Erika Clegg: How to be creative (your bank manager will love it)

PUBLISHED: 16:24 01 March 2012

Erika Clegg of Spring

Erika Clegg of Spring


Turn off the TV. Put down the paper. Take a walk. Wake in time for the dawn, and watch it with your dog (here in East Anglia we are in the perfect place). Remember the mobile’s off switch? Use it. Be quiet. Now you’re ready to be really creative.

Erika Clegg

Erika launched the Southwold-based creative marketing agency Spring in 2006, and her position as business development and creative head of the agency saw it grow from nothing to a UK top 100 agency in just five years. She is a stickler for quality, results and creative open-mindedness and advocates that all Springers aspire to ‘be extraordinary’.

Erika also spearheads the agency’s CSR activities, writes for industry and regional publications, and is a board director of the New Anglia LEP. She lives in the countryside just outside Southwold with her children and husband, Spring’s Simon Hazelgrove.

Not for you? Whilst some of you reading this will work for agencies, where creativity is the bread on your shelves, most of you are engaged in quite different occupations.

But whatever your work, targeted creative thinking is at the heart of a transformative company that can fight off bad times.

In ‘The Case for Creativity’, James Hurman cites a number of studies into the impact of creativity; one of which is Peter Field’s finding that, on a low media spend, award winningly creative advertising has 27% more market impact than campaigns that don’t push creative boundaries.

And this can apply to new product development too. I’m a huge fan of Nursey, an 18th century sheepskin clothing maker. A decade ago, they started to make posturepedic saddles – using their existing skills and adapting in a way that enhances the core brand.

Skinners, the petfood manufacturer, came out of a family mill that produced farm animal feeds.

Current head of the company, Roger Skinner, saw a market opportunity that fitted his company’s skills in the 1970’s, and they haven’t looked back. These are both great examples of progressive creative thinking.

How do you – hairdresser, farmer, brewer, business coach – liberate your own team and yourself to think creatively in a way that will help your business grow?

To summarise my last article, first establish your brand position. What do you do, for whom, how, and why are you the experts? This must underpin any thoughts you have. No point setting up a sideline in cupcakes if you are an accountant, nor indeed publicising your latest activities on twitter if you’re an undertaker. Sounds mad - but it’s happened.

So: how to set about some really brain-expanding creativity? Two things to know. First, everyone has the potential to be creative. Everyone. They just need the right circumstances. Second. Creativity needs time and space, and, whilst in the thinking phase there are no wrong answers, targeted creativity demands a decisive and critical editor.

To prepare your mind, first clear it. Remove distractions, diversions and demands on your grey matter. You don’t need to meditate to empty your mind – simply removing the chaos of distraction for a while will do the job.

Now fill it again. Learn about the problem you are trying to solve, consider the impact you hope to make. Fill your meeting room, study or loo walls with images that define the audience you hope to reach and the company as you forsee it. Read about the actions of people you admire and companies you emulate. Search your market on twitter, google and pinterest and see what comes up. Read your industry press.

I guarantee that by now you’ll have had at least four really exciting ideas.

Scrawl them on the wall or tell them to the Dragon Dictate app and email them to yourself. Meet your family, friends or colleagues for an hour and discuss these ideas. See where they take them – and be prepared to let your wonderful ideas morph and change. One of the great joys of creativity is watching other people catch the thought and run with it. Having said that, if your creative idea is born of logic and has serious possibilities, please stand up for it in the face of a committee intent on homogeneity.

Now comes the hard part. Bring it back to practicality – review your objectives, your brand position, your budgets and your available time, and chuck out ideas which don’t fit around them. You’ll be left with the golden thoughts, the ones that can really take your business places.

I’ll leave you with a thought on one thing you can do every day of your life that will open your mind. I started, bored of the same fields and streets, on the school bus. Make the effort every day to see something you have never seen before in a familiar place. I guarantee that you will, and that it will always surprise you, delight you and set you up for the day.

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