The Creative Process:
An Overview

by on 7th August 2014

In my 3 or so years in Digital Marketing I’ve been involved in a number of ‘creative’ pieces. At the beginning you know what you want the end goal to be (brand mentions, links, referrals, shares etc.), but you need a structure in place to keep the project on track and ensure that throughout managing the process you’re making the most of yours, and likely a few other peoples time as well. This post will talk through the best ways I’ve found of doing that.

Back when I started building content that people wanted to talk about (affectionately called linkbait) my previous colleague and I had no real idea how to do it. It was only by going through the process time and again that we found when steps needed to work, and how best to do them. Although independent from one another, they do overlap in places, and I’ve identified 5 that’ll become the basis of all yours and your company’s creative campaigns.


Irrespective of goals, at this point you want to get the best ideas possible. People will vary in their approach and find what works best for them, but I’ve always found the best (as a group) is to generate ideas separately before brainstorming collectively. Each member should aim for at least 3 – 5 ideas to discuss when the group gets together, and then talk everyone through them one by one.

Anyone who has studied innovation won’t agree with this next point, and we already know there is no creative method – but I’m going to challenge it anyway. At the end of each of the presented ideas, critique them. Add to them. Destroy them if you can. Immediately the group are thinking and evaluating, gaining a sense of which are the best ideas and which are the worst. It also allows your subconscious to work on the ideas as the others are presenting – as you know what is and isn’t working, and potentially combining ideas into one ‘super’ piece. Most academics will advise against this, but intuitively you know a good idea when you hear it, and it’s worth speaking about them at the first opportunity, when your thoughts are clear.

Doing this stage on your own is harder but not impossible. You may have a client who’s just as interested in the creative piece being a success as you are, but if you’re doing it in-house and on your own, you can do some preliminary outreach and judge the results for yourself. Simply take 2 or 3 of your ideas and send some emails to the people who write in that field. Great ideas will illicit responses – journalists don’t want to miss out, and as long as you pitch it correctly, they might also try to help make it as newsworthy as possible with their own suggestions.

However, don’t promise anything at this stage. You’ll still need sign-off from the client before you get the go-ahead, and you’ll also need to work out if you can actually produce the idea altogether.

Note: Preliminary outreach is something all of us should do anyway, but it is more important if you don’t have someone to bounce ideas back and forth with. It gives you a great opportunity to forward plan, and also see if there’s anything journalists would like to see in your piece that you haven’t already thought of.


Anything is possible – but is it feasible? Budget will be a big talking point here, but for me, the core focus should be can we actually get the data to power this thing? If you’re thinking about this from the off, you’re putting yourself in the best position. But don’t let it inhibit you – others in the group will know things you don’t and ways of obtaining information you’re not aware of, so still mention them even if they are far-fetched.

Things to consider:

  • Is the data already out there?
  • Do we have unique data we can use?
  • Can we do a survey?
  • Has anyone done anything like this before?
  • Can we interview someone?


Once you’ve worked out if the best ideas you have are feasible, you actually need to get around to research. A lot of the people reading this will likely hire someone at this stage using a freelancer platform like oDesk or Elance, but if you are going about this in-house, you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

Starting any piece of research can be a daunting task. You may know at this stage that you can find the data, or have someone in mind for an interview, but you still have to do it. It’s at this stage when ‘development’ starts to overlap. You need to be working alongside the dev team so you’re storing the data in a format they can work with. For an interview, this will be extremely easy, but what if you’re building a world map as your interactive element? I’ve always found Google Spreadsheets as the best answer (Excel certainly does have its place, but not here). You can share it extremely easily with your developer, and also work on it from multiple locations and with various people. The format will entirely depend on what you want to achieve, but give yourself some time to think this through, and inform dev before you do so. At the end of the day, the data is being stored so they can use it, and their preference is for the most important thing here.


You’ve got buy in and you’ve got your research finished, but how is it all going to look and work? Hopefully you’ve had dev involved during the research stage, so what you’re delivering to them will at least be useful. However, the look and feel is going to be key to people sharing it, and potential editors sticking around rather than hitting the back button instantly.

Part of Richard’s recent presentation at MozCon was about expanding our knowledge when it comes to development. As a Digital Marketer, you should have a basic understanding of existing technologies, particularly front-end like HTML, CSS and Javascript, and know about the new ones, HTML5 video, Responsive CSS, WebGL, plus others. For instance, check this game out that makes use of WebGL and completely avoids Flash.

Fundamentally, this knowledge allows you to participate in a dev chat, and understand what it is that is being built and how it will work – particularly on various devices and browsers.

Separately, it will help you decide what the final piece should look like and how it should act. If you stay up to date on sites like, you’ll be keeping an eye on not only the content that people are talking about, but also the technologies being used. Communicate this with your developer, talk their language and gain the benefits of the next web. Limited knowledge in this area will keep you at the mercy of others, and your ideas here will reflect that.

If you can, invest some of your time in learning these technologies, how they’re working and their limitations. It’s an on-going process, but one certainly worth starting if you haven’t. I’d wholeheartedly recommend both TeamTreehouse and Lynda, mainly from a development standpoint, but Lynda does also have sessions on Analytics and PPC that will make you a better Digital Marketer overall.


I could write about pitch styles, relationship building, tools and/or tracking at this stage, but if all of the above has come together correctly and you’ve managed it all successfully, outreach will be the easy (and most enjoyable!) part.

You should have done some preliminary outreach during the early stages, so you’ll have a good idea who liked the concept, who writes about which topics, and similar pieces of work writers have featured. This is where you should start. Follow up with these people, even before the project has gone live, and discuss options with them. Some will want exclusives, and it’s only before the project has gone live that you’ll be able to offer this.

Your biggest successes in outreach will be from the people you’ve understood.

Invest your time in understanding what writers care about, and use that to guide the work you build. For most, the end goal will be links, and if you want them, even if it’s ‘your’ project or not, make sure you’re considering what it is that makes this piece link-worthy.

Outreach from this point is an on-going process, and I have already written the web’s definitive guide on how to boss it. But it goes without saying that the iron is hottest once it’s out the fire, and this is your best chance of getting coverage. However, a piece of creative work should and can be of interest to writers months after it’s initial launch.


Managing a piece of creative work, even if it’s an infographic, the release of a single piece of unique data or an entire interactive, is a stressful job. But when it works, it’s one of the most rewarding roles in Digital Marketing. Creating content that interests people enough to write about it is an amazing feeling, and it’s an art. An art you’ll want to perfect and enjoy, time and time again.

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