Friday, February 25, 2011

The All-Important Creative Brief

At a first meeting with a client, cover all the bases with these essential questions
Suppose you're going to meet with a new client and the project description was not very meaty. You plan to get the information at the "fact-finding" meeting, right?

Here is a document to add to your account management file. It should end the "what a dummy" moment when you've neglected to ask for key information. Don't wait until the meeting to answer these questions, do your homework!

This document, once completed, can be the basis of the follow-up e-mail you send the client. It's also the basis for your creative strategy document. See Sharky's Circle blog post 9.19.09:

The Essential Questions:

What is the budget?
Notice, the first question starts with the hairiest topic. Discussing the budget up-front prevents you from wasting your time and the client's time.

• What are their accounting practices?
• Do they need to provide information to get on their vendor roll?

What are the project objectives?
What is the purpose of the project, the primary objective, the secondary objective?
• Raise market awareness by 25%
• Educate existing customers
• Enthuse potential donors
• Reposition the organization's image
• Meet a legal requirement
• Build company loyalty

What creative approach fits the market positioning?
Let me explain what is meant by "creative approach". We are not talking about a blue brochure or a specific type treatment. That is your baileywick, you determine design approach. A creative approach covers whether this is a hard sell, a soft sell, an informational appeal. Sophisticated, basic, operational, hip are creative approaches. Blue is not a creative approach, unless you are selling music.

Who is the target audience, the readers/viewers/customers?

Determine gender, age, socio-economic strata, occupation and geographic concentration.
• Are they knowledgeable about the service or product?
• What motivates them to act?

What is the product or service and what are its features?
Make a list of specifications, components, & other details.
• How is it delivered and how does the prospect pay for the service?
• How has it been marketed before?
• How is it used in everyday application?
• What sets it apart in the marketplace?

What are the benefits to the customer?
Make a list of the tangible and intangible benefits.
• How will the target be better off for using this product?
• Does it save time or money? If so, how much?
Are there metrics to back this up?
What trade-offs might be in play?
example: higher quality usually means higher price

What are the two strongest benefits?
Rank them—concentrate on the two strongest. This is your platform, the audience will walk away with one main idea. Be as objective and specific as possible.
• What should the main take-away be?

What support is there for the benefits?
Get test data, focus group reports, user testimonials—proof of benefit claims. Accept only facts, not opinions; only specifics, not generalizations.
• Is there a customer-satisfaction initiative, online help chat, a money-back guarantee?

What similar products/services are available and how good are they?
The competitive market—get names, specifications, prices, good and bad features.
• Did a key competitor launch a new service for a similar product?

What creative considerations, limitations or mandates do you face?
Examples: budget, schedule, size paper, use of color, number of photographs/illustrations, corporate standards, personal likes/dislikes (tread carefully here).

Who will take care of the components of the creative product?
Discuss these and identify areas to expand your involvement.
• Copy? Photography? Illustration? Printing? Back-end coding?

What are the methods of distribution?
• Where will the ad run, the brochure be used, the mailer be sent the banner be placed?

Who is in the approval loop?
Don't assume anything. Find out how many people must review the project during the creative process. Ask them to be present for the creative presentation. A word of advice, junior people should not be relied upon for an official stamp of approval. Don't be dismissive of them, they someday may be the person who signs off on your creative.

What is the timeframe?
Do not, I repeat, do not be pressured into an accelerated timeline in a client meeting. You will regret it and you will lose money. Tell the the client a detailed schedule will be a part of the forthcoming creative strategy. Need you say more?

Your follow-up is all-important
1. Take the time to type a report based on this information.
2. Keep it in the folder with the job.
3. Send a follow-up e-mail no later than 24-hours after the meeting.
4. Get to work on that forthcoming creative strategy and timeline.

Yes, my creative friends, it takes a bit of hustle to follow-up. Believe me, it will pay off in the long run for you and your client relationship. You will have set yourself miles ahead of other designers.


© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What independent Designers Ought to Know About Creative Reviews Part 2

In my first post on creative reviews I discussed the what, when and who of this customer building exercise now I will give you the how for the brainstorming segment of your creative review. Following is what worked for me and a large health nonprofit.

Before you engage your client ask yourself—
What do we want to get out of this meeting with (your client's name here)?

Here was my list that I shared with my team members

• To identify initiatives and themes that might be highlighted for the coming year.

• To identify new branding initiatives and how they might be incorporated into forthcoming creative and testing,

• Get honest feedback from the client on the communication stream—both the tone and
manner of the copy and design

• To have this creative review seen as a fun, engaging, relaxed and productive session.

• To create an environment that is visually stimulating, with samples of work mounted on boards for review, the big ideas drawn for all to see, and collaboration the keyword.

The brainstorming part of the creative review:
Several interactive brainstorming techniques were used to keep the session from becoming too dry—the aim to generate as many new ideas as possible within a set time limit. For some of the clients this is the first time they have ever had any insight into the mind of the creatives that produce their work.

Ground rules: Every idea has validity and should not be discarded or shot down.
Follow-up: After the workshop is over the ideas can be catalogued and turned into a resource document for future brainstorming with the client.

Here was my checklist for the big day:
• A review document that illustrates the reviewed creative samples
• Illustration Board
• Stop Watch
• Mount samples on presentation boards
• Plastic sleeves for multi-page creative pieces

In a gift bag were the following along with the review document
• Toys (stress relievers),
• Candy (for energy)
• Multi-colored sticky notes,
• Pens and unruled pads for each participant

The Agenda
1. Ice-breaker exercise: Use a Mad Libs exercise and restrict it to words from the client's business, marketing terms, and creative areas.

2. Present a snapshot: Discuss the data metrics for each campaign, if you have them

3. Present the creative: Cover your design approach and how it integrates with the
copy. Discuss how each piece contributes to a strategic objective that is near and dear to a
client's heart—customer-centric thinking, edgy product offerings, easy-to-use product
features, etc.

4. Take a much deserved lunch break: Get to know you client informally, ask about
them, if business comes up fine. But try to keep it low key. You might want to bring out the
competetive samples at the end of lunch to segue back into working mode.

5. Brainstorming at the speed of light: No editing, just quick thoughts: This exercise is
meant to generate as many ideas as possible. Break into two groups and write down as
many ideas as you can 10 minutes. Then allow 5 minutes to prepare a mini-presentation to the entire group.
• Large pads of paper
• Multi-colored felt tip pens
• Stop Watch

If there is time, here is one more exercise:

6. Thematic Brainstorming: In this exercise a variety of topics having to do with a package’s attributes are addressed. This could be a team-oriented exercise where the group is broken up into smaller groups to tackle a theme—for instance:
• The Package
• The Format
• The Copy
• The Theme
• The Visual Apeal
Everyone generates as many ideas around that theme as possible on a sticky note pad, one to a page. Then they get stuck to a board that has the theme emblazoned on it, and the idea is announced with no discussion. Once all the themes have been dealt with, discuss the possibilities.

Follow-up: After the workshop is over the ideas can be catalogued and turned in a resource document for future brainstorming with the client.

Use snail mail: Send a handwritten note to your client and thank them for their time!


© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Designers Ought to Know About Creative Reviews Part 1

How a creative review strengthens client rapport

Another important tool in your client management bag of tricks is a creative review.
Every client relationship has its ups and downs but managing the relationship is important. The creative review is an event that you should host on your own turf.

Not comfortable inviting several clients to your place of business? Rent a meeting room, check with local libraries and universities about meeting rooms available for rent. It should be a place that is well lit, temperature controlled and has internet access.

Prime opportunity to showcase your talent
This is your opportunity to discuss the body of work you have been creating for your client. It is a major undertaking and it should be done with as much professional panache as you can muster. This should not be knee-jerk reaction to a flurry of negative comments or a recent bungled project.

