M.I.N.M.: Creative Co-op
Who: Marsha J. Palanci, president, Cornerstone Communications Ltd.
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."
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."
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."
"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."
Conference room at the office of whoever calls the meeting.
Betsy Wiesendanger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in Cortlandt Manor, New York.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.