Got a Better Idea? Let's Do Lunch

Meeting I Never Miss

M.I.N.M.: Creative Co-op
Who: Marsha J. Palanci, president, Cornerstone Communications Ltd.
Email: mpalanci@aol.com
Players: Six business owners
Frequency: Three or four times a year
Why I Never Miss It: "It's an opportunity to be off-the-wall creative, with no clients and no criticism to inhibit me. I can just let it rip."

Call it entrepreneurial Viagra: a way to give small companies a temporary boost. Four years ago, independent publicists Marsha J. Palanci and Ann Higgins invited a video editor, a marketing writer, and a few other comrades in New York City to form a creative cooperative, a group that could get together for brainstorming sessions whenever a member needed advice or inspiration. Since then, the co-op has been meeting for an informal lunch about every three months, or whenever a member puts out a call for help on a particular project — anything from pitching a new client to naming a new product. "It's a way to make a small business appear larger," says Palanci, 52. "A large agency would naturally pull from within, but small agencies have to go outside of their own little nuclear group."

Guiding Principle

No put-downs. "When you start a creative process, you can't stop someone's thinking by saying, 'No, that won't work.' If people do pan a concept, I remind them that no ideas are bad. Then I try to take a nugget of the idea that was criticized and elaborate on it, because sometimes a wacky notion can evolve into something not so wacky. It's like racquetball. When you're hitting the ball, sometimes it just bounces around and dies — but sometimes you swing, and the racquet connects."

Best Practice

Briefing memo. "Before the meeting, I send out a memo listing everything that I know about the problem at hand — the product, its markets, current ads or PR programs. This allows the co-op to digest the information and then do some creative thinking. We're not just creating in a vacuum. Our ideas won't go anywhere unless they meet some kind of marketing objective."

Talking Stick

"Since much of my work is in the wine-and-spirits industry, I'll often start with a tasting. That loosens people up, literally and figuratively. Then, as moderator, I'll toss out a general question like "How can we publicize this product?" People then start to free-associate and shout out ideas, which I record on big pieces of paper taped all over the room. At the end, I promise to let everyone know what happens with their ideas and how those ideas get implemented. I want people to feel like they're part of a creative team."

Setting

Conference room at the office of whoever calls the meeting.

Betsy Wiesendanger (betsyw@ix.netcom.com) is a freelance writer based in Cortlandt Manor, New York.

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