I should start off by saying that I’ve worked with some amazing planners and account handlers who’ve written amazing, wonderful Creative Briefs. They’re some of the smartest people in the industry and great thinkers should be celebrated, whatever their role. Great planners and brief writers are to be cherished.
I’d also like to point out I’m not going to be setting in stone what I outline here. This is just a snapshot in time right now with my observations and feelings. I’m not claiming to know all the answers or suggest a Creative Brief should be locked down in one style or another. In fact, it is an almost impossible task to create something that works for all the different styles of creators out there.
So now we’ve got that bit out the way I’d like to talk about the Creative Brief. The agency one to be precise. The client brief is a whole different story.
These observations come from the many agencies I’ve worked at, speaking to people at workshops, conferences and in various departments. This isn't about any particular agency or process. Just a mash up of things I've seen and heard.
So here it goes. Let's start.
Lots of creatives don’t find briefs useful.
In fact, some even re-write the brief, others will ignore it. They'll take out the basics and skim over the rest. Not out of malice, it is just a lot of the times they're not finding anything new or inspiring in the brief. This is specially true when it feels copied and pasted together with generic audience insights. We want bespoke fresh creative but we're given tired observations and recycled briefs.
So, I thought I’d have a look from my point of view what I feel briefs need to be and what they should bring to the agency process. 5 points in no real order and presented here as topics to discuss.
1) Excite and inform
The clearest thing you can do here is to inform me of what the problem really is. What am I being asked to solve. This has to be delivered in an exciting way. Putting “Client wants to run a new campaign for their product” is informative but it doesn’t excite me as a creative.
“We’re going to help change the conversation about XXXX as our clients product will help everybody do XXXXX” is getting there. It is adding in some potential, some excitement. I feel like there is a challenge there for me to be part of.
Be clear with the challenge, the problem that we the agency can solve and what value we can deliver to the client.
2) Observations Vs Insights
I’ve seen lots of briefs that have these style ‘insights’ – “Our audience loves experiences” or “90% of our audience are on social media”. Those for me are just observations. No creative magic in there from the brief. That is just outlining what we know.
Why do they value experiences? Have a deeper look and pull out something that could be an insight. Do they love experiences as they’re looking for things to share socially? Are they limiting the amount of experiences to bigger ones that can then be shared with friends? Perhaps they want experiences with friends due to the fact they are limited with their time and want to make the most of friendships and quality time together? Let’s explore the observation. Keep asking those questions until we get to a human truth.
Then in this case, our work doesn’t need to be just about the experience but what the experience delivers for our audience.
Let’s look at what drives the observations. Not just presenting them in a brief without pulling out the threads that could open up new routes.
For me this is looking at the issue behind the issue. Keep asking until we find the true problem and audience insight that can help us solve it
3) Be honest with me
Give me a budget. It can just be an indication. Nothing is worse than a brief that is left without a budget or indication of spend. I’d rather be smart with a small budget than work large and try and scale back.
A big idea doesn’t need millions but let’s start with letting us know what we are working with. What are our restrictions, it should be part of the creative brief to solve a problem within a certain restriction. I’ve made campaigns that have reached millions on tiny budgets. That’s okay. We’re problem solvers we’ll know how to find a way but don’t let us work for weeks and then tell us there is no budget.
4) I know how to Google
I want to know interesting things about our audience. I want to get to know them. I know how to Google like everyone else. I have access to similar tools for research. What I don’t have is time to discover everything on my own. We’re a team. So please help me get to know the audience.
Again, observations are useful but they’re not going to help us discover something new together. I don’t need to know that “millennials use Facebook and WhatsApp” or “Our audience likes games on their iPhones”. Think of the value of what you’re putting into the brief. Tell me about the games they play, the reasons, when, why, how. Give me something that gets me closer to them. Guide me to the interesting and build bridges to my audience.
5) The process isn’t a handover
We’re on the same side. We’re a team. The process of the brief isn’t a one shot. We need to work together to refine the insights. To explore. I can explore creative and you can explore the audience. When I push back on a brief I’m not being awkward, I’m trying to make a better brief. I’m asking the dumb questions, I’m asking for clarity as I want us to make sure we’re all on the same path. I want us to enjoy this process together. To really get to the heart of the issue. That can be messy, that can mean us going back before we go forward but it should never mean dropping the brief and walking away.
I could go on but I want to put these down as thought starters for the conversation. To get Creatives and Planners alike thinking about briefs as triggers for possibility. A brief should be one of the most exciting moments in the advertising industry. Second only to seeing your work making a difference for your audience and clients. A highlight that leaves everyone hungry to deliver amazing work.
For the Creatives out there, engage with the brief. If it isn’t working for you, speak up. Challenge and explore with the Planning team. Make the brief better together. Don’t be polite, smile and then leave it on your desk. Planners want to give us great briefs but we have to engage too and tell them what we need. We need to think on what works for us and help them with the brief.
I was once told that the answer is always in the brief. That might not always be true but the excitement should always be there. Then together we’ll find the answer.