I’m teaching a course at Boston University: Strategic Creative Development

With a little help from my friends. Getting guest appearances from John Winsor, Sheena Matheiken, Helen Klein Ross and Daniel Stein

I’m a huge believer that we should constantly challenge ourselves by trying new things and starting from scratch sometimes. So my newest project is to teach a full semester at Boston University. Wish me luck.

The College of Communication has offered me the chance to develop a syllabus for a course titled Strategic Creative Development. Granted I’ve taught and run workshops, lectured at numerous colleges and even done a week long executive in residence at the University of Oregon. But all of that pales compared to what it takes to prepare for a full semester. I have a newfound respect for anyone who teaches.

There’s still a month to go before the semester starts, but here’s what I’ve got so far. Thought I’d share it in hopes that you might have suggestions for how to make it even better.

Course Description (what it will say in the syllabus)

Advertising strategy is no longer only about inspiring the creation of an ad. Today it has to inform how brands generate content, engage in the social stream, encourage participation, and create cohesion across all media. Likewise, creative concepts are no longer limited to the art and copy-based executions that defined creativity in the traditional media of TV, print and outdoor. They now include digital experiences, gaming dynamics, mobile utility, Facebook apps, crowdsourcing and experiences that connect the digital world and the real world.

In this course you will study, dissect, analyze and conceive creative ideas that include traditional advertising, but that emphasize social media, digital platforms, mobile apps and gaming dynamics to understand how brands connect with consumers in the new age of participation.

By the end of the semester you should have a broader definition of “creative” and some experience in generating ideas that take into consideration consumer participation, the role of influencers, the value in branded utility, and the importance of emerging social platforms.

Objectives for the course or why you are here

·     Learn to think, solve, create

·     Expand your definition of advertising creativity and possibilities

·     Understand the new roles and teams in the modern creative process

·     Practice generating creative ideas, working as teams

·     Get better at evaluating yours and others’ work

·     Push beyond the basics of traditional art/copy advertising ideas

What you’ll be asked to do

Attend class

We meet but once a week, so attendance is mandatory. Missed classes will lower grades by half a grade per class. Three missed classes lead to an F.

Actively participate

A teacher can’t really teach creativity, students have to learn it by exercising their thinking and doing muscles. We can only be successful if you play an active role in class, engaging, debating, asking questions, contributing to the conversation.

Write (to help you think and analyze)

Creatives and strategists have to express their ideas well. As part of our learning you’ll maintain a blog and post a minimum of 13 weekly blog posts (approx 400 words) with links and appropriate embedded content in fulfillment of assignments. Example: find an innovative transmedia campaign, identify objective, back out audience/community, determine strategy, assess creative.


Over the course of the semester each of you will make three or four stand up presentations of that week’s blog post content and findings.

Maintain an Idea Book and generate creative solutions

I haven’t totally figured this out yet, but am inspired by Professor Deb Morrison at U of O and her book on the creative process.

Develop campaign(s)

Work over the course of the semester will include individual assignments and a semester long team project.  The latter will consist of developing insight, strategy, driving brand idea, and campaign elements that include social media, mobile, experiential, utility and advertising.

Work/think/create all the time

Creating and thinking doesn’t happen in an allocated three-hour time slot once a week. Nor does it occur during the hours you schedule to do “homework.” It is a way of being and living. You want to learn to observe, discover, capture and develop creative ideas all the time. Inspiration is in the books you read, the movies you see, the museums you visit, the subways you ride. Learn to be open to it.

The Semester (presuming things go as planned)

Every class will include a brief lecture from me, student presentations, a full hour of workshop and creative development and in many cases guest speakers. Some pretty good ones I might add, presuming client presentations and new business pitches don’t get in the way.  (Don’t worry, Matt Britton: I will find a place for you.)

January 23:  The End of Us and Them

The transition from Bernbach to Zuckerberg

Creating in an age when readers and viewers want to create, too

January 30: Strategy in the age of participation

What is the brief, what does it look like, what does it inspire?

Guest:  Kelsey Hodgkins, digital strategist/planner, Mullen

February 6:  Is the big idea dead or alive?

Do we need them? Integration vs cohesion

Guest:  Dave Weist, Tim Vaccarino, ECDs Mullen (VW, Cadillac, Jet Blue, Google)

February 13: Social from within

Being social vs using social

Guest: Daniel Stein, CEO and Founder of EVB, creator of Elf Yourself and Facebook Studio

February 22 (Tuesday make up)

Surprise visit from young creatives who’ll work with the class on their projects while I am away for the week.

