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I’m seeing an excellent trend in the non-profit sector. More organizations are seeking out talented creative professionals to provide them with storytelling resources in the form of design, video & branding. This is a great trend, and will only help to solidify an organization’s ability to communicate in meaningful ways. But how do you make it work for you?

In my work with non-profits, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great relationship between an organizational leader and a creative person. I have the unique perspective of being on both sides, both “herding cats” with my creative team to get work in on time, and engaging the work myself as a travelling filmmaker & photographer. As such I’ve got a unique perspective on what makes a creative relationship work.

There are some basics that are generally true of good leadership: being kind, hiring good talent, paying people fairly, setting clear objectives & timelines, creating open communication lines, leaving room for failure and so on. This is more the nuts-and-bolts of creative work. How do you give leadership in the creative realm?

1. Know What You Believe

Many creative works begin at a core, gut level. We seek out beauty & art in our world because it connects at a place deeper than language. The “Why” behind the work of your organization is an essential starting point for all creative work. Know what those beliefs are and do your best to communicate them. These are the building blocks of your brand, regardless of design, and will help create consistency across many creative pieces.

2. Less is More

Often the temptation is to clutter creative work with more: more text, more explanation, a bigger logo. Resist. Let the creative piece do its work to communicate in a language other than words. Show; don’t tell. Leave room for visual elements in the design. Give space in your videos for music, editing & facial expression to say what words can’t say.

3. Intuitive Insight

Good creatives work at a level that is more emotional than literal. This sometimes takes time and can lead to wrong turns when a definite feeling finds difficulty in expression. Give room to translate between the world of beliefs & emotions into the practical realm of communication. Be patient with tangents and be ready to get back to basic beliefs when things go off track. Learn to trust those with good instincts and allow them to guide the process from their core set of beliefs.

4. Know Your Audience

In translating from the world of beliefs to the visual world of design & images it’s essential to know who you’re talking to. Who are is your audience? What do they care about? What core beliefs do you share? What’s the reason they should listen to you? Work through these questions as you start a creative project so that you can clearly communicate the answers to your creative professionals.

5. Know Your Story

Any organization should know its five core stories. These form the basis of its brand. I’ll get into those in another post, but for now: know what gap it is in the world that you are trying to fill. That gap (and who it’s for) should always form the centre of any activity by your organization. When it comes to creative work, your core story forms a rich background out of which to create the specific creative piece.

Bonus: Story helps run projects, too

Story helps to clarify. It’s a simple rack to hang our coat on, a place where we go to understand why we do what we do. It works as a communication tool; and also works as an organizational tool. Ask yourself what story you want to write with this project. What’s the end of the story – the happy ending where you feel like you’ve accomplished your goals? What stands in your way? Why are you on this mission in the first place? Answering these questions can help shape the story of the project itself, and clear up some difficult-to-communicate questions from the outset (such as setting clear objectives and giving feedback on the work).

I hope those are helpful to you! Light it up in the comments if you’ve got any feedback or stories of your own from working inside the creative process.

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  • Here’s a freebie: the two most common failures I’ve experienced in my creative work with clients:
    1. Being overridden (with often disastrous results) by people not familiar or involved with the creative process.
    2. Lack of communication about objectives and/or the direction of the work.