"We’re really trying to push for a level of creativity that feels so good, not only in its craft, but also in the nature of what it’s trying to do in the world. While winning awards may not be the chief aim (the chief aim is doing great work that solves a client’s issue), we do consistently use “award-winning” as a kind of filter or measure of quality."
First, what are the Creative Director Sessions?
“Q” stands for quality. In these sessions, we’re pushing to unlock creativity and innovation to ensure that Interbrand’s quality of output is of the highest caliber. In many organizations, including our own, people tend to over-intellectualize. Things can get over-processed, so we’ve designed these sessions to free the mind and release the power of creativity.
To do that, we gather creative leaders from offices throughout the global network to take on live briefs and big issues that clients are trying to tackle. We don’t just talk about the challenges before us, we actually work to solve them, together, right there.
In this atmosphere, we think openly, freely and very tangibly in terms of an idea’s real-world impact. Specifically, we ask ourselves how an idea might change the world and, if it were activated, how would we execute it?
How often do these sessions take place? And how long have you been doing them?
Our first global creative forum was in Toronto in 2006, but Interbrand’s creative leaders have always gathered to discuss the creative process. I think what has changed is we have moved from discussing ideas to actually working on them together and putting them into action. Currently, we’re doing these sessions four times a year.
What’s the difference between these gatherings and, say, a brainstorming session?
Obviously, everyone wants brainstorming, but these sessions are much more specific, much more intense, and clients get directly involved.
How do you choose the clients that get involved in this?
Each region considers which current or potential long-term clients might be good candidates. When we identify clients that have the right sort of challenges for a Q session, we make it clear that they need to be prepared to let the process flow should they choose to participate. They have to be willing to be present, but objective in the discussion. It’s human nature to want to control a process when you’re invested in the outcome, but the magic really happens when we let go.
What can you say about the nature of the work that comes out of the Q sessions and how clients respond to that work?
A number of clients have activated briefs that are now live in the market, so that is the ultimate statement of their approval. They liked the work that came out of the sessions and used it. What’s interesting is, I think the sessions have really changed their perception of Interbrand. As a result of their experience at these sessions, they think of Interbrand as much more creative and inspiring. Since Best Global Brands is such an asset in terms of our reputation, our creativity can sometimes feel like it is more on the inside of our organization—often, clients don’t know what we’re capable of until they’ve worked with us. So, this process reveals our creativity and gives clients a fuller appreciation of it. First, we’re bringing our best creative minds from all over the world to help them and, second, we’re dedicating the time to uncover great ideas, build relationships with them and grow their brands on their behalf. So, they’re very keen to be involved.
How do you uncover great, “world changing” ideas?
We’re really trying to push for a level of creativity that feels good, not only in its craft, but also in the nature of what it’s trying to do in the world. While winning awards may not be the chief aim (the chief aim is doing great work that solves a client’s issue), we do consistently use “award-winning” as a filter or measure of quality. Is this idea potentially “award-winning” in terms of its content, its premise, and what it’s trying to achieve or do in the world through its creative expression?
More specifically, we’re also assessing the clarity of an idea. Can you see and feel the idea? When we take on live client challenges, we want tangible solutions that one can easily visualize and connect to emotionally. We’re also aiming for a high-level of craft, which means bringing an idea to life through design, aesthetics, form, function, and the experience itself. The solution has to not only feel and look beautiful, but it must also be relevant. And the third point is activation. How do you engage people? How did the idea change things? How many people got involved? So, the value of tangibility, activation, results, change, involvement—those are big things we keep in mind when we’re building ideas that have the potential to do great things for brands.
In these sessions, do you find that there are very different perspectives coming from various Interbrand offices or is there a kind of consensus about how to approach creativity?
I think there are a variety of perspectives because of different contexts and having different clients and relationships. But, I’d say there are more similarities in terms of our general thinking and our approach to activating ideas. So, what you see happen during a session is that, as it progresses, we lose our baggage and complexity. We become more focused. We become more critical of what we’re trying to do—assessing, pushing, and improving our work. By the end of the week, we’re clear on our ideas as well as the way we’re working to get to those ideas. Somehow we become unprocessed and much more directed, forensic, and precise in the way we express things.
Why do you think that is?
I think it's because it's a forum that is highly intense and very focused—it’s really about the purity of an idea. You’re working on three briefs a day for three different clients (who happen to be present), so there’s no room to be evasive and no time to overcomplicate matters. We’re focused on the problem and showing people we can solve it.
The intense atmosphere puts us in a different mindset by the end of the week. In fact, given how fruitful they are, the takeaway for anyone who attends a session is that: This isn’t just a workshop; it's a way to facilitate great ideas. Of course, our creative approach to all our work (whether in the sessions or on an everyday basis) is extremely productive, but this unique set of conditions tends to bring out the best in people—including our clients.
What kind of feedback do you get from clients after the fact?
The best feedback is activation. When a client says, “That’s a great idea,” and implements it, that's the ultimate validation of what we do here. In fact, we get lots of e-mails back saying, “Oh, this has been so amazing. Please don’t lose any of these ideas. There’s so much good content—I want it all documented so I can share this potential with my teams.” Many clients express enthusiasm both during and after the sessions, but the biggest thank you is when the idea becomes live.
Do you think clients come away with a greater appreciation for creativity in general and the process of developing creative ideas when they attend these sessions?
Yes, and I think they just have fun as well. They get very involved and the ideas start to run in their own minds. They start thinking about possibilities themselves and get excited. Creativity is stimulating, and at these sessions, it’s contagious.