6 Stages Of The Creative Process (And How Non-Creatives Can Contribute)

Written by Matt.

In advertising the creative process can often appear to be a little mysterious.

This is in part why, once a brief is handed over, the creatives are then placed into (often self-imposed) isolation.

From that point on the majority of responsibility is placed onto their shoulders.

And sure, as a creative myself, I can attest that a period of time without interruption is certainly required.

However, when we break it down into its specific stages, it becomes clear that ideation is only one small part of the overall creative process.

As a result it’s possible for us to identify a variety of ways that the 'non-creatives' involved can make valuable contributions.

Brainstorms however, are not one of them.


The first stage is Information. Contrary to the common industry assumption, when it comes to the amount of information you provide, less isn't more. Of course it's important not to get the creatives sidetracked with loads of unnecessary data, but there’s often a wealth of information beyond just the brief that can become a valuable resource throughout the creative process.
 

Marketer

For the marketer this means opening doors and draws. You’ll know your product or service far better than your agency so you’ll no doubt have a treasure trove of valuable insights. Look for ways that you can allow your agency to immerse themselves in your product or service.
 

Account Service & The Planner

Provide any relevant research, data/evidence, insights and CEPs that you can get your hands on.

Planners are incredibly valuable when they become the voice of the consumer. It gives the creatives a clearer picture of who they’re talking to and what they need to be addressing.

I believe a great planner will show you where to look but not what to see. This means ensuring that the information you’re providing the creative team is sending them in the right direction without being too prescriptive.
 

Creative Director

It's important that you ensure your creatives are able to effectively digest all of the information that they’ve been given. With so much at their disposal it’s easy for them to go off track.

This is where the brief becomes vital. Ensure that it will help to be a periscope that keeps them on course.
 

Inspiration is best served early. There are many mediums we can use to help trigger it including film, TV, art, music, other ads and even experiences that you provide the creatives with.
 

Marketer

It might mean giving your agency access to a behind the scenes element of the product or service. If you’re a car brand, for example, throw them behind the wheel for a drive day.
 

Account Service & The Planner

Try spicing up the briefing. Can you take the briefing to a contextually relevant location? Is there a prop or person you can bring into the meeting?
 

Creative Director

Show your creative team work from the past or other markets. It could also involve an away day where concept development takes place outside of the usual office spaces.
 

Incubation is the part of the creative process where the creatives aren’t actually working on the brief per se. It’s the part where you let all of that information and inspiration simmer for a while, put it to the back of your head, and then see what happens. Whilst it might seem like a luxury I can’t overstate the value this can bring.

James Webb Young noted that ideas are new combinations and as such “the ability to make new combinations is heightened by an ability to see relationships.”

When you allow all of the information to digest, the subconscious mind is very good at discovering these new combinations - but it needs time for the process to work.
 

Marketer & Account Service

Allocate enough time in your timing plan to allow for a few days of incubation on top of concept development.
 

Creative Team

This doesn't mean sitting idly around fiddling your thumbs. Even working on multiple briefs will allow the brain to focus on a different area for a while.
 

ideation.jpg

If the Information and Inspiration stages are about bringing things in, the Ideation stage is about keeping things out. Allowing the space for the creative team to think and explore.

The more avenues a creative is able to explore the greater the chance is that they will crack that brilliant idea that your brand needs.
 

Client & Account Service

Again for the client and account service, time is key here. It’s not about allowing unlimited time either though. A deadline provides focus but it’s important that there’s a solid amount of time to work through the concept development from as many angles as possible.
 

Creative Director

Sort the good ideas from the bad. Identify the great ideas that might not always be clear. And send your creatives into directions that they might not yet have covered off.

Another key role for the creative director is to ask yourself if your creatives are enjoying themselves. Because if they aren’t there’s a good chance they won’t be passionate about getting the best ideas out there for the client.
 

The Interrogation stage is the pointy end of the process where the creatives need to put their babies out into the big wide world - or a meeting room at least. The passion that helped produce the ideas will be responsible for the pain that is felt if they don’t make it past the review.

This stage is all about asking the right questions.

Will this idea get the brand noticed? Will it hold people's attention? Does it hit the right category entry point? Are we using our distinctive brand assets effectively? Will it be memorable for our target audience?

Above all of these though, the best thing that all involved in the process can do is to ask themselves, “is this idea going to the address what was asked for in the brief, in the best way possible?”
 

Marketer

Return to the brief, essentially a contract that you signed with your agency, and ensure that the agreed objectives will be met with this creative. Challenge your agency to go back to the ideation stage if you don’t think they’ve delivered the quality of ideas your brand requires.
 

Account Service & Planner

Review the idea from all relevant angles. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. Ask yourself if it will work with your target audience. Is it right for your media channels? Is it possible given your budget?
 

Creative Director

Identify the ideas that you’ll be proud to make. A creative director will also use his experience to decide which idea can actually be executed in a way that ensures it’s still a powerful and effective piece of work.

Sometimes it’s good to give yourself and your creative team the opportunity to look over the ideas with fresh eyes. If time permits give them an extra day before you review.
 

For everyone this stage also includes selling the idea in. Being prepared to respond to your client’s questions and concerns will ensure a greater chance of the idea getting through.
 

Making an idea happen is without doubt the hardest part of the process. It’s the 99% (although the exact percentage could be argued) that requires the blood, sweat and tears of the client and their agency, in order to get it over the line.

The Implementation stage is still very much a part of the creative process. During production the idea can continue to evolve and often takes a vastly different form to the one that was originally conceived - for better or for worse.

It’s important not to lose perspective during this period. When you immerse yourself into the production of an idea it’s very easy to lose sight of the objective.
 

Marketer

Whilst your agency will be hard at work attempting to create a memorable piece of work for your brand, you’ll need to focus on ensuring that elements such as distinctive brand assets are being effectively included.

Overall you’ll want to ensure that a consistent but fresh piece of work is being produced for your brand.
 

Account Service

Managing the production process effectively can have a huge impact on the quality of the work. You’ll need to ensure that the right production partners are brought on board. You’ve also got the difficult job of looking after estimates to ensure that they meet your budget.

And most importantly you’ll need to be the touchpoint between the client and the creatives to ensure that everyone is on the same page throughout the process.
 

Creative Director

The production of the idea can make or break it. Choosing the right director or photographer can make a world of difference. And once production is in progress, amongst many other things, you’ll need to guide those production partners through to ensure that they’re headed in the right direction.


So there you have it. The creative process is much more than just a creative coming up with a few random ideas. It’s a complex endeavour where value can be added by all involved throughout all of the 6 key stages of the process.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the things you’ve done to support the creative process.