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April 29, 2013
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Recently at the PRSA Western District Conference (which I’m sure we told you about here, here and even here) I had the opportunity to sit in the roundtable discussion “Brainstorming: How to do it well, techniques for making it work in big and small organizations to spur ideas, great thinking” led by Dawn Doty of Linhart Public Relations. Unlike the larger breakout sessions, the roundtable discussions were short and intimate – and excellent opportunity to pick other PR professionals’ minds.

And what better topic to pick people’s minds about than their minds!

While we have all heard “there are no bad ideas” during a brainstorm session, many of us still make the mistake of combining the creative, think-tank portion of cultivating ideas with the down-and-dirty logistical part of planning. To prevent any stifling of creativity, Doty recommends making a clear distinction between the two sessions – both by who is involved and what is discussed.

Brainstorm Session:

  • Start each brainstorming session with a formal creative brief so everyone is clear on the goals and key messaging
  • Have someone not on the account facilitate the meeting and invite people from other accounts and departments to be a part of the creative process
  • Set up flip chart papers throughout the office for people to build off their ideas
  • Try having your brainstorm meeting outside the office
  • Do something to put yourself in your audience’s shoes
  • Have tangible, “inspirational” toys like play-dough for everyone to fiddle with while thinking

After everyone’s creative juices have been wrung dry – which should never take less than an hour – conclude the brainstorming session and schedule the planning meeting with the account team for the following day. Meanwhile, encourage other individuals to be inspired by the share charts and to offer their own ideas.

Planning Meeting:

  • Now is the time to think logistics, however, if an idea is “impossible,” don’t totally dismiss it without thinking of alternatives
  • Evaluate team members’ strengths to bridge the creative and the logistical aspects
  • Narrow down ideas based on all factors – cost, time, resources – and build off the best remaining ideas
Stephanie Lough
Stephanie Lough
A former HMA Public Relations employee.


  1. Scott Hanson says:

    Is it possible to have a personal brainstorm? Sometimes great ideas come when I’m driving… or working out… or in the middle of the night.

  2. Ken Jacobs says:

    Great post, and Dawn clearly shared some great tips.

    One that I’d add: When you whittle down the ideas–which, in the brainstorm facilitation technique in which I’m trained, we call Balanced Assessment–don’t just list what won’t work about the idea. Instead, solve the problem associated with the idea by turning it into a question.

    For example, never reject an idea because it’s too expensive. Instead, start with the words “How do we?” In this case, it might be:”How do we test this on a local market basis?” or “How do we get other divisions to chip in? or How do we get other marketing disciplines to share the initiative with us” or “How do we get the client’s retail partners or brokers to kick in some funds” (If that’s appropriate.)

    You get the idea. The very act of turning something negative into a challenge, by using the words “How do we?” makes it a potentially solvable problem, saves some great ideas that might otherwise have been rejected, and is the perfect use of the group’s time.

  3. Dawn says:

    Scott – YES! Some of the best ideas happen in those moments when your mind is free and you’re not sitting in a conference room.
    Ken – Great addition.

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