Emerging Creative Track

November 30, 2016

Jessi Brown

Jessi Brown's a senior writer by title, but the weird and wandering path she took to POSSIBLE has served her well in unexpected ways. If you need someone to hack your pitch deck in half, force you to elaborate on what you mean when you say you're targeting "Millennials," or create an emergency comp at 4am, Jessi's on it.

Of the four tracks offered, Emerging Creative—sponsored by Apple—is closest to the original mission of The 3% Conference (getting more women into creative leadership), and therefore carries the most weight on its shoulders. It has to appeal to people in creative departments, but also respect the role of strategy and account management. It has to show a path to leadership, but leave room for attendees to determine their own way forward. And it has to hold our attention for five potentially long hours. Did it manage all that? Read on to find out.

Session 1: Better Brief = Better Work

An unmoderated panel featuring Kate Bristow, Partner + Chief Strategy Officer, M&C Saatchi LA; Jarett Hausske, Chief Strategy Officer, Eleven; Jess Greenwood, VP, Content + Partnerships, R/GA; and Josh DiMarcantonio, Partner/ECD, Zambezi.

Oh, briefs. They’re so important, and yet so frequently overwrought. In our attempts to inform and inspire, we can easily overload them with statistics, insights, and other “helpful” miscellany until they finally collapse under the pressure and leave our creative teams with more questions than answers.

This panel is here to save us.

Jess Greenwood kicked things off by showing the case study for a running app that’s fully featured, but beautifully simple. Then, she revealed that the brief was basically “What should we do?” and the insight was essentially “Running sucks.” That’s it. There may have been pages of data for the creative team to use as they addressed the problem, but the mission itself was laid out clearly and concisely: Make running suck less. She also stressed that the more rigorously you adhere to a process, the less successful your work will be.

So chuck your process if you must, and focus on being helpful, not clever.

Jarett Hausske’s team works similarly to Greenwood’s in that they aren’t tied to a rigid process, and are instead given the trust and freedom to determine their own path forward. The only guideline is that they stay true to the mission of the brief, which is to “aggregate a lot of information from the outside world into something simple and essential to inspiring the team.” Their briefs are also living, shared documents that evolve as the creative and strategy teams dig into the work.

Kate Bristow brought three decades of experience to the discussion, which was wonderful because she’s seen how the role of strategy has shifted with the times. She’s clearly passionate about adapting to those shifts and finds joy in the dynamic nature of the role. One such shift is the way her team’s briefing process has taken cues from the entertainment industry by operating more like a writers’ room. People get together, share ideas, work out what should be said, and then create a ton of content—all with an underlying goal of enhancing a conversation that’s already happening, rather than yelling at or over people.

Josh DiMarcantonio hit on some of these topics as well, but also focused on the role of the client in the briefing process. He emphasized that the earlier you can bring your key clients into the conversation, the more invested they’ll be in the success of the project and the sooner you can course-correct if the strategy starts going sideways. He also hit on the importance of honesty in our work, especially given that our modern audience is smart enough to see through the usual advertising bullshit. (It was at this point that Greenwood piped up to pass along a friend’s method for sniffing out said bullshit: “Can you read it to someone on the street without them wanting to punch you in the face?” Brilliant.)

Overall, this was a great panel for strategists and creatives alike, at any experience level really. That said, I especially appreciated Jess’s advice to new strategists:

“Trust your instincts, but always surround yourself with people you can learn from. Stasis is atrophy.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid to blow up your process.
  • Maintain a childlike idealism and curiosity.
  • Bring the key people into the process as early as possible.
  • Honesty in our work is more important today than ever.
  • It’s the job of the agency to make the consumer real to the client.
Session 2: 1 + 1 = 3

A method for arriving at creative solutions, explained by Will Chau, Creative Director, GSD&M + Founder of Austin Creative Dept.

Will Chau has spent years developing and refining a method for arriving at creative solutions to interesting problems. For instance, how would you design a logo for a food writer? How would you convey the idea that a product “makes plants grow strong?” How would you redesign the cover of a novel about burning books in a dystopian future?

Here’s how:

Step 1: Define the problem.State your mission in one simple sentence. (See also: Session 1.)

Step 2: Pinpoint the tension.Find the two most provocative or incongruous terms in your problem, and circle them.

Step 3: List those associations on two sides of a whiteboard or sheet of paper.Write those two words down. Then list as many related words as you can possibly shake out of your brain. Hundreds, ideally.

Step 4: Connect the dots.This is the fun part, and the hard part. Look at the words you’ve written on either side, and find two that can fit together in one tidy idea.

The result?

(Food, Writer → Spoon + Fountain Pen)

(Plants, Strong → Plant + Push-Ups)

(Burning, Books → Match + Book)

Go try it right now. (Well, after you finish reading this post.)Give yourself an interesting design challenge and see what happens when you add 1+1.

Key Takeaways:

  • You have the power to create connections with people, not just ideas.
  • We can’t define the problem without a clear strategy.
Session 3: Presentation Skills

A guide to selling straight to someone’s heart, hosted by Kevin Allen, Founder and CEO, Re:kap & EI Games.

Here’s the very first note I wrote about Kevin Allen’s session:

“I remember this guy from last year. He’s great.”

