How to Meet Tight Deadlines Without Sacrificing Creativity
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There's nothing boring about being an entrepreneur. Every day is like a snowflake shrouded in ambition, excitement, anxiety and booby traps that Indiana Jones would be envious of.
Tight deadlines can be one of the peskiest obstacles we face -- especially when the task at hand requires a complex and creative solution. Whether it’s an off-the-wall client request or an urgent in-house matter with an employee, deadlines can be creativity's kryptonite. When we're up against a time crunch, it can be awfully tempting to chuck our creative energy out the window.
But that would be a big mistake. According to a 2016 survey conducted by Adobe, a majority of professionals from across the globe believe creativity improves a company's innovation, competitiveness, customer engagement and financial performance. Furthermore, and quite alarmingly, just 31 percent of the survey's respondents believe they're tapping their creative potential at work.
In today's fast-paced world, entrepreneurs have very few windows dedicated to uninterrupted focus. Even if we gave up eating, sleeping, family obligations and our social lives, we would still have a finite amount of time to provide excellent solutions to complicated problems.
Here's some good news: You can have it all. You can flex your creative muscles and craft top-notch solutions while the dark clouds of tight deadlines loom overhead.
The process of structured creativity.
As a leader at one of the fastest-growing video production companies in the U.S., tight deadlines have become a mainstay in my life. Our team used to fly by the seat of its pants, relying on our sheer energy and enthusiasm to conjure up creativity out of thin air. But that method didn’t hold up as the company grew and faced more simultaneous deadlines. We needed a step-by-step process that helped us consistently develop excellent, award-winning creative on very tight deadlines.
We've learned that we don't have to meditate in a dark, candlelit room for hours to come up with creative solutions. Instead, we use this three-step framework to efficiently produce creativity under a time crunch:
1. Pinpoint the core objective.
Your knee-jerk reaction to a tight deadline might be to rush into the execution phase. However, it pays to look before you leap. If you charge down a path that's off base, you've wasted time solving a problem that didn't need to be solved.
It may sound obvious, but this happens much more often than you'd expect, especially in the marketing world. According to a study by USA Today and RPA, 90 percent of agencies say they understand their clients' businesses, but just 65 percent of those clients agree. This disconnect highlights exactly why you need to pause and gather your thoughts before you hit the ground running.
Refer back to the original conversations and emails that detailed the task at hand. What is the problem you're being asked to solve, and who exactly are you solving it for? Once you've clarified this core objective, make sure it's clear to your entire team.
My company once dodged a bullet by taking a little extra time to dig deeper into a client's goals. We were given a tight deadline to create a video for a large game manufacturer to promote a soon-to-be-released board game. If we began executing on that small amount of information, we would have assumed the video needed to appeal to kids. However, after digging a little deeper into the original correspondence, we uncovered that the video was going to be used by salespeople in meetings with a variety of big-box retailers. A video targeting kids would have never resonated with these professionals.
2. Role-play to understand pain points.
After identifying the core objective, it's now time to take a walk in someone else's shoes. Also known as psychodrama -- a therapeutic technique coined in the early 1900s -- role-playing breaks down the walls of your normal consciousness and allows you to objectively enter a different mindset. While you're there, you can immerse yourself in the pain you're seeking to solve and construct a plan that guides your creativity.
This age-old approach has helped companies across all industries craft great solutions and strategies that boost their bottom lines. For example, according to Harvard Business Review, this tactic helped a Cleveland-based radio station increase its sales from $600,000 to $6 million in less than three years. And further, the Girl Scouts are also known to use role-playing exercises to help their young sellers make their fattening cookies even more irresistible.
Before we shot our video for the game manufacturer, we visualized ourselves sitting inside a board room and wondered what we'd want to see if we were toy store executives. What would convince us that kids would love a particular game? Would it be a video that highlighted its specs and features, or would it be a video that simply showed kids having fun while playing it? The answer was crystal clear.
The executives wouldn't care about the game's bells and whistles. All they wanted to see was kids having fun.
3. Dig up key data and insights.
The world is drowning in data, so why not put it to good use before you execute? According to a study by Tableau and the Economist Intelligence Unit, data-driven companies greatly outperform their non-data-driven peers.
Key insights should fuel your creativity. Search for data that reveals fundamental driving forces behind your target's behavior and illustrates opinions and quirks surrounding the problem you're seeking to solve.
Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign is a perfect example of this approach in action. After learning that only 4 percent of women in the entire world considered themselves beautiful, Dove used that insight to fuel one of the most creative and successful marketing campaigns of all time.
We weighed many key insights when planning our video for the game company, but the one we leveraged most was the fact that big-box retailers were aiming to reach 8- to 12-year-old boys. So we hired actors who fell squarely into this demographic and created a video that featured them playing the game, laughing their faces off and having the time of their lives. We simply showed the executives why this game will help them achieve their goals -- and it worked.
Whether you're putting together a comprehensive business pitch, a marketing plan or a creative execution, you don't have to shoot in the dark and hope for the best. By using this three-step process to drive your execution, you can efficiently deploy excellent creative solutions without getting overwhelmed.