Creativity “Cheat Sheet”

Autumn is a time for back-to-school and golden rules. Here are 10 rules of the road for spicing up ideas.

  1. Allocate time & budget for strategic and creative thinking and planning. Sounds obvious – but most people underestimate the time needed to  develop truly original ideas.
  2. Challenge the brief, especially if the stated goal is to “generate media coverage.” Traditional briefs often constrain creative thinking.
  3. Gather insights first; use observational research (track day-in-the-life of the target) and best-in-class resources.
  4. Scout for great ideas constantly; they can come at any time, any place, from anyone – and rarely under extreme pressure.
  5. Use a trained facilitator to run all creative sessions and absolutely avoid asking a team member to facilitate ideation; insiders preserve the status quo.
  6. Engage diverse “outsiders” in creative thinking; include target audience members in brainstorms.
  7. Aim for surprise, shock, humor and personalization in ideas; these are proven factors in earning interest and engagement.
  8. Reward heroic failure and punish mediocre success; few truly creative ideas arise in a climate of fear – though novel ideas should feel a bit scary!
  9. Design and express an idea very simply, visually and succinctly – and be sure you love it before you ask someone else to love it.
  10. Sell creative ideas confidently, tenaciously, and with explicit mention of expected impact; an initial “no” does not have to be a final “no.”


Karen loves winning trophies for clients, believing awards affirm how much strategy and creativity matter. As Ketchum’s chief strategy and creativity officer, as well as co-lead of Ketchum’s 50+ specialty, she is an evangelist for courage and creativity in communication, and she ensures strategic discipline and creative liberation for the firm’s global network of planners. Her devotion to studying human behavior, crowdsourcing creative ideas and working across silos have contributed to Ketchum winning more awards for clients than any other PR firm. Some of her initiatives include the creation of Mindfire, Ketchum’s crowdsourcing site for fueling creative ideas; the Ketchum Creative Community and related Passion Panels to solve client challenges; and the Ketchum Media Optimizer, the first media planning discipline in the public relations business. As a member of the small minority of female agency creative chiefs, Karen is on a mission to inspire and empower more women to take on lead creative roles.