And he really is. I suggest refreshing The 3% Conference's YouTube feeduntil his talk is posted, because you cannot watch him without learning something and smiling like an idiot. It’s impossible. That, by the way, is not just a throwaway comment. I mentioned it because it’s relevant to one of the first points he made: “Be yourself.” He is very himself, and therefore very memorable.

On to the nuts and bolts. There are six parts to his “Winning Ways” framework:

  1. The Hidden Agenda
  2. Profiling
  3. The Advocates Approach
  4. Experience Strategy
  5. In The Room
  6. It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

In short, this breaks down to the following:

  1. Uncover your prospect’s hidden agenda. What do they want? What do they value? What do they need? Address those with your real ambition, your credo, and your core, respectively.
  2. Profile the people you’re selling to. He uses a theater analogy that’s fairly simple: “Method” actors are serious, exacting, and logical. “Improv” actors are emotional, supportive, and open. “Stage” actors are decisive, practical, and formal. And “Spotlight” actors are animated, creative, and impulsive. When you know your audience by type, you can cast the room accordingly.
  3. Treat your presentation like a cut-and-dry court case. Make a one-sentence opening statement that gets them salivating. Show them three pieces of evidence that prove you can deliver on that opening statement. Then summarize it all so there’s no shadow of a doubt.
  4. Whenever possible, be strategic and add something to the room. Something that shows you get them and the challenge they’re facing. Use the insights from your profiling work to plan who will present and how you’ll address the audience’s wants, needs, and values.
  5. Budget your time before you build your deck. Estimate a minute per slide. NOBODY ever actually “goes fast.” And why would you want to?
  6. You’re not done. Ever, really. If all went well, you’ve made a powerful human connection. Now foster it.

Bonus tips to combat nervousness:

  • Be yourself.
  • Rehearse.
  • Find the receptive person in the room, and deliver your first line to them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Behind every decision of every kind is a powerful, unspoken, visceral emotional motive.
  • Presenting is an act of generosity. You’re giving them something.
  • Just because you don’t know what to do doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Rehearse.
Session 4: Next Creative Leaders

A panel moderated by Laurel Stark, Social Lead, 3% Conference and David Jackson, Creative Producer, The One Club; featuring Avery Oldfield, Art Director, Venables Bell & Partners; Mara Binudin-Lecocq, Creative Director, Freelance; Laddie Peterson, Copywriter, Wieden+Kennedy NY; and Kim Nguyen, Associate Creative Director, Preacher.

You want inspiration? YOU GOT INSPIRATION.

Let’s start with Avery Oldfield. Avery brought an incredible story to life in a campaign that might seem like an unlikely home for it. In the midst of a Google Business campaign, she was given the opportunity to highlight an LGBT-owned small business. In her research, she discovered a gym that’s helping trans men work toward the bodies they’ve always wanted. She and her team took care to tell these stories respectfully and let the humanity of its heroes shine through. For anyone who’s either personally been through a transition or helped a close friend through it, the spot hits pretty close to home.

Moving on to Mara Binudin-Lecocq. Mara saw a need to get girls interested in technology before they’re old enough to start buying into stereotypes, and she dove in head first. She’s a Creative Director, but she also had coding experience and a breadth of marketing knowledge that allowed her to build her passion project from the ground up. The project, which you can admire (and buy!) at yoursecretcode.com, is “a customizable children’s book that breaks stereotypes.” It lets you create a personalized book that stars your girl-giftee as the trailblazing, tech-savvy hero of her own story. To hear Mara talk about this project and how she’s brought it this far is to become keenly aware of just how much one person can do when they throw everything they have behind something they believe in.

And Kim Nguyen. Damn. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, she raised $5,000 and rallied her community to create a PSA standing up to Stand Your Ground laws, and it. is. powerful. By the way, she pulled it together in just two weeks, proving that if you can channel your most raw emotion and focus it directly onto a goal, you can achieve the nearly impossible.

Last, we heard from Laddie Peterson, the copywriter behind an excellent Southern Comfort ad that broke new ground for the brand. Their “whatever’s comfortable” campaign had been running for a while, but for some reason only men had been chosen to let their freak flags fly. Laddie proved there was room in the campaign for a badass black woman. The end result was this killer spot.

Key Takeaways:

  • Look for the unexpected story with a human truth.
  • If you have an idea and little to no budget, lean on your community and tap into their shared passion.
  • We’re setting the tone for what's accepted. Use that power.
Wrapping Up the Track

I’ll admit it took me a while to figure out if this was a track that was intended for emerging creatives or one highlighting them, but perhaps that’s its strength. You don’t have to choose. I came to agency life on a route that didn’t include portfolio school or traditional advertising, so I’m both an experienced copywriter and a perpetual student. This track fed both souls.

So to answer my question from the beginning, which asked whether this track could handle the load of its responsibility and keep my interest for five hours in the process, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

It did a lot of heavy lifting and I came away from it feeling better prepared for a future in leadership.

I was able to gather some new insight on effective briefs (which are a passion point for me), find a new way to work creative problems, pick up some new presentation skills, and get inspired by some of the smartest younger talent in the industry. Not bad for a Thursday.