Brainstorms are one of the most fun parts of the communications planning process. You get to remove restrictions from your mind, pretend there are no limits and be as creative as you like.
The trouble is, most brainstorms suck.
Most brainstorms focus entirely on tactics... on coming up with ideas in whatever way you can. You end up with ideas in search of a strategy. People then try to craft a strategic framework around it to justify the "big idea" to the decision maker.
If course, decision makers love the big idea. It's glamorous; they can get excited. The strategy seems to fit with the idea, too (because you made sure it did).
The critical filter to apply is: do the ideas and the strategy flow back up to the objectives at hand?
You won't make many friends if you only push this line of thinking towards the end of the process, especially if you keep pressing the issue. People will often have to admit to themselves that there isn't a fit there, and you'll become the bad guy. EVERY communications person out there thinks they come up with strategic ideas, whether it's true or not.
Instead, try to rig the process from the beginning. Pull a smaller group together and figure out the strategic approach you want to take to the issue at hand. Pull that into a briefing and make sure everyone has read it before the brainstorm. Review it again at the beginning of the session. Then, take the handcuffs off and brainstorm away with the same freedom as before.
Finally, at the end of the session (either with the group or separately), filter the ideas through that strategic approach and see which ones stick.
The result: ideas led by a strategy that hits the business need, not the other way around.
Make sense? How do you ensure your brainstorms are effective?