Although negativity most often affects the brainstorming part of the creative process, it’s equally destructive in the last stage – the merchandising phase – when you’re packaging and selling the idea to someone else, like a supervisor or a client.
As a creative director, I’ve had more than my share of debates with clients about the quality of an idea, and in my experience, their objections fall into five basic groups.
For each “They say” objection, here are my best “You say” responses.
They say: ‘That idea isn’t us.’
Link the ideas to the values or principles of the corporation or organisation.
Incorporate testimonials into your presentation. Show why other people – experts, influential people, the target audience, consumers, employees – like the ideas.
Expand from your personal point-of-view. Show how other people helped to create the idea. Talk about how they like the idea or campaign, or how they’ve helped adjust the ideas into their final form, or how the idea changed their perceptions about the topic, organisation, product or service.
More so than testimonials, can you earn endorsements? Asking key audiences to help create or adjust the idea is also a good time to win their approval. In the past, I’ve used photographs, quotes and video clips in the presentation. Once we invited one of the key influencers to the presentation to the internal client for an interactive discussion.
They say: ‘The idea is too expensive.’
An idea doesn’t need to roll-out fully at launch. You can implement a “big idea” in a small area – in one department, on one floor, in one market – to test it with its end users before a full roll-out. As an example, a former client didn’t have the budget to launch a new product nationally. Instead, we launched in one city as a “test.” In each case, we learnt what worked and what could be improved. With improvements in hand, we went back to the people holding the budget strings and asked – and received – more money for a “re-launch” because we were able to show more impact with less risk and waste. For a big employee initiative at MasterCard, we tested messages and employee materials in a small office – St. Louis (with 120 people) versus the HQ office in Purchase, New York (650 people). The small launch helped us to fix things we didn’t see ourselves, which improved the program at its global launch a month later.
Similar to the single area launch, implement the idea in stages or phases.
Another variation: roll out the program audience by single audiences. To win endorsement of a municipal regulation, we went neighbourhood by neighbourhood, starting with the easy ones to pick the lowest hanging fruit before we moved to more difficult markets so we could refine our messages.
They say: ‘The idea is too big.’
Use case studies from similar companies or organisations to show how thinking differently helped to create a new paradigm or a successful business outcome.
Use scenario planning to show what would happen if the idea was implemented or created. More importantly, what would your organisation’s response be?
They say: ‘The idea is wrong.’
Isolate exactly what the client thinks is wrong. If you don’t – but continue to brainstorming more ideas – you’ll fall into creative churn (endless brainstorming with diminishing returns). If your client can’t define it exactly, brainstorm with them to determine what it is.
Present several ideas instead of one or two. But, be prepared to say which idea you prefer. You don’t want to look like you can’t – or won’t – stand behind the best idea. (Check out the ‘creative speedometer’ idea here.)
Here’s a tip of true manipulation. Focus the client’s negativity in a constructive way by adding an extra idea that you know will be thrown out anyway. Some people like to axe an idea simply to watch something die. It’s better to focus their negativity on a poor idea than on a good one.
If all of the ideas are wrong in their eyes, isolate what aspects they like. That’s where you start your next brainstorm. If they didn’t like any aspect of the ideas, you need to return to the creative brief.
You might also avoid this statement altogether if you can find a way to include the client in the brainstorming phase so they feel like they contributed to the creation of the idea.
They say: ‘The idea is too risky.’
If at all possible, try to make this important point: Big Ideas always involve risk. At the same time, you can’t ask a client to take on all the risk themselves. If you’re a true partner with your client, you should share the risk 50-50. How can you demonstrate how you too are taking a risk?
Develop an issues management plan to complement the campaign. Show how you can manage or contain any potential risk.
Determine in advance the risky areas, and show how you have taken explicit steps to either counter-act or manage the risk.
Finally, it’s also important to differentiate between a client’s negativity and their possible confusion. Often, an ‘objection’ from your client is simply a request for more information, not a condemnation of your idea. As you finalise your proposal to sell the idea, ask someone fresh to review your document to ensure you’ve covered everything, specifically …
- Have you answered every possible question? Is there anything you might not have considered?
- Have you considered every situation or scenario? What might go wrong, and what would you do?
- What are the worst possible questions, and how would you answer them in a positive and constructive way?
Creativity is a hard thing to do in a normal situation, but it’s especially difficult when you have to be creative on the spot. Give yourself ample rehearsal time, which includes handling the Q&A. You ruin your credibility if you can’t answer a question concisely. You don’t want to consider afterwards: “Gee, I wish I’d thought to say ___ at the time”?