The problem with creative briefs

Creative briefs don’t speak your language. They speak the language of the advertising agency or the public relations firm or designers. Whoever is writing the brief.

They give a nod to target audiences and your market position. They prattle on a bit about your company profile to make you feel good. Somewhere in there is the reason why the project is being initiated or opportunity afforded or problem highlighted. There’s usually a line or two about tone of voice (which is so subjective as to be pointless). There’s always bullet points about brand requirements. Sometimes there’s a budget. Usually there’s a deadline. Always there are mandatories. Oh, and let’s not forget to leave room for any additional information they can’t fit anywhere else.

There’s a bit of toing and froing (which eats up valuable time) before you sign off, hoping all the bases are covered. Usually it runs two or three pages in small print with lots of words and phrases in bold. Which again defeats the purpose. You can’t highlight everything. When it lands with the creatives a few days later, they skim it for inspiration and then sigh. You’re lucky if they read past the first page. Who does?

Not surprisingly the advertising brief produces the same old advertising. Why wouldn’t it? It was written by the advertising agency in advertising agency language mainly to move advertising agency inventory purchased months earlier.

Same goes for the public relations brief and design brief. It produces solutions couched in their language, not yours. Not the language of your brand.

Your brand doesn’t get through. Their brand does. For most corporations, the brand walks out the door of the advertising agency, public relation company and design shop every night.

Stupid, right. Even worse it produces communications at war with itself. The public relations doesn’t extend the advertising which obfuscates the design. So your audience is getting mixed messages. Sometimes they cancel each other out, sometimes they cause cognitive dissonance. (Yes, that uncomfortable feeling when somebody is lying to you.)

You need to write your own creative briefs in your own language with your brand values front and center. You need to write inspiring creative briefs that align the brand regardless of medium.

Take a single sheet of paper. It can’t run any longer than one page or it won’t be read. Leave the margins wide enough for doodling ideas.

Write down and answer the following three questions.

  1. What do we want?
  2. Why do we need it?
  3. What’s stopping us from getting it?

Print this out on your letterhead. Hand it to your agency executive, public relations suit, designer, whoever. Give them a budget and a deadline. They might jot the numbers in the top right hand corner. They’re not that important.

What’s important is that the desire of the project is first and foremost. Followed by the reason why. (20 percent uptick in sales in the next quarter is not a real need. You’ll have to dig deeper to unearth the real reason that inspires people to give you their attention and hopefully their money.)

The reason why you need it is the reason why you exist as a company, as a brand. It will be a fundamental and universal need. This need runs across all disciplines. It unites all media, all offerings, all communications.

The third question is the doozy. What’s the opposing force? It may be a competitor. It may be an entrenched mindset. It may be a myriad of things.

Pick one. Make it the strongest opposing force possible. This is key. The stronger the opposing force, the stronger the creative solution will be.

Think of every piece of communication that has ever inspired you. A company or product or service or brand or character overcame a supposedly insurmountable obstacle to triumph in the end.

People will only pay attention to communications when something is at stake. The more that’s at stake, the more attention you’ll get. This is critical because it builds interest. No interest and no one cares. Why would they?

It doesn’t matter who you hand such a brief to. The end result will align to the same brand values. Hand it to a creative director, copywriter, art director, photographer, illustrator, filmmaker, designer, producer, programmer, architect, webhead and what they produce will express and reinforce your brand values.

Everything will align to build value rather than distract.

Everything will be consistent and true.

Everything will be right.


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