After Candy and Caffeine: How to Get Creative When You’re Out of Ideas

A deadline is looming. A blank page glares at you from your laptop screen. You’ve had three vats of coffee in as many hours, along with several pieces (it was boxes, but we won’t tell) of candy from a post-Valentine’s Day sale at CVS.

And still the answer eludes you.

Your project just needs that one big, brilliant idea. But you’re out of ideas!

You contemplate spilling your coffee on your laptop so you can tell IT that it broke and buy time while you wait for a replacement (or a stroke of genius) to arrive. You brew a fourth vat of coffee…

We’ve all been there. Many, many times. Channeling creativity can prove a challenge for anyone, no matter what field you work in or how seasoned you may be in your career. And if there’s a deadline (and there’s always a deadline), creativity can feel even more elusive.

But we have tips we’ve put to the test to get those creative engines running when your typical sources of fuel, like candy or coffee, are failing to ignite.

We asked CCAH staff in a variety of positions, from data and analytics to graphic design and production,  “How do you brainstorm when you’re out of ideas?”

While many ideas bubbled up*—some from under heaps of foil candy wrappers—one response emerged again and again:

Collaborate!

When you’re in a rut, bringing in reinforcements always seems to help. Recruiting a team with wide-ranging expertise and experiences can be just what you need to get unstuck.

“When I’m out of ideas, I turn to my coworkers for inspiration!” said Rebecca Barton, Account Representative. “We have so many creative people who are doing innovative package techniques, so whenever I hit a roadblock, I will ask the people around me what they think and, through that collaboration, usually find exactly what a package was missing.”

How you collaborate is also important: Creating a space where everyone can contribute freely and openly will likely yield the best results.

“I’m a fan of collaborating with others. I think the key is creating an open conversation where everyone can share whatever goes through their mind — the good and terrible ideas, stuff that is inside and outside the box,” said Will Kraiger, Vice President. “Sometimes even the terrible ideas shed light on something that can move the conversation to the right place.  You can always reject, edit, and refine things after the brainstorm is over.”

But what if there’s no one else around? We hear you, remote employees! If you can’t get a group brainstorm together, here are a few other ideas to turn to when ideas are what you need.

Do something totally unrelated to the task at hand.

Take your dog for a walk, do yoga, draw, or just work on a different type of assignment. Engage in anything that lets your brain take a break from the challenge but keeps you engaged.

Do nothing.

Well, almost nothing. Meditate! The benefits of mindfulness are well documented, so we won’t recap them here. But, om my, meditation came up enough times in our informal survey that we’d be remiss not to add it to our list.

Go outside.

A change of scenery can bring a change of perspective and help you get out of your headspace. And if there are downsides to sunlight and fresh air, we’ve yet to hear of them.

Keep an idea bank.

Always be prepared. Chances are, most of us will hit a creative block at some point in our work. So it’s helpful to keep a running list of creative concepts and ideas you can go to for inspiration whenever you’re stumped on a particular challenge.

Whether it’s deep breathing or sipping tea, doing Crossfit or watching “Brain Games” on National Geographic, we uncovered countless ways our staff tap into their creative energy. But above all, collaboration is—for all of us at CCAH—at the very heart of the process. It’s how we spark ideas, spur innovation, and find creative solutions to the tough challenges. Want to join the conversation? Work with us!

*Disclaimer: Our tips for channeling creativity have not been scientifically tested, but they have been personally attempted by at least one or more CCAH team members who seem to like them. However, we believe you should always talk to your doctor before taking up new activities or quitting caffeine.

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The Importance of Co-Ops: A Must Have for Acquisition

In direct mail acquisition, it is essential to continually integrate testing into each campaign in order to stay fresh and avoid fatigue. Industry go to’s for testing in direct mail are package and list testing, as these can help ensure an acquisition program stays up-to-date. But, if you want to up your testing game, cooperative database model testing is essential to staying on top of the charitable market. Modeling makes a HUGE difference in direct mail acquisition! There are a diversity of Co-Op databases and models available that all offer a variety of products which are designed to find the best donors possible for your organization. 

To drill down a bit -- Co-Ops provide a variety of models, such as response or profile, and can also assist with optimizing house data, such as deep lapsed or petition signers, which can more effectively identify the most responsive names. They can even provide models built with specific goals in mind! Whether you are trying to leverage maximize response rate, increase average gift, decrease your investment per donor, etc. Employing models and house file optimization along with traditional outside lists can help improve acquisition performance or boost specific campaign goals.

One of the best ways to leverage Co-Op usage is to join several Co-Ops, test which ones provide the best results over time, and focus usage on the top 3-4 based on those results. Participating with multiple Co-Ops provides more access to new pools of potential donors that are likely to respond to your organization and package.

As always, it is important to keep testing! Each Co-Op and model have their own unique aspects that may work better in certain seasons or with certain packages. Working with your Co-Op contact can help devise solid testing strategies for new models or utilization of existing models, and also finesse these models to best fit your unique organization. There are huge pools of donors out there and Co-Ops can help you identify and access them!

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Client Spotlight: the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation

CCF_Logo_V_Pos_4CThe Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer-fueled organization dedicated to finding cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improving the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases. CCAH began partnering with the Foundation on their direct marketing efforts—direct mail and digital—in 2017, just as the Foundation was celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Testing Innovative Formats

At CCAH, we’re always looking for ways to entice donors and prospects to support our clients, and it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd. The DMAW recently hosted its annual Innovative Formats seminar and provided a platform for direct mail professionals to explore a variety of effective tactics. Senior Vice President of Production, Shannon Murphy co-chaired the event and invited several vendors from across the country to present new and exciting formats that they can produce.

CCAH Shines at MAXI Award Ceremony

For the 23rd consecutive year, CCAH took home more MAXI awards than any other direct marketing agency. To be exact, CCAH won eight MAXIs–one gold, three silver and four bronze–for outstanding direct marketing campaigns executed on behalf of seven different clients across three different channels.