Week 27:  Transmedia story telling

Complex narratives that inspire participation

Guest:  Helen Klein Ross, Founder Brand Fiction Factory, Betty Draper on Twitter

March 5:  Strategic and creative in the mobile space

Where on the funnel?  Adding value through utility

Guests:  Mike Schneider, author of LBS for Dummies, Chief Innovator at Allen and Gerritson; Brenna Hanly, mobile catalyst and strategist at Mullen

March 19: Learning from the individual

What we learn from Gary Vaynerchuk, Sheena Matheiken, Dan Savage, et.al.

Guest:  Sheena Matheiken, founder/creator The Uniform Project

March 26: Creating experiences and owning the media

Go Mo, Shocking Barack, Chalkbot and more

April 2:  Crowdsourcing

A new marketing and creative tool/strategy

Guest:  John Winsor, Founder/CEO of Victors and Spoils

April 9: Inventing things

The importance of technology, innovation and APIs

Guest:  Matthew Ray, Creative Technologist

April 16: Thinking Small

Make great stuff with small budgets

Guests:  Michael Bourne, SVP Social Media and Michael Ancevic, SVP/CD on Olympus Camera’s Will it Blend, Pen Ready and Tough

April 23:  Do brands need a soul?

Having a purpose. Richard Branson, Alex Bogusky, Simon Mainwaring

Guest:  Scott Henderson, Founder of Rally the Cause

April 23:  Bringing it all together

Presentations from semester long projects

If I don’t suck, it will in part be due to the generous advice from the likes of Professors Tom Fauls, Deb Morrison, William Ward, Tracy Tuten and Scott Sherman. And insightful suggestions from some of the smart young professionals I work with, including Brenna Hanly, Angela Ruffino, Elena Romeu and Eli Perez de Gracia.

What do you think?  Got any suggestions that might help me out?


Bits Pilani Dubai
Bits Pilani Dubai

Oops I landed here pretty late, any updates on the course Edward?


Looking at this, I also wish to be a student and take an active part. I remember my last year, when I needed this creativity badly, as I had to cope with numerous papers.  Probably, it was too late to think about the development of suck skills and I was just glad to find this resource http://britishessaywriter.co.uk/case-study/ .  However, I hope there are students for whom it will become more realistic and they will be able to share their experience.


I think a good exercise for creative strategy would be to have everyone in the class write a brief, make them believe they will have to execute it, but then tell the students they actually have to switch and come up with ideas from someone else's brief.

I know you said it's not about execution, but I think there's a value in being forced to create ideas from a strategy in which you had no input and in seeing what someone else would create from your strategy. It could be a practical way to learn about/discuss the relationship between strategy and creative. All my experiences as a student were 1) write a strategy to send into a blackhole, 2) write a strategy for yourself, or 3) do creative with no strategy.


It would be wonderful if you could somehow "package" this syllabus for communications programs across the country. Also, will you be teaching them how to brainstorm throughout the semester? I don't think many classes give students the tools to actually ideate.


Congratulations, Edward. Don't forget Plato's Republic. All creative development is the result of Plato's theory of Forms. It just is.


Looks great, wish I were a student.

Have you considered a session exploring the marriage of creative and the media channels? With the biggest consumer trend being "concurrent media use," it would be intriguing for a session on how to plan creative that uses integrated media touchpoints -- and allows the media touchpoints to inform the creative idea.

For instance, "engagement" is one goal of today's social media advocates, yet it is fleeting. If I "like" a coffee chain, you get one touch (or maybe two with Facebook's sponsored stories, etc.). The problem is twofold: the "like" may not be true engagement and simply a button push of the user, and for the receive one impression fails to meet classic media influence, which requires frequency. At scale, social engagement campaigns have a similar failing in that the bell curve of interest spikes and fades very quickly (we are no longer talking about Skittles). The integration of paid media channels with earned media can build frequency to seed social on the front end of engagement and extend impressions on the back end.

This is very complex, because media channels all have different utility in broadcast, receipt, response, creation-enablement and engagement. Might be interesting to see a session that shows the integrated landscape of media options, the strengths and challenges of each, and how each of these levers is a tool with a role to play in turning creative into an implementation strategy that influences consumer behavior.


This curriculum looks fantastic, Ed, and your students will benefit from the breadth of your approach to teaching this class.

One suggestion I have from my days of teaching conceptual thinking for designers many moons ago is to also arm your students with as many tools to encourage lateral and associative thinking as possible. It's true, you can't teach creativity, but you can give them ways to think about how to look at problems differently, from varying perspectives, and various contexts. I'm sure there are many great sources for this kind of approach to thinking, but I find Jonah Lehrer to be great in terms of connecting things you might not think of between observable human behaviour and neuroscience...just one of many pathways to venture down.

Anyways, just thought I'd throw that out there. Tell M Ray hi for me and let us know how it goes.

Cheers, Toby



It sounds like an amazing class. I really like your idea of maintaining an idea book. What are your required text books for the class?