As summer draws to a close, I’m gearing up for open enrollment season. Communications consultants and HR staff face the brunt of challenges during the season.
As a designer, I manage much of the production, print fulfillment and mailings. Designers don’t develop tactics, answer employee questions, or oversee a large campaign. We have our own challenges to face. Let’s take a look at what goes into creating client campaigns throughout the season.
Our communications team talks to our consultants to discuss which clients are returning. We review how those clients received last years’ tactics. We ask what we can do to improve those tactics or propose fresh ideas to install for their new campaign.
Have any of our clients had any major changes to their business? Mergers, growth, down-sizing? Do any of the clients’ materials need a refresh? We could discuss with them the possibility it’s time to consider a major campaign update. As clients update brand guidelines and add new benefits, does their content look like a hodge-podge of updates? Also, we take stock of what new clients have knocked at our door. Out of all the proposals we made over the winter and spring, which client looks promising? What is the possibility of new clients that we never even took into account?
As we get deeper into August, we begin to get a better view. We fill in spreadsheets with more detail and assign staff to clients. Clients start to confirm their open enrollment dates. We talk to our printers and ask for revised quote, trying to get better prices and securing press space. By now, all last year’s files have been cleaned up and are ready to go. We hold weekly meetings to bring new team members up-to-speed and discuss the tactics and concerns of our clients.
We begin to research new clients to interpret their brand guidelines and capture their aesthetic . Working with clients’ design, marketing, branding and HR staff , we create templates for their new content.
For current clients requesting a re-design, we put the finishing touches on their revised look. The team is familiar with clients’ previous challenges, letting us to prepare the changes that will come to their plans.
Most importantly, we rest and take time off, while things are still calm.
Once Labor Day passes, the pace has begun to change, rapidly. More and more emails go between consultant and client. Things are begging to go into layout. Drafts pass back and forth. Printers and quantities are confirmed. Postage estimates start to come through. Finally, by the middle of the month, you realize open enrollment is here.
The first few campaigns make their way to press and mailing invoices need to be paid ASAP. Small, inevitable delays in production cause jobs to be sent to press a day late. But, our always savvy printers have already taken delays into account and fulfill requests by the mail date!
When I first came onboard, open enrollment was described to me as a wave. Just before it comes to shore, there is a drawback, then a small surge, then before you know it you are riding the crest of the wave. Before you know it, the wave has dissipated and you are back in the calm again. It’s really the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the period.
By now we are riding the crest of the wave. If you have done your homework and worked your best to prepare, it’s a blast. While everything is down to the wire, the rush of rapid turnaround does not leave any time for indecisiveness. We make decisions quickly and hammer out projects with speed and efficiency. It’s not unheard of to have daily deadline. Hundreds of emails that need your attention and response flood your inbox. The headset of your phone is permanently attached to our ears as we call printers with last minute changes and updates on any delays.
As October closes, things begin to wind down. We still ride the wave, but it’s lost much of its energy. Final jobs make their way out the door. We see print samples and mailing seeds. Our focus moves from communications to the implementation of employee benefits by the end of the year. Campaigns draw to a close and by Thanksgiving, things are ‘normal.’
Of course, with all our prep, our open enrollment season will be text book perfect! I’m prepared, are you?
Welcome to our new blog! The first topic I wanted to talk about is creativity, or better yet, the process of becoming creative. You know that term you think about when you want to come up with ideas to change up your living room, finally sit down to write that exciting novel, or even effectively communicate benefits to your employees. It’s sometimes painstaking to think about, but can be an essential part of everything we do. Whether you start by not having any idea at all, or you have an idea and don’t know where to start—just let it happen! This is how we all begin when trying to come up with something new and different.
Creativity is not a skill, or something that you can be taught—it is digging into YOU and pulling out those imaginative thoughts that are already there. Having a Graphic Design background, I am always looking for new ways to come up with simple and engaging communications. I have come to realize that finding your creative self takes effort in thinking outside of your ordinary comfort zone. It requires exploring new and different ways of doing things. Don’t be scared, just do it—say the idea out loud or write it down and make it real. It can possibly work to your advantage in the end.
My creative process is finding inspiration from people I talk to and places I visit, and jotting down information (whatever comes to mind) that I may or may not use. The point is that it is important to take note of things you come across because you never know when or where they may be useful. Working at Trion, I have learned to think more openly and freely about how to approach my everyday tasks and how to apply my creative process to help communicate employee benefits and wellness to our clients.
For example, after rambling through all of my thoughts on a newsletter cover idea for one of our clients, I finally stepped away, referred to my book of notes and envisioned myself seeing the result through their eyes. Focusing on the needs of our clients and what they represent is a crucial part of this process. In the end, it worked out well, and I was able to produce a cover page that was both appealing and pleasing to the client.
Therefore, when you’re trying to find inspiration for a project, mix things up a little, take risks and see what happens. You may be surprised and proud of what you can accomplish. Being creative is there within us all and it may mean something different for all of us. Finding your process to come up with new ideas may take time and energy, but trust that the ability is there.
As a great woman once said…“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
― Maya Angelou
I’ve come to realize something important about the brainstorming/creative process: some ideas are more important than others.
Now, that’s different than the age old saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” What I’m suggesting is that some ideas carry more weight than others. Some propel the creative process forward, some help it change direction, and others are simply that great idea. Either way, brainstorming and acknowledging the fluidity of the creative process is the key to understanding how to develop an effective, unique communications strategy.
As you know, strategies are built upon a foundation of ideas. How do we want to communicate the implementation of a Consumer Driven Health Plan (CDHP)? How should we brand a health and wellness initiative for a retail food store chain?
There are a few different steps that lead to successful idea generation. But the catch is that they don’t always occur in the same order. This lack of linearity can help us understand this sometimes unpredictable process. Check out how I’m breaking down the creative brainstorm:
- Prepare: This is where you dive in—immerse yourself in the information, absorb relevant facts, statistics, opinions of subject matter experts. By gaining a solid foundation of background information, you’ll be better equipped to generate meaningful ideas.
- Incubate: This step is where the information you’ve gathered starts to churn. You’ll start to see how different thoughts and opinions relate to each other. It’s important not to rush it—sometimes it can take minutes, hours, weeks or even months. But you also need to work with what you’ve got, like when you’re pulled into a quick brainstorming session and you have one hour to come up with a new brand. Don’t let timing limit your ability to think outside of the box.
- Recognize the “aha” moment: As ideas begin to mature, you’ll experience an epiphany of some sort. Your thoughts come together in a way that makes sense. Although the smallest part of the creative process, this moment is often pivotal in finding one of those great ideas.
- Evaluate: This part of the process is where you decide if the “aha” moment is worth pursuing. In other words, should you ask your peers what they think? Should you seek client approval before moving forward? This step often presents a challenge because of limited time and a large amount of ideas. That’s why it’s important to take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, “Does this particular idea have merit?”
- Elaborate: Typically the final stage, this is when you will do the actual work. Whether you test the idea, work through it, or collaborate with your peers to add to it, the process of elaboration is the most tangible of the creative brainstorming steps.
I hope these stages help you to wrap your arms around the lofty creative process. Keep these steps in mind when you’re tasked with developing an idea—with your team, for a client, or for another reason entirely. And remember, whether your idea was a building block, or the “be all-end all”, your contribution to the creative process is necessary. So, don’t be afraid to jump in!
Sources: www.jamestaylor.com, www.smallbusiness.com, www.psychologydiscussion.net