Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Brainstorming often sucks and 20,000 creatives agree with me


Two hours after it was published, an article snook into my Google feed. It proved that the algorithm not only knows what I think, but how I feel.

The article was called: "Brainstorming meetings? Creative types are not into them".

In Google's creepy way it was trying to say: "You're not alone. Others feel the same way too."

After googling how to get off the grid, I read the article.

20,000 creatives say brainstorming is largely unhelpful

The article discusses a survey, which interviewed around 20,000 creative professionals.

It claims that "a majority of these professionals—including writers, musicians, photographers, and podcasters—find that brainstorming is largely unhelpful for solving a creative challenge."

There are many valid reasons why creatives would say this.

As a former PR & marketing agency copywriter, I can recall many bad brainstorms - from the time a joke about valentine's day presents from a petrol station was misinterpreted as a legitimate idea, to the time I suggested an idea, received a rejection, and then two minutes later the MD of the agency suggested the same thing, without a rejection.

But before we go into that, we should acknowledge that this is a sore point for some folks.

Some people won't feel good about this

Now, this research may bug a few folks.

It will especially bug anyone who employs team brainstorming as part of their day-to-day processes.

And I can understand why.

It goes against how many of us feel about this method.

What feels good is not always good for business

“Brainstorming” meetings can be fun. They are like parties, where you collaborate with other smart people over mugs of coffee and biscuits.

They feel creative. They feel like they lead to good ideas, more ideas.

But that’s exactly the problem, what feels good is not necessarily good for business.

Just think about what normally happens: a person invites several colleagues to a brainstorming session for a specific project.

The person feels good because if their boss or a client walks in, it will appear they are making progress on the project. They've not only worked hard to assemble a dedicated team, but they also have a flipchart of ideas to show for it.

The colleagues feel good because they have been invited to the meeting. Not everyone has been invited, which implies that the person appreciates their special talents and what they can bring to the project.

You know these feelings and I'm sure you will be happy to admit that.

But, it seems we are all less happy to admit when brainstorms don't work.

We hate to admit that brainstorms have their downsides

Because of how good they make us feel, we often find it quite hard to admit that brainstorms have their downsides.

If you put those fun-filled feelings to the side for one moment, you can probably think of examples when these criticisms apply:

Brainstorms take up a lot of resources

If we're thinking in very rational terms, brainstorming meetings can take up a lot of resources.

And, they're often managed ineffectively.

Sometimes you find that you have 8 people in one room working on one project, when it would have been better to have 2 groups of highly capable people working on 2 projects.

Brainstorms often waste resources

Brainstorms often waste resources - and I'm not just talking about the biscuits.

An organisation's best resource is its access to multiple unique minds, full of innovations that are yet to be discovered.

You could have some of the smartest people in one room for an hour, but find only two of them speak.

Brainstorms can ruin good ideas

Brainstorms often suffer from “too many cooks” syndrome.

It doesn't take a degree in social psychology to know that groups of people can delude themselves into agreeing on a bad idea.

How many works of art can you name that have been created by committee?

Brainstorms can bring out the worst in people

Everyone has met a manager who takes a simple question to a vague statement as a personal attack.

Everyone has been cut off by an ignorant colleague who desperately just wants praise.

Everyone has regretted not encouraging an introvert to speak up and share their awesome ideas.

Consider the criticisms, even if brainstorming works for you

Now, you could argue that the people surveyed (and myself) are misanthropic cynics.

That maybe true.

You could argue that you feel lucky to work with a great team and find brainstorming really helpful.

That may also be true.

But, let's seperate our feelings from the facts for a moment. It is hard, but let's try.

We don't want to get rid of brainstorms completely, but they need improving

There are several criticisms about brainstorms that a significant number of people have identified.

Therfore, it would not cause any harm to explore these criticisms and analyse your approach to brainstorms.

You may even feel it is fun to try out other methods of solving creative problems.

The message isn't to get rid of brainstorms. But to improve how they are managed, when they are used and how they are used (preferably alongside dedicated time for indivdual preparation and introspection).

And, if you are ever unsure, ask some creative professionals for their real opinions.

You may be in for a surprise.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The difference between 'copy' and 'writing' is not as simple as I hoped

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I was just flicking through an old book on PR when I came across something that caught my attention.

It was a "simple" definition between 'writing' and 'copy'.

"[W]hen used in the context described, we are talking about producing 'copy' rather than 'writing', 'Copy' is words that are used to get a message across.

"An essay produced for teachers at school differs from the kind of promotional writing we are now talking about, for one fundamental reason: the recipient has to read it in order to mark it.

"The recipient of copy has every choice: they may decide to read what you send, but equally they may decide to read what you send, but equally they may decide to bin it, use it as scrap paper, or put it under a cup of coffee."

I liked this for various reasons:

- Even though I know intiutively that there is a difference between just 'writing' and 'copy-writing', I've never explcitly considered this before. I can imagine many others haven't too, which may be useful when trying to encourage folks to appreciate the craft of copy, it's nuances and all that lovely pretentious stuff  that clients aren't too bothered about.

- The difference is all down to the simple fact of choice. People can choose to do something else. That's why you need to produce copy in a way that gets people to read and persuades them to keep reading. Easier said than done.

Now, you could argue that a lot of other things are copy for the same reason: novels, a Netflix television series, a training seminar for cynical employees.

You've got to keep people's attention for so many different things. And, that is when this definition becomes not as simple as we hoped.

