How To Develop A Creative Project Like An Ad Agency Does It

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“Are you a marketing or public relations professional? An artist or writer? A freelance web designer or web promotions specialist? Maybe you are freelancing on your own, self-employed and need to brainstorm ideas on how to proceed with a current project. Or perhaps you already work for a company, but your team needs a fresh new method of team working and partaking in the creative idea generation process.

If you need to jumpstart your creativity or brainstorm for a project for your job, try doing it the ad agency way. Advertising agencies have a group of creative artists and directors who work together to create fresh, innovative ads with captivating visuals and intelligent, persuasive copy. Do you think these ad agencies come up with their infamous, world-renowned taglines because one creative director sitting at his desk decided on the hit slogan all by himself? Absolutely not. In creative environments, when creativity is crucial to developing a project, theme, or concept, the more input the better. It is not to say that a single creative artist could not come up with a winning advertisement, but the entire essence of the project itself will be better comprehended by everyone involved if a team effort is employed. When seven to twelve creative artists are sitting in one room together, all focusing their creative energy towards the same given result, amazing things can happen. The technique of using a small group of like-minded creative artists to bounce ideas off of each other is one of the main factors that contributes to the success of such famous ad agencies as Arnold Worldwide and Hill Holliday. When the group has open communication in addition to a lack of censorship and a strong creative background, an idea can evolve to no end.

Try this:
Get a group of creative individuals together who are all interested in helping you with the given project you have. Sit in a circular formation and designate one person to take notes (or more accurately, “jot down random words”) on a flip chart/easel. Start by stating the goal you wish to achieve or the theme you wish to convey. Let’s say for instance you want to make a tagline for your client’s new company, Pizza Palace. If everyone involved does not know as much as you do regarding the client’s intended image of this company or the culture and mood that he or she wishes the new venue to evoke, it is imperative that you fill them in before the brainstorming process begins. A prepared outline on printed sheets to pass out would be ideal for them to refer to. Now, once everyone is on the same page, begin the creative brainstorming process ad agency style by breaking the ice. Call out a slogan, anything, the first words that come to mind when you think of Pizza Palace. There are no rules to this and if the people you are working with understand this creative process and are creative professionals themselves they will not judge you or laugh, for often times it is the silly suggestions that lead to the award winning ones. Encourage people to start calling out ideas and write them all, no matter how ridiculous, on the flipchart. You will notice that ideas start growing out of each other, for instance someone might say, Pizza Palace, We Are Callous, which obviously is one you will toss out, but that might lead another participant to think of a sentence slightly similar in sound yet not quite rhyming, such as Pizza Palace, Eat our Salads. See, now, this is getting a little closer to the desired theme, even though it is still another toss away.

Just keep the ideas flowing and write every single one down on the flipchart until everyone has exhausted their flow of creativity for the moment. Then, you can choose how many suggestions you want to narrow the list down to, but five is usually a good amount. Keep the five in your brain bank for at least a few days, mulling each idea over, and encourage the others in the group to do the same. Then, meet again a few days later to narrow the list down further and eventually tighten up the remaining results so that each slogan has been tweaked to its full potential. Do this as many times as necessary. No rules. Except that there are no rules. Go, have fun! Guaranteed, if you haven’t tried this method before you’ll love it.”

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“If you’re a startup, the fastest way to get the cash registers ringing is a little-used method that involves forming “host-beneficiary” relationships with established businesses that cater to a target audience similar to yours. Then you promote yourself to their database with a special offer presented as a gift from the older business.

The beauty of this arrangement is that the startup (the beneficiary) can instantly reach large numbers of highly qualified prospects with the tacit endorsement of the established business (the host). The host is willing to participate because it’s a way to reward loyal customers without incurring any costs. The rookie gains new customers, while the veteran gains goodwill.

