By Trent Rentsch
The brainstorming session began, innocently disguised as dinner. My companions were concerned because I seemed distracted, from the first chip with salsa, on through to the fried ice cream. When I dismissed it as trying to work out my next column in my head, the meal became a feast of ideas. Chelsea, my oldest at 15 (I don’t know about you, but I understand 15 year old girls even less now than when I was 15), served the first course. “You could do a holiday column! It’s the holidays and…” Ah, sorry Princess, did that last month. Not one to be defeated at the first sign of hesitation (you outta go to Abercrombie Fitch with her sometime…), she came up with a second helping. “Okay, it will be the beginning of the year… people are trying to lose holiday weight… how about you do a column about losing weight… and, MAKE IT REAL CREATIVE,” she finished smugly, in that sarcastic way that teens are given with their membership card to the Angst Club of America. I explained that, while it’s topical, that I write for a radio trade magazine. What would losing weight have to do with that? With that, I received my second eye roll of the conversation.
About that time Nick, the 11-year-old brainstormer, decided to add his perspective. “How about, for all of your weight loss needs, see…” “NO NICK!! Don’t be stupid!!” Older sisters can be so kind. “He isn’t writing a commercial! Okay, Dad, how about if you tie it into radio, you know, like ‘as you lose weight, so do you drop those old ideas.’ That would work!” “Yeah Dad! That would be great!! And for all of those weight loss needs, go to…” “NO NICK!”
As the storm clouds brewed over the table, the youngest Creative of the bunch, Keegan, decided to join the “free flow of ideas.” “What are you talking about, anyway?” “NOTHING, Keegan, we’re just helping Dad with his column! Just eat your ice cream,” Chelsea gently explained. “I can help too,” insisted Keegan. “What is the column about?” “It’s about radio, Keegan! Don’t talk if you aren’t listening,” his sister went on to offer in her kind way. “Yeah Keegan, radio,” Nick said, holding up a chip. “And for all of your salsa needs…” “NICK!!!”
About that time, the waiter came with the check. I suspect that he was silently hoping as I was that the “conversation” might break up, or at least move to another venue. We were both out of luck. “I know, Dad!! Phone numbers!! I hate phone numbers in commercials!! Write about that!!” I asked Chelsea what she was suggesting. Should I write about banning phone numbers from commercials? “No, Dad!! Don’t be stupid!! Write a column about GOOD WAYS of putting the phone number in a commercial! You know how to do that, don’t you? And… MAKE IT REAL CREATIVE!” “Yeah, cool Dad!! How about, for all of your telephone needs…” “NO NICK! IT IS NOT A COMMERICAL!!!!!!!!!!!!” “Dad, what are you going to write about?” Sigh. I admitted to Keegan that I really wasn’t sure, but something would come to me.
That’s when the singing began. “Dad! Dad!! This is it!! SING THE PHONE NUMBER!!! You know, like doing Mary Had a Little Lamb, only sing the numbers!! 555-1234! 234! 234!! Write about singing phone numbers!” By this time Nick had tired of being berated for his many commercial formulas, and decided to give Chelsea’s latest gem his own spin. “How about this, Dad! ‘Everytime I think of you I touch my phone…’” Before too long all three Creatives were coming up with their own versions of singing phone numbers… from Christmas carols to Blink 182. About the time that everyone in the restaurant could sing my number to the tune of “What’s My Name Again,” I realized that I had been sitting with my head in my hands for several minutes, eyes closed, remembering…
There have been much worse brainstorming sessions that I’ve been a part of. At one company I worked for (outside of radio, I might add), the owner was a big believer in brainstorming sessions… his version, anyway. We would all sit around a table, he would tell us the name of the client, and we were then expected to come up with some amazing ideas for his commercials. What always followed was an in-door clay pigeon shoot. We’d throw up ideas… he’d shoot them down. No, no, NO!! Nothing was written down, nothing was deemed worth writing down. It seemed that every idea was too wrong to keep, not even a portion of it was workable. An idea was either golden or tin, and we seemed to be cornering the non-precious metal market. After 2 or 3 grueling hours of this, the owner would usually throw up his hands and say, “Well, I guess we’ll come up with something.” Then we’d all walk out, feeling like the dumbest, least creative beings on the planet. The truth was that we weren’t; he just didn’t get it.
Negativity has no place in a brainstorming session. There are NO dumb ideas! “But, did you hear what he said…” I say it again, there are no dumb ideas!! Turning the session into a trap shoot is begging for it to be a failure. If everyone is afraid of looking stupid among their peers, there is no way that they are going to loosen up enough to let the ideas flow. It needs to be a fun thing, believe it or not. When everyone is letting go and laughing and letting their guard down, they are also going to let some wonderful ideas out! The debates over what ideas are appropriate for that client, that application, is for another time, another place. The brainstorm is a time to grow ideas, not chop them down.
Perhaps you’ve been there, and have given up on brainstorming. Maybe it seems like too much hassle to get people together, with too little payback. I’d encourage you to give it another try. Done properly, a Brainstorming session can give you a ton of great ideas for your current, and even future clients. Brainstorms can also be a great bonding experience with the rest of the staff. Done properly, you’d be amazed what wonderful, gifted, funny, FUN people you work with! So, for all of your Creative needs, see about putting together some regular Brainstorming sessions at your station, whatever it is you’re writing about, and make them REAL CREATIVE!