I mean, is this copy? It's just some thoughts I've strung together in some loose format. Maybe you're still reading. Maybe you've skimmed through it.

Anyway, it seems that things are never as simple as we hope. And thus we keep fighting and keep writing.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Great copy comes from great coffee

"Great copy comes from great coffee," said No One Ever.

I wish it did.

No. It comes from writing and writing and writing. Then, rewriting. Then, realising that you are the worst writer in the world. Then, rewriting again. Then, remembering you are bloody amazing. Then, rewriting again...again. Then, proofreading. Then, remembering you were right - you are the worst writer in the world! Then, rewriting for one last time...

Until finally you hold your finger above the "SEND FOREVER" button. Then, rewriting one more time.

Then, you send.

No instant hit of inspiration. Just words, sweat and a lot of tears. And, then some coffee.

If you can't endure any part of that process, then it makes perfect sense for someone else to bare the burden for you.

Someone that gets a weird kick out of it.

If you're looking for that kind of someone, then let's grab a coffee.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Con is Not On


I've learnt I would make the worst con artist ever.

Last week, I went to my first networking event of 2020 to push myself out of my comfort zone. 

I'm hilariously socially awkward (no really!?) despite being a well-versed public speaker.

It wasn't a complete jump into the unknown as it was a Leeds Trinity Business Network event, where I studied.

I went to sign in, gave my name and one of friendly folks handed me a badge with "Lewis King - Freelance Copywriter and Consultant" on it.

Then, they said: "This is you, right? You're Lewis." 

I realised that my perpectually confused face had betrayed me, as if I was about to go: "Yes, I am...Lewis...King. Sure, that is me."

So, that needs some work.

I'm hoping I can find out about more networking events, ones that are cool with letting in weird freelance copywriters.

Until then, I'm gonna rewatch every episode of BBC's Hustle for grifting tips. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Creative Inspiration for December - To Sell is Human


Each month I take a quote from a book I've read as a useful reminder for the comming weeks of work. 

This month it's from a book a read recently kind of by accident. To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink looks less at the innate function of humans selling and more at the idea of how "selling" has changed over the years. He sometimes refers to it as "moving people" and in a way, as creatives or marketers, that is what we doing. And, we should accept that. 

"All of you are likely spending more time than you realize selling in a broader sense – pitching colleagues, persuading funders, cajoling kids. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.” 

From page 2 of To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

Monday, 2 December 2019

I started work at 11 years old


I started work at 11 years old. Every Saturday for nearly 8 years I would ride around on an electric milk float delivering milk to locals in the neighborhood.

I got very good at running in all types of weather and very good at talking about all types of weather. I got to know the people really well from only seconds of chatter on their doorsteps.

It was probably the best job I ever had.

What I do now is so simple that the same 11 year old could do it. I ask questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

And I do it often. Now that could make me sound confused or nosy. It might make you ask how I’ve even made a career.

Because I listen to the answers.

When I write copy I know the facts and message will be clear and correct.

When I speak I share the moment with the whole crowd to create a great experience.

When I pick up the phone I empathise with the other person on the line.

I’m a copywriter, compere and compassionate listener. I’ve work as freelance copywriter and content marketing consultant. In 2016 my hobby made me enough money to go on holiday. Two years ago I stopped having an ‘awareness’ of mental health issues and joined the Leeds Samaritans Branch.

I believe in listening. And will make time for listening because there is power in patience.

And if that isn’t true, then I’ll start delivering milk again.


I wrote this a couple of years ago as my Linkedin intro. I've changed it since then but I was complimented a couple of times on this "piece" so I've shared it here. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A "business" book that makes a great bedtime read

I don't believe in these "wake up to success" routines, but I just finished this one over a morning coffee so I think I'm doing pretty well.

Here are my thoughts on the book below.

TL;DR - You should actually read the book.

The Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More SalesThe Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More Sales by Fisher Glenn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Even if you're a confident copywriter I would recommend checking this one out. This has quickly become one of my fav "professional" books. I say "professional" in speech marks not as a dis, but because it was such a delight to read! Business books are not normally bedtime reading. And yet I've read most of this in my pjs.

"The Art of The Click" was supposedly written as an introduction to copywriting. But, even as a professional copywriter, I got so much out of it - and I've worked in this job for about 6-7 years. It's jam packed with titbits, practical advice and memorable examples. Even though the author covers topics that I'm familiar with - features/benefits, addressing the reader, structure - he always adds a new perspective or an example that I hadn't considered before.

I would go so far as to argue that this book has helped me to take my writing to the next level. I say this for two reasons:

1) The author comes from a direct-response background. This means he's not afraid to discuss the selling aspect of copy as well as the creative aspect. Now, this is something that I have appreciated for some time - striking that balance between creativity and selling. And, I like this because I think it is an underappreciated skill. But I also like this because he takes quite a nuanced approach to the matter. In some copywriting books - particuarly classic texts - there is a hardcore "copy is selling" philosphy, which is important but not as relevant these days. Here, the author discusses the topic in an intersting essay/chapter near the end of the book. It's quite rare for folks to take such a reasoned approach to this topic and I've found it's increased my appreciation of conversion-focused copy.

2) He encourages rote-learning, something I don't think I've ever tried before. But it is really beneficial. It's an exercise that happens early on in the book. And, I found it oddly fun. And, it's something that I'm trying out more to develop my writing skills. It's such a simple technique, yet rarely employed because it's not particuarly sexy or thrilling.

So, it's a great read, it's jam-packed and it coaches you to take your skills to the next level.



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