"...And Make It Real Creative!": Creativity On Tap or Time To Harvest The Brain Sprouts

by Andy Capp

I have a dream: a typewritten, complete production order floats down from the sales staff on high. I take this seed, plant it in that sometimes fertile part of my brain, and give it a week or so to germinate. (Did I mention that the lead time in this utopia is always two weeks?) After the idea sprouts, I sit down in front of my personal word processor (remember, this is a dream...), and spend an afternoon or two scripting the perfect copy. Then I spend a day casting voices (this fantasy client would love to shell out an extra fifteen hundred or so to get just the right voices for this wonderful script), another day or two finding the perfect music and effects ("...oh, and Andy, here's a grand; write and produce the music score in your home studio...sure, we'll back the due date off a month..."), then a day in the production studio laying down tracks, and another to make sure the final mix is perfect.

Then, the alarm goes off. The client's name and phone number are hand-scrawled on a napkin. "He's having a sale...need to play it for him by five...and make it real creative!" In other words, here's the husk of a seed, take a crowbar and pry something out of it, and hurry!

Overstating the facts? Sure...(sort of). Complaining? No...(okay, a little). These are the facts of life in radio: We're in a highly competitive business, every ad medium out there wants a slice of the orange, and there are times when time really does mean money. So, when a sales rep bellies up to the production bar, they not only want a creative idea fresh out of the tap right now, but they probably need it right now! (Now, I'm not defending sales people here. Some of the greatest feats of procrastination I've had to clean up after and gripe about later have come from sales -- at a previous station, of course.)

So, how do we continually serve up commercials (and promos) on demand, with a frothy, creative head? Well, there are those rare occasions when something strikes immediately, a bolt of creative lighting that assures you sainthood with a sales rep for a good ten minutes. It's all the other times (98.9% of the time in my case) when it's necessary to develop short-cuts in the creative process. Which leads us to this month's assignment:

Last month, we started exposing ourselves to new experiences, socking them away somewhere in our brains, hopefully adding, well, fertilizer to that already fertile place where all our creative ideas come from. Maybe it has already spawned something useful. Great! Maybe it has just inspired parts of ideas -- a character here, a funny conversation there -- not a complete commercial, but an idea that could lead to one. It's these beginnings of great ideas that we want to hold onto this month, before they escape in the sea of all the other things you have to think about every day. Start a collection of these "Brain Sprouts." Actually write them down as they come, in a notebook, a computer file, or, as in my case (Ahem) a file folder filled with hand-scrawled notes on napkins.

Now, how to use them: When an uninspiring order comes at you, go through your brain sprouts and see if they can't grow into what you need. It's amazing how having these bits and pieces in front of you in black and white can speed up the "fermentation" process of being creative. The trick is to always have something handy to write them down. A well-maintained brain sprout file can keep you ahead of the game and looking overly-gifted indefinitely.

"Okay, Andy, but what happens when divine inspiration and brain sprouts fail me?" Stay tuned, some ideas on seeding whatever's clouding your mind to start a brain-storm are on the way next month!