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GUEST BLOG: CHRIS MEASURES - Collaboration – the name of the game
This month sees the 2015 Brains Eden Gaming Festival. Held in Cambridge every year the event brings together students, academics and games developers from across the UK and Europe, giving teams 48 hours to make original games based around a surprise theme. This year’s event runs from Friday 26th - Monday 29th June and also includes talks, careers advice and an exhibition of game artwork.
Looking at the event, and the rise of the whole gaming industry brought home to me the importance of collaboration in the creative arts. When I was first playing games on my ZX Spectrum a lot had literally been written in their bedrooms by teenagers with great ideas who did everything themselves. Since then games have become multi-million pound productions, bringing together the skills of multiple artists, coders, testers, musicians and many others. In contrast to the beeps that came out of my Spectrum my son now has a book of piano music from the latest Mario game, showing how far things have evolved.
Brains Eden provides an opportunity to supercharge collaboration – after all, like Idea Transform and other startup weekends, you have a very limited amount of time to develop an idea, often with people you’ve never met before. This calls for different skills than many people are used to – rather than simply being an expert in their field, they have to work together with others, listen and support. There is obviously a place to state your own opinions, but you need to do it in a way that is inclusive and positive, rather than just negative and disruptive.
This is exactly the same challenge that most marketers and creatives face in their everyday work. Very few campaigns or projects exist in isolation – they bring together different skills, all focused on a common aim. Take a new website – you’ll have a designer, someone coding the site, a copywriter, digital experts looking at SEO, and backend developers potentially linking it to other IT systems. And that’s before you start listing all the stakeholders in the client company who want to ensure that the new site meets their own needs.
Often the marketing manager is the piggy in the middle, mediating between the different aims, capabilities and ideas of everyone involved. However in some projects there isn’t anyone project managing on a day to day basis, leaving those involved to collaborate to get the job done. Based on my experience of this type of project (and attendance at a fair few startup weekends), I think creatives need to follow four golden rules if collaboration is going to work:
1 Agree a clear plan and objectives
Start with what you are aiming to achieve. What do you want to create, and by when? What is the budget? Once you know what you are aiming to do, everyone needs to agree a plan, who will do what and by when. Timescales have to be realistic, but take into account other people – certain things have to be done in order, so organise workloads logically and check what is required for each phase of the project.
2 Respect your collaborators
This is where it can get tricky. You might think you can do a better job than one of the other marketing people on the team, and even that their skills aren’t up to much. However playing politics will just disrupt the project, leading to delays and even potential failure. In that case no-one wins – and it is likely that the client will blame everyone involved in the fiasco, losing goodwill and future business. Respect doesn’t mean shutting up if you see things going wrong – if deadlines are missed that impact your work you are perfectly within your rights to make it clear why things have slipped. But do it in an above board way, rather than with a knife in the back.
3 Communicate, communicate, communicate
It never ceases to amaze me that marketers – people who are paid to be communicators – often fail to talk to or update clients and colleagues about progress on pieces of work. If you think you’re going to miss a deadline flag it in good time. Equally, if as the project evolves you believe something could be done another way, communicate it and get buy-in from anyone it might affect. Don’t just do it and hope for the best.
4 Get it in writing
Many projects end in recriminations based on who did (or didn’t) do what and by when. So document and plan things in writing. Whether using Google Docs or something like Basecamp make sure everything is clear, accessible and can be updated by everyone involved. Meet regularly for updates to check things are going forward as per the plan. But don’t overload your collaborators with details – they don’t need to hear a blow by blow account of the three days you’ve spent searching for a photo, they just want to see the end result.
Just like creating a game, delivering a marketing project takes multiple skills from multiple people. And, while most assignments don’t have the short, pressured timescales of a Brains Eden-style event, they can be equally testing over a longer timeframe. Following the key rules above should help to reduce friction and deliver the right result – after all, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.
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