How To Have A Meeting With A Creative

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Having worked in the creative field for many years, I can safely say that the part I hate the most about it is the meetings. I mean, come on, interacting with a client? Who wants that? 😉

Tongue-in-cheek aside, I have always struggled with meetings. And while I doubt that anyone truly loves meetings and eagerly desires to attend them, it is hopefully safe to generalize that creatives probably rank it rather low on their list of priorities.

But it is undeniable that they are sometimes necessary, and thus important. What I have come to discover is that it’s not necessarily the meeting per se that I don’t like, but rather that very few accomplish their actual purpose, and I think this may be true in regards to most meetings in general.

And while I don’t want to play the needy creative card, there are some things I have gleaned over the years of meetings that I think can go a long way towards having more productive meetings with your creatives. The following are a few tips to maximize these encounters.

1. Have Meetings Only If Absolutely Necessary

I think there is a major disconnect in the way a lot of people perceive meetings, and in many respects it has much to do with their place in the productivity chain.

Creatives are in effect producers, in that- at the end of the day- their job is push out a product on time and that hits all the relevant points for any particular project.

Many clients on the other hand- whether internal or external- are not producers (at least not in the same sense) in that their function is more as director; to guide a project from start to finish, provide vision and direction, etc.

There is nothing intrinsically better or worse about either role, but it tends to affect the way each perceives meetings.

For the director, meetings tend to provide valuable touchpoints in the flow of production, as they can offer a way to distill information, monitor progress, etc. In this sense the time spent in a meeting can be valuable because it directly pertains to their role in the productivity chain. The important point is that the perception of the meeting is that it is part of what they do, and not something that takes away from it.

For the creative, on the other hand, meetings can be perceived in a rather opposite manner. Instead of being directly related to their role in the productivity chain, the meeting can tend to take on a more indirect function. It can even begin to feel overly burdensome, since any time devoted to a meeting is time taken away from creative output. This feeling of discontent will only be amplified as meetings are multiplied.

These are of course broad generalizations, and there is no doubt a large degree of overlap. But as you interact with your creatives, bear in mind that they very likely perceive meetings in a very different manner than you. And while you may not exactly enjoy meetings, you may glean a sense of keeping on top of a project from the meeting, while your creatives may wonder why you are taking them away from doing what you want them to do.

My point is not to never have meetings, but rather to make sure that the ones you have are necessary. Creatives realize that they are sometimes necessary, but there needs to be that sense in the meeting itself (and more on this later).

Make sure that the meetings you call offer new and tangible information or give clear and decisive feedback. If what you want to convey can be done so by email or some other non-meeting medium, pursue that first. Make sure the creatives you work with know that you value their time and want to help them meet the goals of the project, which sometimes means staying out of the way a little bit! Most creatives tend to be at least somewhat self-directed, so give them as much freedom and space as you can.

Avoid “touch-base” meetings that don’t really have any purpose beyond touching base on a project. If you already have clearly defined milestones and timelines, you can keep track of those without the meeting. If they are not met, a meeting might be in order to ascertain what is not working, revise timelines and milestones, and determine if other layers of support need to be utilized. Above all, ensure that your meetings are purposeful and have clear cut directions as they conclude.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Creatives often view meetings differently because of their position in the productivity chain. Schedule meetings intentionally and as infrequently as possible to best maximize the time and energy they can devote to production.[/pullquote]

2. Have Meetings With Clear Goals and Directions

I have sat in on quite a lot of brainstorming meetings, and I think I have actually come to dread them. The reason is that many times there is no definite-agreed-upon direction upon conclusion. It ends up feeling like a complete waste of time because, while ideas have been generated, none have been nailed down to pursue or develop, which leaves the creative process at a standstill and essentially where it started before the meeting.

Equally worse is the meeting where the client comes to the table without a good idea of where they want to go. The whole time can be spent trying to ascertain what the client even wants, rather than developing ideas or strategies for moving forward.

