10/11/2012 06:22 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2012

Why Creative Brainstorms Waste Time, Money and Endanger Brand Health

"All hands on deck" creative brainstorms are often wildly inefficient, ineffective and financially irresponsible.

By executing their primary job functions rather than "spit balling" creative notions in a conference room filled with their colleagues, marketers without "creative" in their job titles can significantly improve their chances of creative (and corporate) success.

Certainly, Gus from accounting or Francine the brand manager goddess may be capable of coming up with the next mind blowing ad campaign. Most everyone who possesses the vulnerability necessary to play in an unfettered creative mind space can come up with great ideas. The issue, however, lies in corporate and agency efficiency, effectiveness and profitability. In order to achieve, we must learn how to play our position.

Here are three major downfalls of "more the merrier!" creative brainstorms (i.e., concept development sessions attended by persons not in the creative department of a marketing, PR or ad agency or corporation's marketing department):

1) When You Take Time Away from Your Job to Do Someone Else's, You Set Yourself Up for Failure.

Back in the '80s when I was an apprentice copywriter at a major marketing firm in Chicago, creatives were hired to be creative. Our department's primary purpose was to create ideas that sold more stuff for clients such as McDonalds, Kraft, Kellogg and United Airlines. Creatives would work alone or in teams to execute their creative job responsibilities. And, in the rare instances where we felt we couldn't find our answer, we'd reach out to other creative groups within the agency for their thoughts.

This wasn't to say we didn't have the occasional creative input from the client services side. There is no agency on the planet that I know of where the account managers (and corporate brand managers for that matter) don't want to play with the cool kids in the creative space. In marketing, the creative process is where the magic happens, where the fun is.

But in present day agency and corporate marketing department life, far too many non-creatives have stormed (and been pushed unwillingly) into the creative space. Imagine watching a game of "bumble bee" soccer, the kind of game where every kid under the age of six runs to the ball rather than play his or her position. As we grow older, we realize our chances of success on the pitch greatly improve when we play our primary position. We could run after every ball, but we'd leave ourselves exhausted and our position exposed. Further, we might not be built to play forward, so our skill set would be wasted leaving our goalie position.

Consider the primary job functions of the people brought into brainstorms. I've seen folks from accounting, HR, traffic, IT, account management, even the in house catering department. Who is doing their jobs while they're busy trying to do the creative? Is an art director running payroll while the CFO is trying to figure out the next best way to sell salad dressing? Do we have a creative director whipping out a recipe to feed 200 for lunch? We hire people to perform specific job functions so those functions are performed efficiently and cost effectively. When agencies and marketing departments spend more than a scant amount of time assisting with the creative process, agencies and companies lose money.

2) Brainstorms Are Time and Money Wasters

When you have 10, 20 or (yes, I've lived it) 40 persons in a brainstorm, you're wasting hours that could be billed to clients or spent getting oodles of other work completed. Imagine you have a group of 15 agency persons from every walk of company life in a two-hour brainstorm. Let's say on average each bills $200 per hour to clients when working on billable work (i.e., someone in accounting can't bill a client for concept development, so his/her time in the brainstorm is not revenue generating). Let's say 10 of the 15 cannot bill the time. By relying on persons who are not part of your creative department to execute a creative function, you lose $4,000 plus whatever billing they could have been doing if performing their primary job functions.

Certainly, the argument could be made, "But the Gus from Accounting is a great creative and it all pays off if he comes up with the next big idea!" You should hire talented creatives so you don't need Gus or brainstorms in the first place. And if Gus is that good, why not make him a creative so you can get the full benefit of his brilliance?

Small numbers of strong creatives are much more efficient and effective idea generators. When they know they have the idea(s) necessary to move the brand forward, great creatives run it up the flag pole and move on to the next creative challenge. Creativity is a gift, and hiring the right gifted minds is what set agencies and brands apart.

3) Democratic Brainstorming Leads to Weak Creative

Six Sigma or any other efficiency-based and/or democratic system does not belong in the creative process. Voting in a brainstorm to determine which idea reigns supreme is illogical at best, as all opinions in the room are not equal. The only opinion that matters during creative development is that of the lead creative, who was hired because of his/her brilliance. (It must be assumed she is smart enough to hear the opinions of others, and take them into consideration when weighing creative). The only consensus necessary for great work to come to life is between the lead creative, lead account manager and lead brand manager.

It's not the creative's fault that she/he gets to do all the cool stuff. From a dollars and common sense point of view, looking to other non-creative agency and corporate professionals to do a creative's job function is simply bad business.

Sarah O'Leary is the head creative of Methods & Madness, Inc., a boutique marketing agency based in Los Angeles. She's also a published author, radio personality and speaks at conferences on creativity and marketing around the world. She can be reached via email: