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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Molly Donovan on November 12th, 2019

Frameworks Top Marketers Use to Minimize Groupthink and Maximize Creativity in Their Content

November is Make the Case Month at MSR. Every week, we’ll load you up with the big-picture ideas and tactical tips you need to sell your  branded show concept to the “powers that be” within your organization. We know that shows are the best vehicle to help grow brand affinity among your customers; this month, we’re helping ensure everyone else at your company understands that, too. If you’re as pumped as we are, catch up on the content we’ve already published and subscribe for exclusive bonus content and conversations here.

Have you ever been in a meeting that has clearly gone off the rails, but people seem weirdly…ok with it? As in, someone’s half-baked suggestion from 20 minutes ago has taken on a complete life of its own, and the meeting has shifted to focus entirely on that single topic. You think the idea is, quite simply, bananas, but your colleagues are all nodding so vigorously that you start to wonder if maybe they’re onto something after all.

Ah, groupthink. A dangerous game of dominoes for any professional, but simply disastrous for a showrunner.

Groupthink disproportionately affects creative meetings, which already struggle to remain objective in the first place. When everyone in the room has an opinion, it can be easy to fall victim to a strong-willed (and -voiced) advocate of their own taste. The group’s quest to reach a consensus stifles creativity — the very reason for the meeting in the first place.

When you’re running a show, groupthink can be more than a nuisance. It can threaten your vision for your brand’s show, dilute the strength of the message you’re trying to convey, and undermine your authority as the single person accountable for the success of the show.

Ultimately, that is your role as showrunner: you’re the individual responsible for the creation, management, and success of an original series. That role and level of accountability often conflict with the groupthink tendencies that plague creative endeavors within organizations. As the “owner” of the show, it is incumbent upon you to think strategically about how you will minimize the forces that threaten to kill your show upon arrival without alienating your peers, discounting their ideas outright, and losing the buy-in you worked so hard to gain in the first place. It’s also your responsibility to tease out the best work from the collective brainpower in the room. It’s on you to maximize the group’s ability to contribute, not just mitigate the risks.

Shows are tricky, because everyone has seen or heard them before. Each member of your team has a favorite TV series or podcast. Every teammate likely has an opinion on what your company’s show should look like. And without a comprehensive understanding of the time, resources, and strategic planning needed to produce a differentiated series, your colleagues could come to the consensus that creating another run-of-the-mill interview show would be both easy and valuable for your brand — despite how commodified that approach has become.

When pitching a show to your team, you stand at a complicated juncture. You both need to solicit and gain support from your teammates — who will ultimately be responsible for helping you produce, disseminate, and pay for the show – and maintain creative control over the showrunning process. You want your colleagues’ input and advice, but you don’t want to cede the show concepting and planning to them entirely, particularly if they do not have as firm a grasp as you do on the work required to make the show differentiated and, well, actually good.

So how do you control the creative conversation, ensure you produce a solid show that embodies your brand and vision, guarantee your whole team champions (and continues to champion) the show, and welcome open dialogue without allowing your creative meetings to become a free-for-all? How do you, the show’s general, deploy the troops on your team so they can successfully carry out your ultimate mission: creating a show that doesn’t merely capture attention, but holds it?

Here’s how some of the brightest minds in marketing do it.

First Things First: Pump Everyone Up

As a showrunner, you will wear many hats. One such hat will be that of cheerleader – especially in the early days of your showrunning journey. It’s not enough for you to be excited about the show – you need everyone in your organization to be a superfan before it even launches. You need to make sure each role understands why you’re creating the show and how it will positively affect their jobs. You need to pump everyone up.

pump you up

Via Giphy

“Getting buy in from leaders across different departments was critical to the success of our first show, Beyond Black Friday,” says Alicia Thomas, Senior Marketing Manager at Klaviyo, and a two-time showrunner in her career. “I sat down with leaders in sales and met with members of our success organization to get their perspectives on what would be the best fit for our audience and the needs of our business. When we put together a project pitch it already had backing from across the organization.”

Cheerleading extends to your own team, too. 

“Instead of showing up and pitching a fully-baked idea, pitch your idea in a way that allows your CMO to build on the idea together,” recommends Andrew Davis, bestselling author and host of The Loyalty Loop. “The more they help shape it, the more successful you both will be.”

As the showrunner, how do you ensure your CMO — and entire marketing team — shapes the tone and tenor of the show while you still maintain accountability for its production? 

You need to divide and conquer, centralizing feedback you’ve solicited from your team. As you prepare to begin the creative meetings that will help you ascertain your show’s concept, episode format, and talent, continue to extract as much information as possible by having one-on-one conversations with your teammates about what excites them about the show, what reservations they might have, and any ideas they have or show concepts they’ve admired in the past. By collecting this anecdotal information individually, you can ensure that louder voices don’t drown out more reserved ones on your team. 

