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November 30, 2011Can you rush creativity?

You can’t hurry love. But as a copywriter, can you rush creativity? Is it possible to have too many ideas? Or is more always more?

  • Is it better to go to the client with just one idea?
  • Is it better to go to the client with two or three of the best?
  • …or does your client want to pick and choose from a hundred different options?

The answer depends on the client — and on how well you can read them.

Some clients want to be told what to do. They’re paying you, the expert, to tell them what will work best. Other clients will reject your first idea out of hand, even if it’s good, simply to show that they’re in charge.

Other clients need to be led to a decision, but feel like they’re part of the creative process. (A favourite technique of mine is to supply three options, with two of them being absolute stinkers).

Then you get that last, most difficult client. The one who wants every option you can think of — and then more. So what do you do?

Ad agency McCann Erickson tackle a tricky client.

Do you carry on writing until your dog-eared thesaurus finally falls apart? Or do you insist on a direction?

I’ve been sharing some of my work-in-progress with other creatives over on fiftytwonetwork.com – including a document of over 50 straplines separated into five distinct tones of voice. That’s a heck of a lot, said fellow copywriter Reed Words. But not necessarily if it’s a work in progress.

In fact, the multiple options were going to the account manager on the job, who could then use the document to try to get a feel for what direction they felt the client would plump for.

But for me, this brought up another, bigger question.

How many ideas do you have to discard before you find one that works?

I prefer to take my time over creative projects. To go away for a week, to think about the options, and to come back with two or three really storming ideas. The client or agency is presented with a branding report explaining my research and my thought process, along with three concepts or copy samples.

I’m often blunt about it. I tell the client: sometimes, you’ll be paying me to play golf. Or to throw darts at a board. Or to have a night out drinking overpriced cocktails. Or whatever. The point is, you’re paying for whatever it takes to put me in the right frame of mind to have a creative, original idea. And yes, you’re also paying me to improve my backswing.

As Don Draper puts it in Series 3 of Mad Men,

“Part of working with creative people is giving them the freedom to be unproductive until they are.”

It’s an absolutely essential part of the creative process — throwing away bad ideas until you find a good one. Tossing ideas back and forth with people you’ve just met in the pub, on the driving range (or, if you live a virtual life, on Twitter and Facebook!).

The trouble is, while good ideas take time, you don’t always have that time. Agencies, studios, and their clients have deadlines. Creative or not, it’s your job to get the work done on time.

When I’m in a rush, I tend to adopt a scattergun approach to copywriting. Think of it as automatic writing — literally writing the first thing that comes into mind without thinking why. I might write 100 straplines in a morning. At least 50 of these will never see the light of day. But the rest will be categorised (“this emphasises the product’s ease of use…” “these appeal more to techie types…”) and refined.

It’s a little like prospecting for oil. You dig a hundred holes. But you only need to find one spurt to know you’re rich.

Personally, I prefer to take my time — but I’ve found that for clients in a hurry, the scattergun approach to copywriting works too. Naturally, it’s more stressful (most every copywriter charges more for a “rush” job), and my brain is fried for a couple of days after it.

But I’ve found that both methods work. So is it a case of six and two threes, or is one method better than the other?

In short, I think it’s all about finding a method you’re comfortable with.

In the fairy tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, it’s the slow and steady tortoise that wins the race.

But one wonders if he’d cut it in advertising. If the client is truly demanding, sometimes more is more — and less isn’t enough.

When you’ve had a hundred ideas, you have a hundred starts to work from.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 4:38 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog, Copywriting, Me and my business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

  1. Tracy Culler says:

    I found this to be very interesting and true but I also believe that the designers work habits also are another factor. I am just getting started in the graphic design world and have not really figured out how to not play the beat the clock game. But now, after reading your blog, I now am wondering if that is just how I am wired. I am glad that I found your blog because I see that I am not the only one that works this way. Keep up the helpful blogs to us, newbies.

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