Pitches From the Ditches: Brainstormin'

By Donal Wayswin on at

Thursday afternoons at The Agency is brainstorming time.  This is a hallowed time where representatives from across the company share a sweaty box with the hope of squeezing out some ideas that will generate some kind of publicity.  A rich cross section of Agency society attends -- there must be at least six different types of middle class -- and teams are led into battle by their divisional heads.

There's Jess from the consumer team (tight shiny dress, smiles, KEEN), Danny from the creative team (ironic, semi-hipster outfit and jeans so tight you can see a Penisinsula), John who represents trade and corporate PR (unimpressed ex-journo), and Dazzer!!! from digital (OMG! J a Mac with !STICKERS!).

I was collared coming out of the toilet post-wee and dragged along in Jess' jetwash.  She resembles a vampire at a feeding frenzy when it comes to brainstorms. This week there are about 15 of us in the Creative Room. Junior members of staff and the work experience girl cower in the corner, apprehensive at being involved in something so sacrosanct.  Middle management is sharpening its expectations, powering up grey matter hoping to impress.  Brainstorms are where careers are made or lost and divisional heads stand aligned ready to lead their prospective teams into battle.

Today we are brainstorming ahead of a pitch for a website, which gives people stuff cheaply. The idea is that we now have to come up with some ideas which will make that, which is not really a new proposition, interesting.

As head of the creative team, Danny steps in, "So, you have all read the briefing pack I sent round on email?" (hazy recollection of a PDF with pictures of happy looking people on laptops and coloured arrows wobbles into focus). "We've got a pitch next week and need some creative fruit ASAP that we can chuck in the blender and see what tastes fresh," (this is obviously said ironically, but begs the question that at which point does parody become reality?)

"We need a big idea to underpin the whole thing. A spine along which we can transmit ideas to the main brain."

And I am accused of overusing metaphors.

"Off we go then, catch"

He tosses the 'creative ball' at a graduate fresh out of university. The ball is used to 'activate' people into the brainstorm. The idea being, if you have the ball in your hands, you are expected to voice your ideas.

The poor little graduate has a small heart attack. Her facial expression is more like someone who has been handed a boiled turd. Thrust immediately into the spotlight, she knows that this is one of those career defining moments. Sink or swim.

"Erm, well I like the fact that I can buy my clothes for cheaper. So, maybe we can do some kind of thing on that? They have a great shoe section, all the consumer magazines now have pages on how to dress well for less, how about something on that?"

She makes a good point, but Danny is gagging for something that will make him look like Pinky, not Brain. The ball is tossed on and lands this time in the hands of a grown man wearing a T-Shirt, which shows a Storm Trooper bending an Ewok over a log with the words 'Creating an Empire is awesome' underneath it.  This man must be 30.

"It's clear to me that we need to put digital content at the heart of this campaign. We need to utilise as many social sharing and content platforms as possible to allow the brand to participate with a variety of communities organically. Engagement needs to be on the terms of their customers. We don't want to sell goods, as much as create advocacy"

Eyes get brighter amongst the senior bods. He has ticked off a number of magic phrases in a couple of sentences. Porn Trooper is urged to provide some further detail -- his idea involves setting up some Pintrest accounts. The ideas are thought worthy of the whiteboard.

And so it goes on, creative minds dimly humming away in a small humid room. Ideas range from hiring an acceptably obese celebrity to something to do with the Olympics. Burning deep within me all the time is the deep-held conviction that I have an idea that will trump everyone. I wouldn’t say I was immediately convinced when it first slithered out of my frontal cortex, but after five minutes I have a messianic belief in this baby. I now cannot wait for my turn in the spotlight, to blow up the room with intellectual cluster-bombs.

The ball is passed to me. I begin to speak, the belief in my idea now so strong I strike a Superman pose to reinforce its greatness:

"People are fed up with only being able to shop online nowadays.  It lacks human interaction. I propose we help the company create a series of regionally-focussed sales events where the website can actually meet its customers and look them in the eyes. Good old-fashioned relationship building. We can also encourage people to bring down their old items, which they can swap as part of a promotional deal."

Silence.  Good silence?  Stunned silence? Awestruck silence? Bad silence? Bad silence. Baaaad silence ..oh christ. Deceived by an over-confident brain again.

"Jumble sales Donal?"

Erm, jumble sales? Argh, yes, it's  a jumble sale.

"Uhm, no, well yes, but we could put everything up on Pintrest too and use that to engage with some real people too and, er live stream it on the internet."

"We need something that can generate national press coverage, not something which will sit in the classifieds below the local Car Boot Sale."

"No, but, we can expound on it by getting Anthea Turner and Vernon Kaye’s mum involved and they can help sell stuff."

The idea is now haemorrhaging on the floor, writing in so much pain the only fair thing to do is hit it with a spade. Thankfully, Jess steps in and closes down the meeting.

"Ok guys, good meeting, it's time for lunch. Thanks for your brains."

We trudge out. I get a nudge in the ribs and someone mutters something about having to take me to Oxfam at lunch time to buy me a jumper. I was only trying to go for a piss; I didn’t ask for this.


Donal Wayswin is a pseudonym for a PR professional working for a tech agency in London, not dissimilar to the dozens of agencies that Giz UK hears from daily. All Pitches From the Ditches are based mostly on true events, with some details changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Check back every(ish) Monday for his columns, or tune in at 1pm on Wednesday for the rantings of an anonymous IT manager in Emails From the Command-Line, and 1pm Fridays for anonymous copper Matt Delito’s Notes From the Frontline columns.

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