The most important part of the brief that creative agencies are missing

In this guest post, Ogilvy Sydney's Ryan O'Connell asks if creatives have been looking at briefs all wrong.

Early in my career, I was taught that every single component of a brief was equally important. That the writing of every single word – no matter where it found a home on the brief – mattered, and should be well thought-out.

Background information, objectives, insight, strategy, proposition, brand personality, mandatories, channels, timings, budget, job number, success criteria, etc, all needed to be completed with care and consideration.

As I began working with countless creative teams, the only part of the brief that mattered to them became patently clear, and considering the creative team is the audience for the brief, it was worthwhile finding out what they deemed to be important.

Eye-tracking technology would unquestionably back me up when I say that the vast majority of creatives’ vision went straight to the proposition, followed by the budget.

To this exact point, a grizzled old veteran of this industry once snarled in my direction: “Hey mate. Tell me what you want me to f**king say, and how much f**king money I’ve got to say it. And then f**k off.”

OK, so there was some exaggeration in that quote for impact. He didn’t call me ‘mate’.

However, it was made abundantly obvious that, for creatives, the prop was the most important part of the brief.

Yet advertising has evolved to be more than just a message. More than just ‘What is the single most compelling thing we can say?’ More than just advertising. It’s now about solving the client’s business problem any way we can.

Which in turn means we need to see a shift away from the proposition, towards another part of the brief being considered the most important: the aforementioned ‘business problem’.

I’d actually argue it’s always been the most important part of the brief. After all, if you’re not solving the right problem, odds are you’re not going to find the right solution.

Abraham Lincoln put it very eloquently when he said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Spending the time getting the business problem exactly right is imperative. In fact, if you want to be controversial, you could make a case for the business problem being the only thing that should be on a brief.

Cynics would argue that if the business problem is the brief in its entirety, then the author is being extremely lazy.

More astute people would appreciate that a lot of hard work goes into properly identifying – and articulating – the business problem, rather than just relaying back the business objective. There’s a clear distinction between the two, yet I’ve seen them recklessly interchanged far too often.

The ‘objective’ is what the client hopes to achieve; the ‘problem’ is what’s preventing them from doing so.

Do the hard work upfront in establishing exactly what the problem is, then articulate it in a provocative and well-defined manner. Pair it with an insight that has a clear tension or implication, and you’ve nailed the two most important parts of the brief. Job done.

To be clear, this is not about downplaying ‘strategy’.

First of all, I quite like my job, and would prefer to keep doing it. I also have a mortgage, along with a baby that could enter the Olympics in the ‘eating’ category. So I’m not about to discount the importance of strategy in communications.

Secondly, and more importantly, I fundamentally believe that a well-articulated business problem has the strategy hard-baked into it. As the saying goes, ‘A problem well stated is a problem half solved’.

We should liberate creatives from some of the more superfluous and overly prescriptive parts of the brief, and allow them to focus on simply solving a well-defined problem, while arming them with a useful fact to exploit.

In short, allowing creatives to be . . . y’know . . . creative.

This leads to bigger thinking and bigger ideas.

And bigger thinking and bigger ideas is never, ever a bad thing.

Ryan O’Connell is the deputy head of strategy at Ogilvy Sydney


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.