of online content currently available, suggesting the best and most relevant to help achieve their aims and aspirations.

Utilising creativity to achieve an objective is not a process used exclusively in media businesses. Ask any CEO what the key to good business is, and they will tell you it is creativity. Creative industries know it takes fresh thinking and innovation to stay ahead of the game, and many big businesses are increasingly looking to the creative industries to help drive them out of recession.

So, without further ado, here’s how we do it, alongside some inspirational quotes by a few people much cleverer than I:

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Edwin H Land – American scientist and inventor, and co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation.

When I was 16 I landed myself a job in the call-centre of a well-known bank.  I was very young and inexperienced, but determined to make a career and name for myself in what seemed like a very grown up world.  During my interview I was told the bank was an advocate of weekly Monday morning ‘buzz’ meetings, whereby everyone would stand (not allowed to sit) and discuss the week ahead, using the team to actively resolve any issues – however small. A concept originally developed by the Japanese car manufacturing industry, who believe in the ‘Kaizen’ approach to work – continuous improvement and small changes for the better.

This sounded like a wonderful idea to the enthusiastic (and probably slightly annoying) 16 year old me, and I spent the entire Sunday night before my first Monday buzz meeting preparing ideas and suggestions to discuss in the meeting.  These ranged from completely reinventing the concept of current accounts and bank loans, to replacing the old hole punch (which would only punch the top hole, meaning you had to stab the bottom hole with a sharp pencil, putting oneself at great risk of lead poisoning)

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was that my manager at the time was a complete archaic dragon who despised any idea if it wasn’t her own, and that my team was made up of 60 year old women who were quite happy with things as they had been since 1967, and just wanted the meeting to end so they could get back to their tea and crosswords. My first two ideas were met with an icy silence, and several acres of tumbleweed, and I had barely started to mutter my third idea before I was advised that my ideas weren’t really appropriate or wanted, and that the meeting was actually to discuss who was off sick that week.

Needless to say I didn’t bother speaking up during any more ‘buzz’ meetings, as I was afraid I would get the same reaction, and felt that my ideas weren’t of any worth.  It took me a couple of years, a different company, and the help of a truly inspirational manager to cure me of my fear of putting myself out there.

This experience is why I passionately believe in creating a culture where there is no such thing as a bad idea. I still advocate the importance of regular buzz/brainstorming meetings, but allow everyone to have their say, making sure the team know that every opinion is important and every idea counts, for it is often from the most random, off the wall ideas that workable concepts are borne.

Punch fear in the face

Top brainstorming takeaways:

  • No idea is a bad idea and all suggestions are recorded
  • Keep the atmosphere relaxed, fun and cheerful
  • Have some pre-prepared ideas and suggestions to keep ideas moving – however, don’t be afraid of silence to allow people time to think.
  • Don’t reject ideas or start discussing why an idea won’t work during brainstorming sessions.
  • Encourage the team to build on ideas put forward by others
  • Use props if this helps.  Some people like to visualise ideas, so have pens, paper, post-it notes and a whiteboard available.
  • Act as a facilitator to keep the team on topic

Creating a culture of ‘no fear’ will have the by-product of another creative key ingredient – trust. Not only will your team will have trust in in you, they will trust their own abilities, and will happily work autonomously without fear of repercussion.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes, art is knowing which ones to keep.  Scott Adams – cartoonist and creator of the Dilbert Comic Strip

As a manager, once you have created a culture of no fear, it is then your job to support your team through the creative process in order to nurture the ideas with the potential to grow into something fantastic, ticking all aspects of the clients brief, parking (but not forgetting) ideas that don’t necessarily work with your clients’ objectives at this time.

Remember, creation will only happen when the world is ready for it.  If the idea seems great in theory but doesn’t quite work in practice, it doesn’t mean the idea was wrong, it may just mean the world wasn’t ready for it yet.

This is why it is so important to get a clear brief of exactly what the client is hoping to achieve from their content marketing campaign.  A good client brief should include answers to the following questions:

  • What is your priority/objective – i.e. links, drive traffic, social shares, etc.
  • What problem are you trying to solve
  • Who is your target demographic/audience
  • What have you tried already – what worked, what didn’t
  • What do you want your brand to say
  • What is your company mission statement
  • What schedule are we working with
  • What is your budget (nice to have an idea, although shouldn’t stifle the creative process)

Creating amazing digital content is not quick or easy, and therefore not the ‘cheap’ option.  If you want a share of ‘real’ marketing budgets, you need to think like a real marketer.

Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people. Leo Burnett – founder of American advertising company, Leo Burnett Worldwide.

Continuous and relentless learning is massively encouraged at Zazzle Media.  Firstly because the industry we are lucky enough to be working in is continuously evolving, and it’s vital we stay ahead of the game to remain competitive for our clients.

It is also encouraged as we realise the value of using other people’s ideas as a spring-board for our own.  The best creative people will be endlessly curious, have an insatiable appetite for learning and trying new things, and can see opportunity in almost everything around them.  Great creatives are adept at taking existing ideas and turning them into something different, something new, and something that will work for their client

Content marketing is no different from any other marketing – the ideas are the key and they can be found everywhere and anywhere. The imitable Dave Trott covered this very eloquently in a blog post for Campaign Live last year, titled everything old is New Again.

As a content manager, you should be the catalyst for this process – encouraging your team to find and share as many new and exciting things as possible.  Inspiration can be found in music, images, news stories, books and online articles.  Use technology to create shared spaces for this inspiration.  Sites like Pinterest, Pocket and even Twitter are fantastic for this.

With so many new spaces, different forms of expression, and content opportunities there for the taking, there has never been a better time to be creative.

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