Q + A on Project Management. You live—and you learn.

Beckie ManleyCreative Process, From the CEO

I’ve been in the ad business for a long time. And every once in a while I get asked questions about how I’ve handled situations over the years. Here are the most recent three and my candid answers:

How did you handle an unexpected problem that happened during your last project?

Every project has unexpected issues that come up. You have to be prepared from the start for these problems so they don’t derail you midway. Give your team extra time, extra budget, and manage your client expectations carefully each day. One project we did recently was for a special-order lunch box that was going to be used as a press kit for a private school on the West Coast. We did everything right—got the lunch boxes ordered on time; delivered to our office on time so we could pre-pack them for our clients; they were collated on time with all the internal branded elements that were going inside the lunch boxes; and then we took them to the local FedEx to ship them, actually a day earlier than expected. The person at FedEx misread the instructions for shipping and set them to arrive three days past the event where they were needed. There was no rescuing them—they were on a train, in a car with 30,000 other boxes. We had to reach back out to our vendor and special order just one lunch box and get it custom printed in less than 48 hours. We had already ordered extra internal items, which we had on hand, and were able to deliver it exactly on time for the event. This was nothing short of a miracle. We stayed on budget through all of this due to careful planning and managed the client’s expectations through all of the chaos. They were thrilled with the final product, and it was ready for the event where it was needed on time, and the remaining lunch boxes arrived three days later.

How do you plan your projects—and how do you work with your clients?

Good planning for projects comes from good experience. I have been in the business for over 20 years, so I have seen it all. I have literally had boxes of brochures fall out of a FedEx airplane and all kinds of other unbelievable obstacles to overcome. The client wants what they want when they want it, so a large part of managing projects is simply problem solving. I don’t start a project without all the information I need to be successful, and then I manage it, as the CD, very tightly from start to finish. My designers and team have the authority to handle issues that come up, and when I need to step in, I do. Using a good traffic program is a big help, and having a traffic manager working with your design team and writers is very helpful in staying organized.

What problem made you angry on your last project?

You can’t get angry when problems come up with projects—you have to just expect issues as part of the process of serving clients and delivering excellent work. You have to be a smart problem-solver and stay proactive on all the elements of the task at hand. Getting angry creates stress and frustration with the team, and they need to be able to stay focused and be creative. Being organized and paying attention to every detail will keep most issues from happening. Be committed to excellence, as greatness is in the details, and treat everyone interacting with the project and responsible for its success with kindness and respect.

Incubation. What is it?

Beckie ManleyCreative Process

One of my friends, Jack Burgess, posted this fascinating little article from Fast Company: “Creativity researchers have a name for this period of intentional interruption from a tough mental task: incubation. The concept isn’t new; as early as 1926, social psychologist Graham Wallas referred to incubation as a creative stage when a person is “not consciously thinking about the problem.” Some social scientists now place incubation smack in the center of the creative process, coming after exploring and focusing on a problem and just before producing an insight and following through on it.”

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3035811/evidence/the-key-to-creative-insight-interrupt-yourself

New2

The answer is no. But yes.

Beckie ManleyAdvertising, Branding, Creative Process, Featured, From the CEO

Flashback Friday. Previously a guest blog post on the Black Sheep Agency blog.

One of the questions new clients always love to ask in that first meeting is: “Do you have any prior experience in our particular field?” In the early days of my career, this question would easily intimidate me, especially if my answer was no. These days it no longer frightens me, because after 20 years of experience, I know the secret to success with great brands, products, services and ideas is the creative process.

One of my favorite things about the creative process is that it’s constantly evolving. It’s a living, breathing magical force that we are relentlessly committed to each time we undertake a new project at our shop. Every time we push its boundaries, when we study more, learn more, experience more, interact more, ask more and allow the process to change us and make us and our work more meaningful, it surprises us with some unexpected learning. It’s part of what keeps this business new and fresh and exciting every day.

But as metamorphic as the process can be, the fundamentals always remain the same—another of my favorite things about the creative process. When the moment comes, the moment when we are set free by our clients to wonder and imagine and strategize and create, we know just where to start. We know what questions to ask first and how to be open to new ones. We know how to listen and be insatiably curious. We know there’s more to know, which is why we believe so deeply in research and in doing our homework first. We’re not doing work that is simply clever for clever’s sake; instead, we are disciplined. We roll up our sleeves first.

And we love every minute of it.

We taste test the client’s salsas and meet the passionate artists behind the secret recipes in their kitchens before we start to brainstorm names for their products. We visit the ranch in Austin and have a true cowboy breakfast around the campfire before we attempt to write copy about an authentic Texas-style barbecue sauce. We put on steel-toed boots and visit the plant where fresh vegetables come in at dawn from local farms, get flash-frozen to seal in all that garden freshness and get trucked out to grocery stores later that afternoon. We put on a hard hat and drive out to the oil wells and meet the guys who work on the rigs seven days a week. We listen as they tell their stories in the scorching 100-degree heat before we ever pretend to understand and capture into words the pride and love in their voices for their work, their company and their country. We try new shrimp recipes in our beer and brainstorming sessions; we do guest appearances in college classrooms; we eat in college cafeterias and interact with our clients’ apps, websites, products and services every chance we get.

We totally dig this stuff! And we get how brand immersion—really, truly, madly immersing yourself into your clients’ brands and the research that is available to you—matters. It all gets you to the good stuff that endears consumers and motivates action and sometimes, changes the world.

As an agency, we don’t have knowledge about every product, every service, every field, or every brand. And we don’t pretend to. But what we do have is a thorough understanding of the creative process and a complete confidence in its results. We’ve tested it over and over again and it works. Every. Single. Time. Bring us a new product, service or idea and we will apply our proven methods to it and create meaningful strategies, messaging, creative and connections on its behalf. A few years ago we didn’t know everything there was to know about shrimp or dinosaurs, but after building meaningful relationships with our clients, applying the creative process to their brands, and working with our research partners to gain new insights, we know more about this protein and these museum-worthy creatures than anyone on the planet.

It works. We believe in it. We practice it and we’re committed to it. And we love to see the positive impact the creative process has on our clients’ behalf every day. So the answer is no. But yes.