June 24, 2012

Concepting Across Creative Lines

The best brainstorming I have ever done has been with a designer. In my nearly ten years of corporate copywriting, I wrote my own headlines, decks, subheads, and content whether the assignment was an article, ad, script, web page, sales brochure or incentive campaign. One thing I learned by trying my hand at all those types of writing is that everyone has a different skill set. I’m great at content but fall into alliteration all too often when it comes to my headlines. I noticed that often when it would come time to brainstorm themes for various corporate initiatives or projects, only the writers would be invited. I’m not sure why.

The writers also all had offices while the designers were confined to cubicles. Being in the financial services industry, I think our company placed more value on words than images. So, we concepted separately, worked separately and even ate separately.

Until the sales incentive campaign of 2007.

That’s when I discovered how powerful a finished product could be when the writer and designer assigned to it worked on it from the beginning – together. The designer and I hadn’t worked together before and we didn’t know each other, but we did share a love for coffee so we had our first meet over a few lattes at Starbucks. With the scent of espresso in our hair, we began to dream. Soon, a drab annual sales reward trip became an opportunity for marketing innovation. We ditched the tired 8.5 x 11 padfolio-like brochure advertising the trip to the sales representatives for journal and calendar themes, replete with fancy die-cuts and interactive space.

The calendar idea was our favorite so that’s what we pitched first. Surprisingly, our normally conservative employer sprung for the out-of-the-box idea (and budget). The piece had always been used just to announce the location of the sales trip but ‘why not do more?’ we thought, and so we devised a piece that was part time-manager and part motivator. The language I wrote, from calendar captions to body copy flowed from the pictures my designer painted. It turns out that she was particularly skilled in developing one-liners. So, as she constructed the skeleton, I filled in the flesh.

Five sales trips later, the company is still using the concept we came up with years ago. We literally brainstormed our way into a box. Although we’ve come up with other compelling ideas since then, the company is not willing to relinquish what’s worked so well the last few years. That’s okay. My friend and I will simply find other projects to unleash our creative powers upon.

The lesson I keep from this experience is that ideas among creative professionals are potentially more powerful when shared across job titles. So if you’re a web designer working on a theme for a new blog or business to business site, talk with your copywriter at the beginning, when you’re writing code instead of waiting on content to get the site published. If you’re a writer, don’t develop your copy in a vacuum. Do more than avoid cacophony with your content; create a visual symphony for your audience by listening to the talents of everyone on your team.

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