How To Shine At Brainstorming Sessions

Flat style idea brainstorming creative team concept web infographics vector illustration. Creative people collection. Group of casual young male female working table icon connections.

Public relations brainstorming sessions, or creative meetings, can be the equivalent of a double-edged sword for those attending.

On the one hand, account execs who attend the session will get the opportunity to show their creativity, if they are truly creative. The flip side is that those who can’t come up with anything original might be doomed.

Often at creative meetings, the facilitator will begin the session by saying, “If you have an idea, say it. There’s no such thing as a bad idea."

I never believed that nonsensical opening statement, because there are usually more bad ideas than good ones. Experience shows that continually throwing out really bad ideas means you’ll never again be invited to a creative session.

Below are tips I've discovered over the years that can make you shine at your next brainstorm session.

Before The Meeting

Even the most creative individual should prepare for the meeting by studying the material sent prior to the session.

After studying the material, divide a piece of paper into thirds. On one third, list any ideas from past programs that you know about that might also work for the new program being discussed. In another column, write down any modifications of the “old” ideas to make them “new.” The third column should contain only your new original ideas.

Eliminate the weakest of the ideas in each column.

Then divide another piece of paper into three columns, one titled “client,” another “media” and the third “works for both.” Eliminate any of the above ideas that seem overly promotional and client-centric; likewise, discard any media ideas that stray too far from the material provided to you.

The third column should contain ideas that you think work for both the client and media. If done correctly, and honestly, the final result should be the equivalent of your individual creative session, leaving you with a few solid ideas.

Despite what you might have been told, everyone at the meeting should be viewed as your competition.

At the Meeting

Practice self control. By that I mean don’t feel that you must present your ideas early in the meeting just because others are doing so.

Listen carefully to the ideas of others and determine whether they can be incorporated into yours to enhance your ideas. Often listening to other’s ideas will generate new, original ideas on your part.

If you can piggy back and improve someone else’s idea, do so on the spot. (Management likes team players, even though history shows that all things being equal, the more aggressive individual most likely will be rewarded.)

Toward the end of the meeting, after taking into consideration everyone else’s ideas, toss out a few of your good ideas, but never the best ones. Presenting a few good ideas will not go unnoticed by the facilitator and you will be invited to attend future creative meetings.

Occasionally, by not speaking out early, another person might volunteer the same good idea that you were holding back. But experience shows that most often my way is the better way.

Agency promotions are often decided because of office politics, friendships and loyalty to supervisors. Thus, in all aspects of agency life, lower level personnel must find a way to let top management know of their good work. That’s why I suggest that the best ideas should not be shared during a creative meeting, where it is combined in one report that contains all workmanlike ideas (which Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “competent and skillful but not outstanding or original.”)

After The Meeting 

Just because the brainstorming session is over, doesn’t mean you should stop thinking of new ideas.

The day after the creative session, write a memo to the facilitator and copy your immediate supervisor and top management saying that you thought of few additional ideas that should be considered. That’s why I suggested not announcing your best ideas during the creative session. Even if you can’t think of any additional new ideas, you’ll have your original best ones to put in the memo.

Also, go a step further. In the memo give examples of how, with minimal modifications, your ideas can be used in various sections of newspapers and magazines or on different segments of TV programs.

Doing the above might upset your supervisors for “going over my head.” But so what. There are many brass rings at an agency and only a handful of gold ones, and the only way to get a gold one is to make certain that top management knows of your good work. Because, as I was told early-on by the general manager of a non-New York Burson-Marsteller office on whose accounts I worked on, “If you don’t let top management know of your good work someone else will take credit for it.”

Arthur Solomon was a journalist and SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller who worked in sports and other sectors. Contact him: [email protected]