One startup that successfully used this technique was a high-end women’s clothing boutique. The store arranged to give a free silk kimono to every female customer of a local BMW dealership who brought in a letter sent by the dealership offering the gown as a gift for their past patronage. The kimono had to be picked up at the boutique.

More than 600 women responded, picking up $100 kimonos that cost the store just $16 apiece. Those 600 women spent an average of $400 on other merchandise during their initial visit. Do the math, and you’ll see that the startup spent $9,600 to generate some $240,000 in sales–and, not incidentally, to begin building its own clientele.”

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By Jay Maharjan

Starting a business is a major commitment that will consume 24/7 of your life with no end in sight. It is always good to know what you are getting into before you take the plunge. From my experience writing business plans for large and small companies alike for the last 8 years, there are basically two reasons why you need a business plan – the first reason is to re-assure yourself that this wild dream that you have in your mind is actually attainable. And, the second reason is to convince a lender or a venture capitalist. More than likely, you are writing for the second reason. Whatever your reason may be, as the legendary management guru Peter Drucker would bluntly put – always ask yourself what your business is, who your customers are, and what the customer considers value.

In my opinion, here is a list of pointers that will save you headaches later.

a. Be clear about what you are selling.

Spend as much time as you need to define and clarify what you are selling. From the gettgo, come up with a 15 second elevator pitch. This will come handy later on. If you need professional help to come up with a pitch, companies like – 15secondpitch can help. This is a great resource to help you discover who you are, what your company does, and what others perceive of you and your verbal and written messages.

b. Come up with Mission, Vision, and Objective statements for your venture.

Mission, Vision, and Objectives – They may all look the same at first glance, but they reflect different rationale.

The mission statement represents the underlying operating philosophy and the values of the company – ‘The mission at Company ABC is to provide a reliable, yet affordable XYZ technology for residential customers.’

The Vision statement represents a long term plan – that provides a direction to make significant impact – ‘Our vision at company ABC is to become a global niche leader in XYZ technology by the year 2009.’

The Objective represent definitive goals for different purposes within the company. Peter Drucker first popularized the term “management by objective” in his 1954 book ‘The Practice of Management’. Objectives can be set in all domains (services, sales, R&D, human resources, finance) – ‘The main objective of company ABC is to understand the target market, to implement the most optimized form of logistics, to include a series of efficient fulfillment processes and to provide an unmatched form of customer service.’

c. Be honest with your Strengths and Weaknesses.

You can conduct a simple SWOT analysis on your venture. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Create four quadrants and fill up with honest lists of answers. This simple test allows you to assess your compatibility with the venture that you are getting into. This test will also indicate opportunities, threats and barriers to entry that exist in your vertical market.

d. Conduct a thorough research on your vertical market.
Leverage on new Internet research tools to conduct comprehensive studies. At every stage of your research, be open to adopt new directions based on your findings.

e. Make sure there is a real opportunity.
or move on to a different venture.

f. Make sure your product or service addresses pain point (s).

This goes back to the point (a). Understand and address your customer needs.

g. Conduct a thorough research on your competitors.

Create a matrix and conduct a thorough competitive analysis. See what your competitors are offering.

h. Make sure your product or service addresses pain point (s) better than your competitors.
Its all right if your competitors got in the market before you did. But, focus on doing things little bit differently that you address the customer needs, pain points better than them.

i. Be realistic with the revenue projections.

Don’t fall for cliches like – ‘According to Forrestor’s research, our market will be $ X billion by ___’, ‘We will drop our product in China and we will make billions.’ There is nothing wrong with wanting to become another Google or Microsoft, but make sure you have unique product or services. If you have a patent on your innovation, that helps. If you already have an angel investor on board, that gives you credibility. If you have a veteran management team in place, thats going to help you a lot! Always be ready to explain to lenders and Venture Capitalists how you are going to reach the big numbers – and never ever use cliched answers.

j. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Always reach out to people smarter than you. Big ideas take right people to bring them to life. You want to do things smartly and not give your idea away, but at the same time you need to be open to sharing with right people. One rule of thumb is – it is better to team up with people with complimenting skill sets. If you are an engineer, you don’t need another engineer to support your point of view. You need a professional sales partner to sell your product, and a sharp finance guy to keep the numbers in order.

k.. Seize the opportunity to scale up – quick.

