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July 2012

Principles of Improv

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Note: As part of our Art Month theme, some of us are sharing the creative pursuits that enrich our lives, both at work and outside of it.

by Jordan Bainer

If you look hard enough, you start to see connections between various components of your life. For me, improv comedy is a hobby that strangely blends into my work life interactions. Many times in my career, I’ve utilized improv rules to simplify and improve my work. I’ve identified a few improv comedy concepts below and explained how they link to life in the agency world.

  1. “Yes, and…”: A cardinal rule of improv is “yes, and…”, meaning that if someone says something, their partner on stage should accept it and build upon it. Denial or minimizing something your partner gives you quickly halts any progress in the scene and stifles creativity. For example, if I tell you “we’re in a helicopter” and you respond with “no we’re not, we’re in a canyon”, sounds like a weak story, right?This improv rule applies nicely to brainstorming. A common trap in agency and client brainstorming sessions is to rule out or filter ideas as the group comes up with them. During these times of free idea sharing, we have to remove all filters. All ideas are accepted until the brainstorm is over and the group is narrowing down ideas. Those ideas that are thrown out early on could have sparked other ideas that eventually become the winning concept. In brainstorming, the rule “yes, and…” supports and builds on creative suggestions.
  2. Tagouts, swipes, edits: In a slight contrast to “yes, and…” are tagouts, swipes, and edits. “Yes, and…” teaches you how to accept and move forward a partner’s agenda. Transition tools like tagouts, swipes, and edits cut a scene and move on to another scene or time period. Since it’s important to end scenes on a high note, players on the back-line need to listen to the audience and move the story along where appropriate.During client presentations, a common practice is to review each concept in a linear fashion until all material been exhausted. The client can then “react” to those ideas presented at the conclusion. Unfortunately, this presentation strategy doesn’t allow for open discussion, which could potentially save an idea if there is any client skepticism or misunderstanding. Those involved in client presentations need to be cognizant of what’s happening in the audience and ready to jump in when ideas or concepts can be explored further. Editing or tagging out your presentation partner isn’t bad manners as long as you are building on the larger story and ending on a high note.
  3. Finding the Theme: For many long-form improv performances, the group is looking for an overarching idea or theme to link disparate scenes together to create an overarching narrative or story. Themes can be decided upon by the audience or formulated throughout the course of the improv performance.Themes are crucial for organizing complex ideas or recommendations for integrated campaigns. Taking a step back and identifying the theme will make it easier showcase work and link back to a larger strategy. Clearly stating themes and concepts early on demonstrates your knowledge of the client’s brand.

Once you start to think about general concepts behind different experiences or interests, it’s amazing how everything begins to blur into one another. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to try new artistic endeavors to fuel those links and continually learn.

Just because they call them creative pursuits…

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Today’s Art Month guest post is by Paul Santo of Santo Creative, a copywriter extraordinaire, and, as you’ll see, a multi-talented creative guy.

I write for d.trio, but that’s just one of my creative pursuits. I enjoy playing classical and blues guitar, piano, and turning storm-fall trees into beautiful bowls, goblets and toys. Apart from my professional life as a writer and creative director, though, more people seem to know me for my nature photography than for any other reason.

Capturing a great nature photo is not so different from writing a winning headline or creating a breakthrough marketing concept.

Sometimes it’s an accident, but typically not. When I shoot nature, I usually set out intentionally, camera in hand, to capture something amazing.  When I create concepts or copy, I set out to do it intentionally, with pencil or keyboard. The reality, though, is that when I start, I never know exactly what I’m going to get.

Eagle in Flight

One thing is certain  – the more frantically I chase, the harder it is to succeed.  For me, the best strategy is to do my homework, know my subject, master my tools, then wait patiently for amazing to creep up on me.

Fawn

Any nature photographer will tell you that you have to embrace the waiting. When you’re quiet and calm in nature, that’s when you find that extraordinary things are all around you.

It’s the same with writing and concepting. Advertising and marketing are rush-rush businesses. The deadlines are constant and relentless. The pressure can be enormous, especially when multiple beloved clients have simultaneous “emergencies.” It’s a business that chews up and spits out those who can’t perform under pressure, those who can’t seemingly create on demand.

Loon and Chick

After more than 25 years and thousands of projects, I still get stressed out by deadlines…but not like I used to. That’s because I don’t focus on the deadlines. No good can come of that. I focus on the process, the “active waiting.”

I won’t ever allow myself to sit and fret in front of blank Microsoft Word* document. I move. I scribble. I walk. I write anything and everything, no matter how stupid, irreverent or off-target it might be. I even take photos of the birds outside my office window.

Oriole

By removing the pressure, enjoying the waiting and embracing experimentation, I put  myself in a place where creating is joyful. Like when I shoot photos, I’m perfectly willing to try 100 different ways and throw out 97 without regret. If my first 20 headlines don’t seem just right, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed so far. It means I’m getting limber, putting myself in a position to succeed.

Creativity is like a muscle. It performs better with exercise. That’s an important lesson, whether you’re shooting a photo of a baby loon or being creative on demand, project after project, year after year.

Paul Santo
Santo Creative

Wingtip in Water

It’s Art Month!

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We’ve declared it Art Month here at d.trio. A time to make some, see some, be some art. We’ll be featuring some guest bloggers during this month as well as exploring the creative side of some of our team. Like Jordan said, “I forget how interesting we all are.” We think it’s time to remember how we all exercise our creativity outside of our everyday jobs of putting creativity to work for marketing purposes.

So, during July, look for a guest post from one of our writers who is also a wonderful wildlife photographer, thoughts from one of our AE’s who is into improv, musings from local art fairs and maybe even updates on a sculpture in progress in the back hallway. We also invite you to check out our newest Pinterest board called 30 Days of Design where we’ll be featuring inspiring or beautiful or interesting design that may be better labeled as art as well as exploring creativity in general.

Do you have a creative pursuit that keeps you energized or up at night or fulfilled? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments here. We’d love to see your work!