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Creativity Squared: Coming up with the Worst Idea Possible to Spark Something Brilliant with Natalie Howells


Armadillo's lead copywriter on surrounding yourself with colour, knitting and why vague feedback tends to stifle creativity

Creativity Squared: Coming up with the Worst Idea Possible to Spark Something Brilliant with Natalie Howells

Natalie Howells is the lead copywriter at Armadillo – a CRM agency that uses first-party data to create incredible customer experiences and deliver unbeatable ROI for clients including McDonald’s, Disney, and Carnival Cruises. Within her role, Natalie leads on producing copy for interactive, engaging, and data-driven strategies.  

Prior to joining Armadillo, Natalie was responsible for creating the below-the-line copy for the Thomson rebrand to TUI, ran her own copywriting and content consultancy, and has led marketing teams for a number of digital agencies in the UK. 


It’s funny, for years I didn’t think of myself as a creative person. I think it stemmed from school, where being good at art was a prerequisite for being considered creative. And I’m terrible at art. 

It wasn’t until a guy I dated called me creative, and was stunned when I said I wasn’t, that I started to think more about what I do and how I express creativity. I’m a writer, I literally create worlds. As soon as I changed my internal narrative, I realised that creativity isn’t one specific thing, and that all people can develop and explore their creative selves in so many different ways. 

I’m drawn to colour – at work, people ask if I’m feeling ok if I’m not wearing bright colours, and my house is a collection of different colours, styles, and patterns across different rooms. I think I surround myself with colour because my main creative world is the black and white of words on a page. 

Outside of my work, I love to explore creativity in different ways, primarily knitting and painting but I also pick up different hobbies every five minutes (recently metal stamping and cross stitch). I think the ability to create something tangible, when my day-to-day creativity is much more digital, definitely helps unlock different parts of my creative brain. Plus, looking at something other than a screen has got to be better for my eyes! 


Did a piece of work achieve the goals it was created to achieve? That’s the biggest determiner of whether any creative was successful or not. I believe creativity is the mechanism by which that piece can succeed, not the success criteria itself. 

Some wonderfully creative campaigns over the years have achieved great accolades but have no way of knowing whether they resonated with the appropriate audience, whether they changed behaviour, or whether they ultimately achieved a return on their investment. 

Something truly creative might not be the big and shiny billboard with a brilliant copy line but a minor, less exciting campaign that gets people to do, think, or buy something. It’s easy to be creative if you don’t have any constraints, but when you’re working with a small visual area, a highly specific audience, or a non-sexy industry, creativity might look very different, so it comes down to the results as to whether or not it’s considered successful. 

When I was first starting out, I was drawn to the clever copy and visually arresting graphics. The big and bold. As I’ve grown in my career and leaned more into using data within creativity, I’ve found my creative criteria has become more focused on the context and the results. The best creative achieves something, that’s what makes it successful.   


Depending on what I’m creating – long-form copy, commercial copywriting, a CRM piece, a phone notification – I’ll have a different process. Usually, I’ll start in the middle. If I’m writing an email campaign, I never start with the subject line or the headline. It’s much easier to get going in the middle and work backwards. The same is generally true for an article or paper – save the important bits for when the story itself has already come together. 

I love a mind map – it’s the perfect way for me to get my interconnected thoughts to start creating the building blocks of a narrative. In particular, I love getting all of that onto a whiteboard, especially if I’m collaborating or explaining something. I like to use analogue tools for notes, ideas, and scribbling. I may do most of my work on a computer, but that tactile sensation of writing just makes me more connected to my ideas. Of course, multiple colours are a must in my notes!

When I get stuck, my ideal approach is to step away from what I’m working on and do something completely different. Actually, the thing that unlocks my creativity the most is doing something like the washing up – maybe it’s the mundanity that lets my subconscious get on with solving the problem, or maybe it’s the water, because a shower is somewhere else where inspiration falls into place.

If I’m stuck at the start of a project, my approach is to come up with the worst idea possible. How bad could I make this piece become? It’s a great way to step aside from preconceptions and the desire for perfection. And sometimes, part of that terrible idea might not be so bad, and might end up sparking something creative or brilliant. 


If we go right back to the beginning, I was an early reader. My parents read to me and my brother all the time, and I became enamoured with the world of words – I wrote my first story at age five. I even illustrated it! Reading, or should I say devouring, books has always been a huge factor in my creativity. I collect words and phrases that resonate with me. 

My office is full of things – many people would call it clutter, but I’ve embraced my maximalist tendencies. I tend to forget about things if they’re not in plain sight, so keeping everything handy means I don’t waste time and energy looking for things I need. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! If I’m in a bland or boring environment, my attention tends to wander, so surrounding myself with colour and stuff helps keep my creativity on task. 

Like many creatives, I do well with a lot to do and just not quite enough time. That nice level of stress. That said, there’s a fine line between not quite enough time and not nearly enough time, so I’d always recommend building in buffer time – when working with clients there’s always that one extra person who needs to sign something off. 

Talking of clients, I think one of the best things for getting the most out of a creative team or agency is to really think about the feedback you give. The best feedback I get is always focused on whether the creative is achieving the ultimate goal. Vague feedback tends to stifle creativity.

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Armadillo, Tue, 16 May 2023 15:31:00 GMT