The commercial was simple. Little Timmy, a third-grader, would start off embarrassed by his Dad’s cupcakes – only because ‘Baker’ isn’t the most exciting profession for career day in the eyes of a young child. To everyone’s surprise, his Dad would make a grand appearance in uniform (probably parachuting from a helicopter pending production budget). As his Dad wins the day, another kid leans over, cupcake in hand, and questions Timmy, “I thought your Dad was a baker.” To which Timmy would proudly reply, “Yeah, that too,” emphasizing the key benefit of being able to serve part-time and maintain a full-time career in the Air National Guard. The client loved it – until they didn’t. Somewhere along the chain of approval, it was decided that this commercial should instead appeal to a younger demographic, i.e. the 17-year-old recruit in high school. So it was back to the drawing board. With a deadline of “yesterday,” I decided not to take on this task alone twice.

The next morning, I rallied the troops – a hand-selected, interdepartmental team of graphic designers, interns, social media managers, editors, storyboard artists, and photographers. 

We kicked off the brainstorm by looking at the previous script and reviewing the client’s feedback. I let the interns leave, sensing their waning enthusiasm. I then intentionally went around the room, soliciting opinions and ideas from everyone remaining, including the ultra-shy creatives. The result was three high-level ideas, that we narrowed down to Career Fair. From there, we developed our main character, a senior in high school distraught by the choices available to her until she discovers the Air National Guard tent. Borrowing a cue from Harry Potter, we imagined an entire world impossibly tucked inside the tent. One thing led to the next, and an hour later we had holograms, thrilling teleportation into the field of various careers, and a transformation of our heroine from prospect to committed Air National Guard servicemember.

After a solid hour of ideation, I ran off to write the script. A couple of hours later, it was in the hands of our storyboard artist and we had a completed storyboard by the end of the day. By far one of my favorite professional accomplishments, here are a few lessons learned:

  1. It doesn’t always take a village, but involving the village is always more fun. Despite successfully turning Career Day around in 24 hours per request, I realized the preferred option would be a joint effort.
  2. If you lead a brainstorm then you are in charge of the room’s energy. This means keeping spirits up, engaging everyone, and driving the conversation. Too many brainstorms fail because someone fails to own this role.
  3. Every voice matters. Having a seat at the table isn’t enough, everyone must be heard. It takes multiple perspectives. At times I had no idea what the editors were talking about with possible cuts, cheats, and effects. I just trusted them. I also trusted that the quiet, shy designers had valuable ideas worth sharing- and they did, of course.
  4. A good idea can come from anywhere at any time. Write them all down and don’t be afraid to explore. Not only does this empower the group to release their ideas, but it also helps everyone follow the train of thought and revisit previous ideas with new perspectives as ideas continue to unfold.
  5. Give your creative team room to breathe. If a good thing happens spontaneously in your organization, don’t stifle it with formality and managerial oversight. Senior Managers, Directors, and Executives have the tendency to overpower voices lower on the totem pole, even if unintentionally or unknowingly. A successful brainstorm is vulnerable to power grabs; it should be rooted in mutual interest and shared desire to engage in creativity for creation’s sake.

For even greater insight into the process, check out the animatic our storyboard artist Nikki Everett created that really brought a wild concept to life. It also captures some of the heartfelt moments that we were sad to see cut from the final production-