“Instead of showing up and pitching a fully-baked idea, pitch your idea in a way that allows your CMO to build on the idea together. The more they help shape it, the more successful you both will be.” – Andrew Davis

Don’t just tell your peers that you value their opinions and their creativity — show them you do by compiling their responses and reflecting their ideas in your creative brief and meetings. If you create an environment that demonstrates  structured appreciation for everyone’s opinions, your teammates will be more likely to continue to offer their opinions…and support the show.

Assign Your CMO a Distinct Job (Yes, Seriously)

I’ve found, paradoxically, that structure begets creativity. While you can’t plan for an “aha!” moment or organize your way to brilliance, you can reduce the noise, disorder, and — yes — groupthink that can interfere with emerging creativity. As you begin holding the meetings that will shape your show, prepare — and then prepare some more. 

“You need a plan. Don’t just wing it,” advises Ryan Estes, Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Frontline Education and host of their Field Trip podcast. “Put together a detailed creative brief. Workshop it with your team. Write down goals, KPIs, and get detailed about what you will do and how you will do it.” 

Importantly: you should also overprepare for the personnel element of showrunning. Before you begin your creative discussions, implement a RACI matrix for your team and assign each member — from copywriters to the CMO — a distinct role. 

Why is this necessary? When you embark on a large-scale creative project like a show, the lines between subjectivity and objectivity and between “should dos” and “must dos” can blur. A RACI matrix clearly indicates who on the team does what. It delineates who is:

Responsible: I.e., the people who actually do the work. On a show, this would include the researchers, writers, film crew, audio engineers, show host, etc. 

Accountable: I.e., the “buck stops here” person, who is accountable for the success or failure of the project as a whole. Dear showrunner, the accountable party is most likely you. 

Consulted: I.e., people your team consults for their opinion or expertise. On a show, this could be a selection of subject matter experts or cross-departmental leaders. 

Informed: I.e., people who receive regular reports on the status of the project. Your C-Suite most likely falls into this category. 

Entering early creative meetings with this structure firmly in place can help keep conversations focused. As the accountable party, you can set the tone for each meeting and come prepared with research, data, and early ideas that will set your show apart. If the meeting begins to veer off-course, you can gently nudge it back on track — because that’s your job. 

And how do you do that? Scheduling time to jump in a room and force creativity isn’t enough (nor is it even particularly effective). Because, at the end of the day, science shows that groups aren’t very good at generating ideas — individuals are. (Hence: curate ideas from colleagues on an individual basis before your creative meeting.) What are groups good at? Judging those individually-brainstormed ideas.

Once you’ve assigned your teammates to their designated spaces within the RACI matrix, flex your muscle as the accountable party and lead a true brainstorming session, in which you identify a central problem or goal then encourage collective assessment of individual ideas. To do this effectively and avoid succumbing to groupthink, all you need, according to MSR Founder Jay Acunzo, is a pack of sticky notes. By compiling individual ideas within a set amount of time then voting as a group on the best ones, you can make your creative meeting the productive encounter you always intended for it to be. 

Launched Your Show? You’re Not Done

Once your show has launched, you are not done managing internal expectations and attitudes. You need to keep your team involved and engaged post-launch, both so you can continue to refine and enhance the show you’ve created and so you can continue to leverage internal support for the show. Make a continuous feedback loop part of your showrunning process from the very beginning.

“You can (and should) launch your own continuous education program to your bosses,” says Joe Pulizzi, bestselling author and founder of the Content Marketing Institute. “This should be done every week or every other week, consistently. Teach them about what you are trying to do. Teach them about the benefits of long-term marketing and asset building. Most marketers don’t realize that the first thing they should do when they start a new job is develop an internal communications program. Internal needs to work for external to prosper.”

This continuing education program includes the various stakeholders of your show and presents you a dual opportunity: first, to explain the creative decisions you’ve made and demonstrate the effects of those decisions in near real-time. And second, it allows for a regular, structured time in which your team can make suggestions and share their own ideas to improve the show. 

“Most marketers don’t realize that the first thing they should do when they start a new job is develop an internal communications program. Internal needs to work for external to prosper.” – Joe Pulizzi

As showrunner, you need to maximize avenues toward creativity at every turn. By individually consulting your stakeholders, overpreparing for creative conversations, assigning distinct roles to each team member, and introducing regular opportunities for explanations and feedback, you can create the necessary structure for good ideas to germinate and thrive. Best of all, with a carefully planned approach to creativity, you can avoid the groupthink that threatens to undermine it — and derail your show before it begins. 


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A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.

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