You want this to be a proactive and relationship building exercise. The goal is walk out with a client impressed with your grasp of their business goals, an insight into what the client's pain points are in the creative process and a chance to get more business.

Who should attend?
It would be advisable to invite the highest level persons on the account as you possibly can. But a mix of your contacts at that client would be advisable, in order to solicit a variety of ideas during the brainstorming session.

What should be covered?
Cover all of the work that you have created for a business cycle—last two quarters, for instance. Break it down into audience segments, or products depending on how your client see their market.

Cover your design approach and how it integrates with the copy. If you work with a writer, invite them along. If the copy is supplied by the client, ask their writer to give an overview of the copy tone and manner.

The presentation and the points to stress
I prefer mounting color print outs of work on black presentation boards as a way to lend tangibility to the work. Work mounted this way can be passed around and discussed—not something possible if a projector is used.

Discuss how each piece contributes to a strategic objective that is near and dear to a client's heart—customer-centric thinking, edgy product offerings, easy to use product features, etc.

Response Rate Metrics Are Important
You may not offer analytics as part of your scope of work, but if you are not showing an interest in them you are missing a great opportunity. If your client is willing to share their metrics as reports on campaigns you work on, take advantage, show an interest and find out what they mean.

Don't get into areas you don't understand, try to incorporate analytics that apply to your work. The client will sense that you think about other things besides colors, fonts and CSS, in short, you see the big picture.

Connect with the client.
Connect your thought processes with their business strategy, this reminds them that they are as much responsible for the creative product as you have been.

This should not be a situation where you are talking at the client while they sit and listen. Engage them, give them a chance to talk and elaborate, you may find they share valuable nuggets of information that can open new doors to further collaboration.

Finally, brainstorm for new ideas.
After a review of the work you and the client have created together is completed it is important to discuss next steps. Take the time to list on large sheets of paper what did and did not work from the body of reviewed work.

Before launching into a brainstorming session, take a snack break and review other current competitive creative samples. You should provide these and ask the client to bring some along as well. One of the things clients expect is your awareness of competetive trends and tactics. You should make it clear to them that you have a special insight to bring to the table and demonstrate that in the review. But don't give away the store!

The brainstorm format, that's another post
There are many ways to structure a brainstorming session, and I will be posting a second installment of this to walk you through one process that I used for large nonprofit client. It was a success for many reasons, but chiefly because the client spoke about some of their frustrations.

Listen for clues of internal office politics
All clients have internal politics that affect their decisions. That's a huge insight and a potentially new dynamic you can leverage, with subtlety. At one creative review session it was revealed that there was an internal struggle of two camps,
one camp wanted edgier creative and the other was not sold on direct mail as a fundraising venue at all. That is something I may never have found out through phone contact or the in-person presentations I regularly had with one representative.


© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved.

10 Easy Points to Build a Creative Strategy

One document guides a project's scope and goals
A creative strategy is the basis for any successful creative project. This simple document should be your guidepost to a scope of work and project goals that both you and your client can refer to throughout the project cycle.

Often a large client's marketing staff will develop a project brief, but sometimes a smaller client or a junior contact may have no clue about the need for such a document.

A creative strategy is more than a professional courtesy. Provide one after the first fact-finding meeting and you'll demonstrate to the client your ability to think as a strategic partner and your grasp of their initiative.

Plus, a well-crafted creative strategy protects you from "scope creep". Changes to a project are sometimes inevitable but having documentation of the original assignment may be an aid to contract re-negotiation should it come to that. The document, comprehensive enough to spell out your deliverables, deadline, and scope of work should be signed by your client. It is not a contract, it is an understanding that they should nonetheless sign.

I have listed ten things that absolutely should be included to get you started. If any of these insufficient to cover an upcoming project feel free to add to the document. This is just to get you started, and help you polish up your client contact tools.