Big deals don’t happen on their own. Big deals happen because of right people, right product, right momentum in the market among many possible variations. If you have everything in order and luck is in your favor, seize the opportunity to scale up – and do it quick! Otherwise, good entrepreneurs know when to pack up their bags and move on to another opportunity. I advise entrepreneurs to get out of business if the venture doesn’t take off within two years.

More to follow on this topic. I can be reached at

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By Jay Maharjan on November 26, 2007

I recently had a good conversation with Cliff Allen on online marketing and entrepreneurship in general. Cliff is a good friend and the author of multiple web marketing books – (One-to-One Web Marketing (John Wiley & Sons) and Web Catalog Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons). He is also the founder of, an event planning portal.

One key point that we both agree on is that web marketing is just one of many marketing tools available for entrepreneurs. Eventually, what matters in having a good sustainable marketing strategy is to have a fundamental understanding of the customer behavior, their buying pattern and offering them what they are looking for.

Here is an excerpt of one of Cliff’s recent posts from his blog –


Web Analytics and Customer Behavior

by Cliff Allen

One of the challenges of using Web analytics techniques to improve a site’s performance is that Web analytics can only measure what’s there – not what’s missing.

In working with two new clients I found that the most of their key indicators in Google Analytics were fine, but revenue was below their potential.

Both sites needed to make adjustments that put their Web sites on the path that consumers normally follow when making purchases. Some or these changes dealt with what customers do before going on the Web to make a purchase. Other changes dealt with matching products to customer personalities.

Joshua Porter, a user interface designer for social Web applications, pointed out that consumers frequently use off-site techniques to make purchase decisions:

For example, we did a huge user testing study where we tested over a dozen e-commerce web sites. We had 70 or so people actually buy products from these web sites and part of our research was to find out how they made purchasing decisions. In more cases than I can count people said things like “Well, I knew I wanted a digital camera but I didn’t know what kind. My friend really likes Canon cameras and recommended them to me”. People who don’t know something rely on their social network to find it out.

This is a piece of the marketing puzzle that no Web analytics system could measure. It takes combining an understanding of how customers make purchase decisions with the Web experience you provide to create a compelling reason to buy from you.

This requires constantly testing ways to help customers evaluate and purchase your products and measuring the performance of each part of your customer experience.

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by Chris Consorte

Your target market is buying online. If you’re not there, then you’re probably flushing revenue down the drain.

Just the other day I was speaking to one of my clients, who has run a traditional brick-and-mortar operation for over 15 years. His small business is one that you would not expect to be cashing-in on e-commerce — although he certainly is — in that he sells industrial plumbing supplies.

As we got to talking, we chatted about his marketing initiatives — specifically his Internet strategy — and I was pleasantly surprised to hear his e-commerce business was steadily becoming more than just “a website presence.” In fact, he was acquiring new clients, building new relationships, and selling direct to the point where his e-business was becoming a significant part of his whole business. Who knew selling toilet accessories to contractors online could be so successful?

Actually, I did. You see, at first my client was skeptical of having a Web presence at all — and thought that e-commerce was a something that would not apply to his operation, especially since there was some investment required to get things rolling. It was only after some convincing that I was able to persuade him that his hard-earned dollars would be well spent on a solid e-commerce and Internet marketing strategy.

Fast-forward one month later — his 600-plus product e-commerce site was launched and marketing commenced. At the end of the first week, I figured I’d touch-base with the client to see how things were going. “I’m getting several prospect phone calls and e-mails daily — and I’ve already received a few online orders?? he said. My initial feeling was one of relief — given I had the been the catalyst for having him make the investment — but when I thought about it for a second, it made perfect sense.

