The importance of creative endurance in developing winning ads

By Jeff Perino
Who doesn’t love a great ad? The best ones draw us in and captivate our attention. They appeal to our curiosity. They work because they entertain, educate and inform. And they keep us thinking long after we’ve moved on to something else. For most creatives, ad concepting sits at the top of the pyramid as the most sought-after assignment. The process is fun, challenging and collaborative. Great ad concepts help win pitches. And the people who create them are often recognized and rewarded.

NEWS FLASH: Your shiny new concept is probably not the ad that will ultimately appear – either on pitch day or during campaign roll-out. The final product takes a great deal more thought, fine-tuning and patience before reaching final approval.

Everyone who knows the healthcare advertising business understands the elements of effective design. But another fundamental building block in the creative process is often overlooked: creative endurance. The ability to sustain creative drive, purpose and flexibility is key to getting a winning idea through the twists and turns of the ad development process. Simply put, those who stay the course and keep advancing toward the goal are those who succeed and, most important, do what’s best for the brand.

Nearly every new idea begins as a dark horse and will be put through its paces by your creative partners at the agency. If your ad concept has legs, it may be shown to the client, where it will face a new round of challenges testing its creativity and drawing power.

Creative fatigue can kick in at any stage – from the new business pitch through multiple rounds of medical/legal review. Many brilliant creatives produce great opening rounds, but fail to go the distance. Why? They fail to manage one constant that’s always in flux – change. Strategies, opinions, team members and brand needs are never set in stone. If you don’t manage change and make the necessary course corrections, you won’t stand a chance.

Since there are few things that compare to coming up with a great idea, it’s natural to want to protect what’s yours. You can dig in your heels and try convincing your team to go with your initial idea (which, P.S., isn’t really yours anyway; once you hit “send,” it belongs to the group). Or you can keep the process moving. Look for a fresh approach and get busy again. Change your perspective, take a new tack, and keep searching for ways to recreate that remarkable feeling you had at the start.

Your role as a creative requires an active imagination, so don’t wait for the next scheduled brainstorm session to get busy. And remember that while the best brainstorming sessions are capital-F Fun and filled with good vibes, some sessions can turn stifling when the direction wavers. File this away: Truly original ideas most often happen in isolation.

In “How to Become CEO: The Rules for Rising to The Top of Any Organization,” author Jeffrey J. Fox notes that Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio – two of the greatest hitters in baseball history – each took more batting practice than did all their teammates combined. In this short but wise book, Fox reminds us that the difference between success and average is measured in inches. What we’re talking about here is applying that extra elbow grease to the idea-generation process over the full length of the assignment. Since the quest for creative excellence never follows the path of least resistance, the journey demands that you provide new ideas and thoughtful decisions each and every step of the way.

Creative endurance means rethinking your latest ad during your morning run, retooling that headline over coffee, searching for just one more killer image in between other assignments. (Revisiting and reworking that idea during a greater number of shorter sessions works best. There’s nothing like a little distance to help you rake out the weeds.) What starts with fine-tuning may lead to a variation on a theme, and then – hopefully – a bold new idea. This re-engagement, these mini-sessions, can often work magic.

Developing the initial creative concept may be the most fun part of the ad development process, but subsequent rounds of envisioning and re-imagining are most important. In my career, I have heard of just one pitch concept that actually rolled out. The last ad concept standing – the one that helps win pitches, airs or goes to print – isn’t necessarily the best in show. It may simply work the best against the latest criteria in play. But you’ll never grab the brass ring – never fully act in the brand’s best interest – without creative endurance. Stay engaged and flexible every step of the way and bend your concepts until you make them sing.

Jeff Perino is creative director at Triple Threat Communications.

Posted: December 2013


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