If we could put every (good) creative problem-solving methodology side-by-side, we’d see each begins with the same basic concept: what is the objective? What does the idea need to accomplish? What must the idea do?
A proper objective – or not – is also a good place to analyse why brainstorms often go wrong. Lots of people believe brainstorms begin and end with idea generation, but in reality, articulating an accurate and appropriate goal is the most important step because it ensures all subsequent steps move forward in a coordinated and efficient direction.
Imagine we were trying to sell 1 million widgets during the next 12 months. We’d hold a brainstorm and no doubt come up with plenty of potential ideas. But, if the objective changed – say, we had to sell 10 million widgets in 3 months – we’d create a different set of ideas to achieve our goal faster. At the very least, we’re prioritise the ideas differently.
Both the business and communications objective must have a direct correlation with the idea, and vice versa. If we have the wrong objective, we might create – or worse, implement – the wrong idea.
The system of SMART objectives is probably the most well-known method for writing objectives. First outlined by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. There have been a number of variations, but the original is still the easiest and most useful.
- A precise outcome which describes what success will look like.
- Link your measurement of the goals to a number, share, rate, percentage, or frequency.
- A defined and objective demonstration of what has to be achieved.
- Measure the behaviour or outcome in a way that enables you to identify not just completion, but key milestones or progress if necessary.
- Realistic, given all available resources.
- Be careful of being too aggressive with your objectives; if they’re unrealistic, you and your team will be left feeling demoralised, discouraged or incompetent
- Directly applicable to the overall business goals of the organisation, as well as the overall objectives of communications.
- Show linkages to internal business objectives.
- Involve management to engage buy-in from the beginning
- Expectations for when the objective should be reached, both in terms of the start and its finish.
- Highlight any short-term accomplishments or milestones.
- Link the final outcome to the business objectives.
Here are two examples.
First, a client gave our team this statement as a business objective. “Generate media coverage for Michael Smith (the newly appointed president and CEO of Aries Fund Management.)” When we asked what the business purpose was of generating media for the new CEO, we eventually created a proper business objective: “Raise the share price of Aries Fund Management by #% during this fiscal year.”
The second objective is SMART and – from a brainstorming point-of-view – preferable because it broadened what communications might accomplish (beyond a media campaign) to help raise the company’s share price. To our surprise, we learnt a month or so later that the original communications objective wasn’t even realistic. The new CEO had a significant number of internal issues to address, and specifically said he wouldn’t do any media interviews for the first 90 days. Apparently the communications director invented the communications objective to boost her profile with the new CEO. (Talk about the wrong objective!) Indeed, it had the opposite effect: she was gone by year’s end. Oops.
Second, a healthcare client in the U.S. outlined this objective for our brainstorm: “Launch Osmosis, a new cardiovascular drug to general practitioners, cardiologists and sufferers of cardiovascular disease.” When we began to pour over the research, the medical director told us that a campaign whose sole purpose was generating visibility among all audiences was too broad. She wanted our team to focus specifically on cardiologists – not GPs, not consumers – who would most quickly understand the outstanding benefits of Osmosis over existing treatments options. Thus, the more proper business objective was “Convert X% of cardiologists to prescribe Osmosis over its two competitors within # months of its launch. Again, a more ‘SMART’ business objective not only helped us focus our communications, we were also able to more efficiently conduct and measure the campaign’s effectiveness.
Some final thoughts:
- Sometimes it’s better to write your objective two or three different ways – not just edit the same sentence over and over. Once you do, you can then select the best objective among all options, or select phrases or words from individual objectives to create one new – and best – option.
- Try to make your objectives as descriptive as possible. Descriptive objectives will help engage your imagination when you begin brainstorming.
- Try to write the audience into the objective, primarily if the campaign is focused on a specific niche among a broader audience. Again, any objective which is more descriptive than vague will in turn help during brainstorming.
- Write programs with fewer objectives than more. One or two objectives are plenty if they’re written correctly. Remember, simple plans simply work better.