Here is what should be included by topic:
1. OverviewThe essence of the current state of the product or service. Describe the product or service and what the major benefit or feature of interest is to the donor/customer.

2. Audience—A brief description of the target audience

3. Offer—What will the prospect get and how can they act on the offer?

4. Benefits and Support—What are the main benefits? Support points are features that reinforce the main benefit and offer.

5. Brand Essence—Describe the "brand truth"—how is it perceived in the marketplace?

6. Customer Promise—Describe what the product or service promises to the customer

7. Creative Assignment—
• Communication objective
• To create a web site that motivates audience to click to buy
• Approaches to consider/recommendations
• Initial deliverables (sketches, wireframes, comprehensive layouts)
• Ultimate deliverable (illustration, web site design, brochure, etc.)

8. Budget—Don't leave this out! Any extra costs you foresee, (photography, printing, etc.) are spelled out.

9. Mandatories
• Budget
• Logo usage
• Format and production considerations
• Client preferences
• Graphic Standards or guidelines

10. Timeline—
• Set dates for preliminary the creative review
• Set a date for when you expect comments for this first round
• Do this for every step of the project
• Remember to state that client delays affect the ultimate date

This is a bare-bones approach and you may need to add some items applicable to your clients and your business approach. Clients will appreciate this strategic approach, they want a strategic partner, and you can be that partner growing your business as they grow theirs.


© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

MYOWs and My Sweet Lord

The Importance of Becoming Savvy—Copyright and You

Before I launch into this posting let me explain that I am not an expert on the ins and outs of copyright law. But I have read enough and been in the business of design long enough (please don't ask how long) to know that if you value your creations, they are worth copyrighting.

The most fundamental points of law in copyright, are establishing the uniqueness and point of time of a creation. Very often the first point may come down to a court decision.

Chances are slim that two people will come up with the exact same design. Music is another thing, then it comes down to who came up with the unique combination of chord progressions that make up “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison first.

In the famous lawsuit George Harrison was found to have unintentionally copied the tune “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, he later bought the rights. George had lawyers, and other business acumen to draw from to navigate these choppy legal waters. The Chiffons simply made hay while the sun shined down upon them by recording “My Sweet Lord” and made some money.

What would you do if you had to go to court over something you created and claimed ownership to but was now in dispute?

A guy in South Africa, Max Guedy, has come up with a simple way to register a creative piece online, for free. He calls this service MYOWs (My Own Works). Intellectual property, once registered there on your account is “time-stamped” to identify the latter point of law named, the time of creation.

According to an interview Max Guedy gave to the Frisk Design blog the new service should be up and running this month—August 2009. He says in the interview:

“So MYOWs guides its users, step by step, to have copies of their work removed according to the DMCA and Berne convention guidelines.While doing that, MYOWs builds a case history so that in the event that your case goes to court, you are fully prepared to win.”

That seems like a great deal to offer to the creative community for free. If this takes off and becomes a service that is scaleable in the entertainment industry, Max Guedy may just have something here. I have gone to his website and logged in to be kept abreast of developments as they happen.

With my experience with startups I know things can take longer than expected, but this is one idea, is not only new, but a bright spot in my recent coverage of the business of design. Keep Max Guedy and MYOWs on your radar, you may need a service like this someday soon.


My thanks to Matt Hill of Frisk Design, cheers mate!

© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sharky's Pick-N-Click Rating

O.K. I was maybe a little hard on the Zimmerman Agency’s “Pick-N-Click” Agency model. Like the Automat, you see and use what you want in terms of a campaign and it’s that simple.

I like to assume the creatives at Zimmerman/Pick-N-Click get paid a decent wage. Heck maybe even a living wage. Some one has to create the variety needed to keep the car dealer clients happy. At least the creatives have a chance to say what they expect to be paid at the interview when they first start out at Zimmerman, right?

