The Method Behind A Winning Creative


“Creativity is like washing a pig. It’s messy. It has no rules. No clear beginning, middle or end. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is really clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.” – Luke Sullivan

Luke Sullivan’s quote on creativity makes me laugh every time I read it. In many ways, he captures what we all know about great creative and great creatives. The method to create greatness is rarely a straight line and, according to the panel, rarely achieved.

This was the focus of the Calgary Marketing Association’s last Panel & Power Hour – on the night of February 6th, four smart marketers came together on a panel to talk through a variety of methods to develop winning creative, along with methods to motivate your creative teams and agencies to produce winning creative. The panellists, talking to another sold-out crowd, were:

  • Dan Evans, Evans Hunt
  • Jennifer Meehan, Edelman Canada
  • Heather Ilsley, Vovia
  • Mary Ventresca, Pattison Outdoor

Gisele Danis from Honeycomb Solutions had the job of keeping this panel of creative folks in line. And, lucky for her, she did not have to herd too many cats (or wash any pigs for that matter). The panellists were mostly in agreement on the ingredients and conditions it takes to develop great creative.

The panel was an interesting mix; the kind of mix that sparks good dialogue. The CMA brought in Jennifer and Mary from Toronto, both with agency backgrounds. Mary was able to share her experience working on big brands like Apple. Jennifer shared relevant B2C and B2B examples of current Edelman clients. Dan Evans being the managing partner of local agency Evans Hunt, shared his experiences, both good and bad, working with clients to create great creative. And Heather Ilsley, the self-described contrarian of the panel, is the VP of client services at Vovia, a local media and data intelligence agency. It might seem like a rare choice to have a media panellist in a discussion about creative, but Heather kept the conversation focused on creative only being ‘winning’ if it is performing and effective.

Gisele kept the conversation lively and the panel (and audience) engaged and the topics covered were diverse. A few highlights of the ingredients that make winning creative were:

The Trust Triangle

Whether using an agency, or an internal marketing team, trust between the client and the creative team is critical. Trust is built through a strong relationship. Once the relationship is established, and work developed together starts to work, trust follows. It is only once this trust is built that truly great creative can happen. Work that pushes the boundaries and makes the client a bit nervous. Without that trust, safer ideas will prevail. Safe ideas that won’t cut through the clutter and won’t perform which will cause the relationship to suffer and trust to decrease further. You get the idea – the path around the Trust Triangle can go both ways.

Simplify the Brief

Everyone on the panel agreed that winning creative starts with a focused brief; brief with a singular proposition. There can be a tendency to throw lots of information into briefs – pages of background information to educate the creative team. And while you may think all that data is helpful it actually hinders the creative process and handcuffs creative individuals. The panel urged the audience to simplify the brief. If possible, get it down to one page. And, if pressured, a well-articulated response to the question ‘What problem are we looking to solve?’ should be enough to focus the creative team and point them in the right direction.

Data + Emotional Connection

Everyone on the panel agreed that data is critical to marketing in 2020. But the data itself is useless until it is analyzed, synthesized and insights are drawn from it. Much like a brief – reduce the complex to a simplified insight. From there the creative team can use that insight to develop great creative based on evidence, that creates an emotional connection with your audience.

Agree on KPIs from the Beginning

Creative effectiveness and performance are not determined once your creative has been released into the wild. By then it is way too late. Your KPIs need to be established at the outset and communicated broadly with the team. Those KPIs will shape the direction of the campaign and ensure your creative (and channels) are working together to return your desired results. Your KPIs will also give you a valuable tool to evaluate creative ideas. Sometimes the most creative ideas just don’t work based on the campaign objectives and success metrics. That’s OK – file them in your back pocket for the next campaign.

As Jennifer Meehan stated, “Everybody is your competition. You have to earn their attention.”. This is a good reminder that winning creative, regardless of your industry, sector or size, needs to cut through the clutter and fight for the attention of increasingly busy target audiences. Hopefully, those in attendance at last week’s event walked away with a few more strategies to help them do just that.

The Calgary Marketing Association continues to be the hub of marketing conversations in Calgary. This event was another example of great panel discussions, and equally lively conversations happening around the tables at the end of the event.

About the Author:

Rob Fairhead is an experienced marketer with experience on both the agency and client-side of the marketing game in Calgary, a board member at the Calgary Marketing Association and Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at ZGM Modern Marketing.