M.I.N.M.: The After 5 meeting
Who: Jeff Charney, senior VP, Kaufman and Broad
Players: The whole marketing-and-communications staff
Frequency: About once a month, after 5 p.m. It lasts from 15 minutes to 3 hours.
Why I never miss it: "Along with hearing great ideas, I see people who spend most of the day on email shine in front of their peers."
In a world awash in TV ads, billboards, and Web sites, it's harder than ever to come up with original marketing ideas. Just ask the folks at Kaufman and Broad Home Corp., one of the top home builders in the United States. Companies that build houses have to worry about regulations, certifications, and codes. In other words, when it comes to construction, they have to play by the rules. But when it comes to marketing, they have to break the rules. "We're selling to people from the MTV generation, and they've seen everything," says Jeff Charney, 40, Kaufman and Broad's senior vice president of marketing and communication.
Charney and his team are charged with taking the company's brand image into fun new territory. But the daily grind of work — phone calls, emails, routine meetings — makes that difficult challenge virtually impossible. What's the solution? The "After 5" meeting. During After 5 sessions, Charney and his team (often dressed in attire that matches the theme of the meeting) engage in freewheeling brainstorming. Last year, one After 5 gathering resulted in a major promotional campaign that used a full-scale replica of the home of Marge and Homer Simpson — a marketing gambit that got worldwide media attention.
"Without all the day-to-day pressures," says Charney, "it's much easier to engage our imaginations and let them run wild."
Anything goes. "Think 'The McLaughlin Group,' only nicer. The best ideas usually sound absolutely insane at first, so we don't want people to be editing their thoughts. The unspoken rule: If you think it, say it."
Always after 5 p.m. "Nine to five, we're in a taking-care-of-business mode. By holding the meeting at day's end, we can switch gears and leave behind phones and pagers. Those things just kill creativity."
The Marketing War Room. "Four walls are not required, though. We held one of our After 5 meetings on a bus. You can get pretty innovative at 65 mph."
"I kick off each meeting with an outline of the kinds of ideas that we're after and the issues that we need to keep in mind. And then we talk and toss out ideas. We're not above using incentives — from candy bars to cash — to stimulate competition."
A version of this article appeared in the June 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.