As you plan your meetings with your creatives, be sure that your meeting has a well-defined goal from the start. It could be as simple as: “By the end of this meeting, we will have two ideas to develop further for this project.” Brainstorming is a fine thing to do, but you will absolutely drive your creatives crazy if the meeting ends and nothing has been decided.

It is important to note that this doesn’t even have to be a final decision; after all, it could be that this meeting is to come up with two ideas to develop that can be pitched. What is important is that there is decisiveness and direction going forward.

If you work with multiple creatives, this is also a good time to make definitive assignments and develop milestones and timelines. Make sure that everyone has clear expectations at the conclusion of the meeting; this will limit frustration and also allow your creatives to schedule their time more knowledgeably.

You may find yourself wondering how to provide good direction for the meeting. After all, you may not be in a creative role; how are you supposed to bring creative direction to the table? Isn’t that your creative’s job?

The good news is that you don’t have to have everything nailed down before your creative meeting. What we creatives are looking for (and hoping for!) is not necessarily a pre-defined creative direction. Rather, we mostly want to know where this project is supposed to end up. Creatives generally like to have a clearly defined goal, which is exactly what you can (and should!) provide as the one in the director role.

You can think of it this way: as a director, your role is to decide where a project needs to end up. As a producer, the creative’s role is to figure out how to get there. In many situations there will be a fair amount of overlap, but if you can keep that distinction in mind it can help you as you plan meetings wherein you can provide overarching direction and keep things on track. Creatives tend to thrive on strong and decisive direction, but they can equally languish if it is not there. If you are in the a director role for a project, one of the best ways you can help your creatives do their best is to provide decisive direction, transparent timelines and clear (and prompt!) feedback. Let these ideas guide you as your plan your meetings.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Begin every meeting with a clear goal of what will be accomplished and end with equally clear direction and expectations.[/pullquote]

3. Have Meetings With Relevant Attendees

One of the worst feelings one can experience at work is being stuck in meetings that have little to no relevance to one’s position or production. Nor is this feeling, I think, unique to creatives.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes it can be frustrating to be in a meeting that is necessary but is filled with attendees who really don’t need to be there. This frustration can be especially amplified if they provide feedback they aren’t in a position to give, interject into the conversation, etc. And it may not even be annoying or not useful; it’s just that the more perspectives are in a meeting, the longer they tend to take and the more convoluted the disseminating of information can become.

Make sure your meetings with creatives are directly relevant to them. There are probably times when an indirect relevance might require their presence, but if feedback, opinions, etc., can be provided in less direct ways without sacrificing clarity, by all means pursue these if at all possible (see #1). Another strategy for recurring meetings that have some points of relevance for your creatives is to schedule (and stick to!) designated times for discussing those points of relevance. After the allotted time, those for whom relevance is exhausted can be dismissed.

In a like manner, restrict attendees on the more directorial level to those who are in a position to direct a project, offer feedback and provide approvals. If there are relevant points that their team needs to be apprised of, in most cases the director of the project should be the source of information, not the meeting. This can help to streamline the information flow and maximize the potential of the meeting by keeping it on track.

But by the same token, one should make every attempt to have attendees at the meeting who really need to be there. For example, it can be frustrating to have meetings with people who are trying to offer direction on a project but do not have a final approval. Miscommunication can very easily happen here, because while those lower down the level of approval may be on board with a particular direction, they often times cannot actually speak authoritatively towards the direction itself. This will only end in frustration as the creatives may pursue certain directions thinking they are on track, only to find out at a far later stage that there has not been buy-in from the top.

Of course, it is not always possible to include the ultimate decision makers. In this case it is all the more vital to ensure that those who are attending in a representative fashion are clear on what directions are being pursued and can communicate those quickly and accurately to maximize the chance of expedient buy-in.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Ensure that your meetings with creatives include only those (but all of those!) who actually need to be there.[/pullquote]

Conclusion

Believe it or not, you can have successful meeting with creative! By ensuring the meetings are necessary, having clear goals and directions at the conclusion and being selective about attendees, you can have meetings that don’t cause you creatives to want to run away in terror or fall asleep in boredom.

And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? 🙂

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By deviantmonk

Jason Watson

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