But I am going to stick with my 3 Golem Rating for
Zimmerman's Pick-N-Click

© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved


crowdSPRING is different.
Very different.

Well, when I posted a virtual agencies discussion online at one of my LinkedIn groups I kept seeing references to crowdSPRING pop up.

I must be very out of the loop, because I had never heard of crowdSPRING. But according to their website they have only been up and running for about a year.

They were also apologizing for the bad behavior of their servers, and their own shortsightedness (is that really a word?). They obviously are experiencing growing pains.

The crowdSPRING Model— “We’re the marketplace for creative services.”

A) Post a creative brief, (a good thing)

B) Then a budget amount, (again, a good thing ostensibly)

C) Then a completion date is posted
This feels familiar to anyone with an agency background. But the budget amounts are astoundingly low. As a “CREATIVE” participating in a project, you submit your numerous iterations to the site and anyone can see them! There are tons of them. Some are really nice some are awful and still your chance of getting picked is on average 1 out of 68, a whopping 68 responses for every project submitted!

Here is what they promise to the “CLIENTS” who they call “BUYERS”:

Name your price
Launch your project on your budget, not someone else's.

So if you just want to pay $200 for a logo (corporate identity) you can do that, you are the buyer. That seems very low to me.

Name your deadline

See entries within hours and be done in just days.

Wow! I, as a client love the idea of a designer, nay, many designers jumping when I say jump. Not only when I say jump but how high! The ultimate in modern day net slavery. Think desktop publishing sweatshops.
Ridiculous choice

The average project gets a whopping 68 entries.

This is a great selling point for me as a designer, work my caffeine addled brain into a frenzy to complete with 68 or more other professionals for a measly sum. As Oliver Twist might say, "More, sir"

Money back guarantee

25 entries or your money back.

This kills me, no agency ever promises that, they hard sell a client until they submit. Just kidding, but you do sell the variations you present, you stand behind them. To say that you have presented something unworthy of their startegic need is a self-defeating stance.

15,000+ creatives

Your virtual creative team in over 140 countries.

This is just astounding, I really don’t have anything to say about it except, bye, bye, job security.

We’re here to help

Seven days a week. (although we occasionally sleep).

So are your servers lately, it seems.

Exceptional quality

Never sacrifice quality for budget or deadline.

Well that sign on my wall which says pick two: quality, budget or deadline.
It is evidently very old school and does not apply in this model.

Free contract

So you know you have full ownership of your final design.

This flies in the face of everything the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook says about ownership of design.

Here is what they promise to the talent who they call “CREATIVES”:

It's easy find the projects you like, submit your ideas and get paid when yours is the best

It’s true the variety of projects were interesting and at least they had a coherent brief to accompany them. But I feel time spent on a job should be compensated.

Payment escrow

We hold the buyer's money— so no abandoned projects.

I usually ask for a third of the payment up front.

IP protection

No stealing ideas. No concept copying. No way.

So how does that happen when everyone can see the submissions?

No bidding

Stop trying to be the lowest bidder— start designing.

At $200 a pop I don’t think I could start designing for very long before I would have to stop.

You're in charge

Work on the projects that you want, when you want.

I do that anyway, don’t you?

Top projects

Some of the biggest brands in the world post projects.

Hmmmm. I am so swayed by this one. I did a $200 brand identity for Timberland!

How does that sound? It makes me sound like a fool for giving my creative capital away.

Awesome community

22,000+ creatives all working together, learning and growing.

This is just so compelling, if I get involved with anymore online communities I will just go mad! Mad I tell you!!

Sharpen your skills

Build your portfolio, win clients and perfect your craft.

This is one good selling point, but I think that part of your professionalism dies when you do work for spec.

We're here to help

Seven days a week (although we occasionally sleep).

Again, I think they were asleep when they worked up this business model.

© Copyright 2009 Guy Arceneaux All rights reserved