The creative brief is the most important document an agency has

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.55.12 PMThe need for creative briefs from clients has caused some debate lately, but Craig McLeod argues it is needed now more than ever.

A lot has been written about the creative brief lately. Last year Patricia McDonald wrote a great piece entitled Planning for Participation. Or there’s Martin Weigel’s recent post: On the necessity of briefs, client briefs and creative briefs.

Or perhaps the RGA/Beats presentation in Cannes, in which Omar Johnston boldly stated, “Fuck briefs.”

It’s all very contentious
The creative brief may be evolving, but as long as we’re in the business of translating business problems into creative solutions, it will be necessary. So before we talk about how the brief needs to evolve, it is useful to discuss the principles that must remain the same. These may sound basic, but they remain as true as ever.

A creative brief is not a marketing brief

With advertising timelines getting tighter and tighter, often the creative brief is used to ‘reverse brief’ the client. This rarely saves time, nor does it lead to good work. A good client brief outlines business goals and communication objectives. This is essential.
Force the creative brief to do the job of a marketing brief and it will do neither.

A brief needs to make a strategic leap
The creative brief is not the marketing brief written in flowery language. It needs to take a genuine step forward. E.g. Marketing brief: Apple computers are very different to the market leader IBM.
Creative brief: Apple – The end of bland computer tyranny. Suddenly you have 1984. See the difference?

A creative brief is only the start of the creative process
If you’re looking for a comprehensive marketing strategy, a creative brief will look too thin and sharp. If you’re looking for a finished creative execution, a creative brief will look like a half-formed fetus. The best briefs are sparse and raw. A proposition is neither an idea, nor a tagline. It is the start of the creative process, and sometimes that stage looks a bit ugly.

A creative brief must be single-minded
A brief needs to prioritize one thought or behavior change above all else. The words ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘also’ ‘yet’ should be cautiously used in a creative brief. Bullet points should be eliminated. Any extraneous detail should be omitted. A creative brief is about clarity and precision.

A brief is for a creative team.
When writing a brief, the only audience who matter is the creative team you’re briefing. The brief should be adjusted to their personal working style, or if possible – written with them, or their creative director. Either way, everyone who wants to check or approve the brief needs to remember this essential fact. It isn’t written for them.

A creative brief must be useful
If a brief fails to inspire or direct a creative team, then it has failed. In this respect, it is far more important to be interesting, than to be right. This is why we don’t use words like Eco-system, Salience, Awareness, and Engagement. These are marketing words, and the creative teams are not marketers. Every word should be carefully crafted to trigger or inspire.
“Words are like time bombs. The right ones can explode inside us, demanding an original and exciting solution instead of a mediocre, pedestrian one.” – J. Shelbourne, ECD, JWT.

A creative brief should be brief
The less said here the better.

A creative brief must be connected to each of its parts

Regardless of the brief structure, every section should build support and build the other. The Proposition should solve or enhance the Problem. The Insight should provide some new perspective into the Target.
A well-written brief is as tight as a drum, with every word adding a new dimension to the whole.

The creative brief is a means to an end

Once the work is finished, no one will remember the brief. The public will never see it. Off the top my head I can recall just three of the briefs I’ve ever written. Some of them have lead to good work. Some have lead to great work. But they’re forgotten nonetheless. This isn’t me feeling sorry for myself; this is the way it should be. In the business of making ideas, it is only the ideas that matter, not the piece of paper that inspired them.

A creative brief is a guess

There is no perfect brief. There are only better guesses. There are lots of guidelines to good brief writing, but it’s hardly a science. Often great ideas fall out of bad briefs, and great briefs go nowhere. That’s the way of it. The creative briefing is more important than the paper brief, and the conversations between meetings more important still.

However, the written creative brief is still the most important document any agency has, and in the age of uncertainty, we need to protect it more than ever.

  • Craig McLeod is a planner at GPY&R Melbourne

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