After all, 2005 was a true milestone for e-commerce business. Total Internet spending for the year reached $143.2 billion — up 22% over the $117.2 billion spent online in 2004, according to comScore Networks. “Cyber Mondays,” the Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday, are quickly becoming a part of our American holiday shopping routine — similar to “Black Friday?? for traditional retailers.

I suppose it’d be easy for me to simply say, “Your target market IS buying online.” But it’s even easier to cite the low operational costs, the ability to do business in an automated fashion 24/7, the exposure to a national, even an international, prospect-base and the fact that your competition is probably already doing business (or at least strategizing about it) online.

Both consumers and businesses are embracing the power of the Web, finding what they need through search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and buying through Amazon, e-Bay and If you think that just because these are huge, well-known companies that your business can’t capitalize on the same strategies these businesses have, you need to think again.

While no company, in my opinion, has it all figured out in terms of e-commerce (no, not even Google), the same basic principles apply no matter what size the business. However, to quote a particularly good NY Lotto ad slogan from the 80s, first “You gotta be in it to win it.?? Like anything else, procrastination and fear of the unknown often stops small-business owners from even getting started in uncharted territories like e-commerce and all things tech.

Being February already, it’s a little late for New Year’s resolutions; however, I can’t help but create my short-list of to-dos for any small-business owner thinking of implementing an e-commerce strategy in 2006. Here they are:

1. Do your homework (and I mean now) on your three closest competitors, and see what they’re doing online.
2. Look back on 2005 and think of at least three things that completely bombed including how much time and money spent, and how those resources could have been spent in growing your online business.
3. Again, looking back on 2005, think of at least three things that were complete successes (thereby bringing revenue or opportunity back to your organization) and think how sticking to this core-strategy for your online business could have made an even bigger impact.

The Web is here to stay, and it offers your business a very effective way to find and keep customers. So even if you’re not sure of the opportunity, you have to take a shot, like my plumbing supplies client did. If you don’t, you could be letting future profits go down the drain.

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by Chris Consorte

We’ve all heard it: “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” It’s a saying that reaches far beyond the world of business and marketing. However, without a strong marketing plan, you’re likely to be winging it over the year ahead, and no self-respecting businessperson would ever admit to winging it when it comes to running a business.

Like most online businesses, your plan will likely start off with the main objective of driving relevant traffic to your website. Next, you’ll want to convert as many of these visitors into customers. And lastly, you’ll want to do this profitably, thereby keeping ROI in the black.

Speaking of ROI, you’ll need a budget to ensure the “I” exists. While we could spend all-day on budgeting, the only person who knows best how much you can afford to spend on marketing is you. Whatever your method, I always recommend sticking to your guns in making 80 percent of your marketing budget pre-planned, and the remaining 20 percent off-the-cuff, non-planned stuff that may present itself midway through the year. Again, all you need is that magic number so you can stay on course with the marketing roadmap you’re creating.

Now it’s time to put the plan to paper. With objectives and budget in-hand, we get to the fun stuff. The creative tactics available to us, like TV, radio, print, mail, PR, online, and more. You might have noticed I’ve placed online marketing last. That’s because I want to take you out of your comfort zone and get you thinking outside of the box. Not that I want you to abandon what works, just that you’ll need to consider testing other marketing tactics since your objective is, after all, to grow the business this year.

Taking a quick look at TV advertising, companies like can get you on-air with a customized spot and super-targeted media plan for roughly $2,500, maybe less. Not exactly a huge monetary boundary, and worth keeping your eyes on.

Radio advertising can be done with even less money, especially when you look at remnant space buyers and planners like or dMarc by Google (yes, Google). Create your spot, pick your areas and within a few days your spots are airing for the lowest prices possible, and all it takes to get you started is $1,000.

Look to for your print testing campaign — again, a company focused on remnant or unsold inventory and bidding processes. Another $1,000 (or less) gets you into publications that would normally have cost us twice or triple that amount.

