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The 6 biggest threats to creative ideas and how to avoid them

In our world there are so many amazing creative ideas that don't make it through to fruition. Even at business level, creative directors often complain when an awesome idea fails to get sold onto the client, or gets dropped half-way through production.

It’s easy to see why they get frustrated -  it will undoubtedly be realised at another agency, within the start-up world, or as a product for a big company in due course.

Fair enough, sometimes the idea isn’t quite right – perhaps it doesn’t fit the strategy perfectly or there isn’t a use case within the audience. However, a lot of the time a cool idea gets discarded because of factors that have nothing to do with use case or the strategy. The idea is brilliant, but something along the way stops it from happening.

Here are 6 reasons that these get shot down, with key pointers on how to guide an idea through strategy, production and into the wider world:

Money

You have an amazing idea, but somebody on your team says you are dreaming if you think the client can afford it. Who tells you this: producers, project managers, account directors and sometimes fellow creatives. You may even reconsider and convince yourself that you just don’t have the dough.

What can you do?

Get the producer to check and re-check. Don’t just take the first answer. This might sound weird coming from a producer, but sometimes producers need to be pushed – (don’t worry, we’re able to cope with this. It’s all part of the job!)

Find out what can be done within budget and whether it still has the same wow factor. Are you able do a stripped down version that proves the concept, and then open up a conversation about releasing more budget? Try to show the extra return on investment of spending more money. Show that an extra cash injection of x, gets you a return of y. Think like a start-up.

Time

“Dude - we have three weeks, there is no way in the world that can be done.”

We’re in a deadline driven industry and all of us work like crazy to make those deadlines happen. Integrated campaign launches are difficult to delay if there are a myriad of other elements to launch (not just your idea, which if it’s difficult to pull off is either going to increase everyone’s workload or would unlikely be completed within the timescale).

What can you do?

Check that it’s not a case of throwing resource at it to make it happen in time – this not viable. 90 per cent of the time interactive projects cannot be rushed and require testing time. Rushing through without the proper checks and balances is a recipe for failure.

See whether you can do something similar with the same creative and strategic output, but in a slightly different form. It’s possible you will need help from people you don’t know to think laterally about stuff you don’t know about. Ask if you can do a small prototype within the timescale to prove the concept and spend only 10 per cent of the original budget to invest in an awesome and proven idea. See if that will buy you some time.

And think, how often have you been on a campaign where the deadline has been pushed back? Sometimes the client changes the deadline due to PR reasons or media strategy. If your idea is as amazing as you think it is, then perhaps the client will move the deadline back to accommodate it. There is no harm in asking.

Credit

You’re relatively junior in your role. You’ve had an amazing, awesome, crazy, grand and far reaching idea. It’s well above your pay-grade, but your CD or ECD wants to put their stamp on it, change it, make it their own. It happens. More than it should, but it does. In extreme cases, your better idea won’t get chosen because it gets snubbed out by the boss.

What can you do?

Box clever. Be a political animal. Give away the credit: Lead your CD in the right direction and allow them to think it was their idea, too. You’ll still get a credit and in a few years when they are gone and you have their job, you’ll have all the credit. Get the idea made and play the long game.

It’s not your realm

You’re the ATL agency. You’ve had an idea for an interactive experience for an exhibition. There is an incumbent experiential agency. You don’t know whether the client will block you making the idea, or give the idea to the experiential company to make, so you drop the idea. Better to not suggest it if someone else is going to do it.

What can you do?

Ignore who you are. No matter who it comes from, an idea has the potential to be either good or bad. 

Collaborate on the idea. Fashion a concept; make it water tight. Approach the other agency and see where they can take it before it goes to the client.

You don’t know if it can be done

The idea sounds impossible to produce. You discard the idea before even writing it down. It’s a moonshot. It’s crazy. It’s bat shit. It’ll never happen.

What can you do?

Write everything down. Everything.

Show someone. Talk about it with different people (not just creatives). Perhaps they know a way, or can introduce you to someone they know who can find you a way.

When you don’t know how to develop a concept, it’s vital that you look outside of your agency for people who will find a way for you. Every good idea is worth investigating

It’s been done before

Somebody pulls out a YouTube video of some clever clogs agency in Germany who did it for a butter brand that nobody has ever heard of. Yeah - but it’s been done before. Forget it.

What can you do?

Do more research. Has it been used in the context that you are proposing? Does anyone outside of Germany or the world of butter know about it? What can you do to take it to the next level? Find out whether they actually created it or faked it: 50 per cent of everything you see is smoke and mirrors for the awards entry video - it’s worth checking before discarding an idea.

Knowing how to be dogmatic, how to question, when to provoke, when to seek help and when to park it for next time are all key skills for the successful creative in the ad world. Just don’t give up too soon.

Andy Weir is co-founder of innovation agency Weir+Wong.

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