Government Communications Service
Melting your creative brain freeze
Blog posted by: Caroline Barnard, Content and Campaigns Manager, HM Treasury, 13 January 2021.
“What are you passionate about?”
I was an intern in a charity, being introduced to the head of marketing on my first day, when they hit me with this question. The only other question they had asked was my name! I completely froze and distinctly remember my brain shouting “NOTHING”.
I think I managed to mumble something about ‘young people’ and ‘development’ which seemed to satisfy the questioner. In reality, I was passionate about lots of things! Many of which I could speak about eloquently if given a bit of warning.
Nowadays in my role in internal communications, the question that gives me brain freeze is: “do you have any creative ideas about how we can promote [insert corporate change project here]?” My first reaction is usually “erm, no?”, followed by an existential crisis about being a terrible communication professional because I couldn’t think of 5 campaign ideas in 5 seconds.
How to unlock your creativity
Sometimes a bit of pressure can be helpful, giving your brain a jump start. But often, and perhaps especially in a time when lots of us are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, it can just leave us feeling a bit useless.
Which is why it was so helpful to take part in the GCS Creative Campaigns course a few weeks ago. Most of the morning was spent playing games that helped unleash our creative sides.
This was probably the most impactful part of the session for me as I suddenly found that I was actually thinking of ideas! No more brain freeze, but instead lots of sparks of inspiration and sometimes even fully formed activities.
One game I particularly liked was called ‘Borrow a Brain’, where you choose a random celebrity and think about how they would approach your problem. Michaela Strachan had lots of ideas about where I could include animals in my campaigns.
What made this session particularly helpful was that Maud, the host, had suggested using a simple question for framing our creative thinking: How do we get [who] to think/feel/do [what] by [when]? This made it so much easier to keep my thoughts on track, as I could always come back to the main question I needed to answer for my campaign.
Putting my learning into practice
For the rest of the day we reinforced these ideas, spent a bit of time looking at great campaigns and helping one another with our own. Then a week or so later I tried out the games with my team. Our challenge was to think of ways of bringing the department together and giving points of connection over winter.
We spent an hour coming up with activities we could do, using the techniques that I had learnt in the session. By the end we had a list of 21 different ways to bring the department together! During one of the games we borrowed Kirstie Allsopp’s brain and it turned out she had a lot of thoughts about how to help the department have a sparkly virtual Christmas.
One final reflection from Maud was remembering that great campaigns don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Using games and your creativity to spot new connections and find a fresh way to approach a problem can help you connect with your audience in a different way. I’ll try and remember that next time I get asked the dreaded question “do you have any creative ideas about…”
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