Look to for your print testing campaign — again, a company focused on remnant or unsold inventory and bidding processes. Another $1,000 (or less) gets you into publications that would normally have cost us twice or triple that amount.

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By Chris Consorte – Posted on November 18, 2007

While all things e-marketing work well, they’re just part of the many ways you can get your phones to ring–and convert prospects to sales.

When it comes to sales, nothing is better–in my humble opinion, that is–than a good old- fashioned inbound phone call. Let me explain.

I’m a big fan of the automation process: e-commerce sales, e-lead generation and even e-customer service. While over 50% of my own business revenue is based on all things “e,” I still can’t resist those prospects that call in over the phone looking to get more information. Why? Because my sales team has a 50% chance of converting them to a client.

Over the years, I’ve tried many advertising tactics to grow my business. In fact, almost all of these tactics I tried on my own business before I went ahead and proposed that tactic to any of my clients. My rationale was, and still is, if it works for my business then it’ll work for my client’s business. Yet it all comes down to objectives–that is, what is it that I want from prospects and clients.

At one point in my business, all I cared about was conversion to an e-commerce sale. (We used to be in the event marketing business.) Shortly after, all I cared about was generating prospect leads online for later follow-up by sales (to give us time to research the prospect as we were more in the consulting phase of our business). Now, I’d pay just about any price for inbound prospect phone calls.

“Paying just about any price” is a strong statement, but I’ve actually paid what I consider just about any price in the past. I’ve tried marketing tactics that have cost me a hefty sum–only to get a small quantity of inbound prospect calls–thereby driving my cost-per-call through the roof. On the flip side, I’ve also tried marketing tactics that have cost me very little–and have driven tons of inbound phone calls. In this case, my cost-per-call went down significantly.

Many of our clients believed in the past that television or radio is out of reach for them, in terms of cost, but yet their products or services are perfect for this audience. We’ve helped them produce digital television spots for as little as $1,000 and have purchased them 30-second spots for as little as $10 each. Basically, they’re on-air in two weeks time at a total budget of $2,000, and they’re testing TV. For radio, we’ve gotten clients on-air for as little as $5 per 30-second spot and they’re on the radio testing for as little as $1,000. The secret–buying remnant and direct-response time only–and they’re getting many inbound phone calls to justify the money spent.

The same holds true for direct mail, where the client occasionally feels it’s going to be too costly based on the minimums of testing 5,000 pieces or much more at a time. These days, with digital printing, clients are able to test drop as few as 500 pieces– perhaps for $300 or so–and see if direct mail is for them…and if it’ll make their phone ring.

I’ve seen offline media (radio, TV, direct mail, print advertising) as well as online media (opt-in e-mail, online ads, search optimization) work very well for driving inbound phone calls. If you’re watching your metrics–or cost-per-call–and measuring to make sure your objectives are being met (ultimately, sales conversion) then the sky is the limit in terms of how many inbound calls you can drive into your telecenter, sales team or customer service department.

Not sure if you’ve got the budget or the skills to embark on testing an all-out campaign? Try services like Ingenio ( or CitySearch ( and they’ll drive the inbound calls to you directly. Just simply set-up a campaign online, including a description of your industry and the prospects you’re looking to attract, how much you’ll be willing to pay per call and how many calls you would like to buy–and it’s that simple. You can even set a geographic territory limit so that you don’t get inbound calls outside of the areas you service!

So there you have it. If you want inbound prospect calls–you CAN buy them. Again, in my own humble opinion, I believe that inbound phone calls is going to be how advertising is quantified going forward. Furthermore, paying for or buying targeted prospect phone calls is likely the future of direct response marketing–because it’s one of the best ways for advertisers to track conversion from prospect to client.


Chris Consorte has spent his entire career working on various marketing and new media projects on both the agency and client-side of business. Chris is also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine.

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