EVERY project needs a creative brief. Here’s why. And how.

Almost every creative I speak to has a universal complaint. No, it’s not how much we’re NOT being paid for our work. No, the complaint is all about organization. Or lack of it, when we’re given projects.

These can be internal projects as well as jobs we’re getting from the outside.

The Big Fix: in the advertising agency world, ‘they’ realized that they were losing money hand over fist whenever a job started running off track. It wastes time… and of course time is money. That’s why ‘they’ invented The Creative Brief.

If you work with creatives on any kind of project – copywriting, design, marketing, whatever… you need a Creative Brief. It outlines the reason for the project, the nature of the brand, the target audience, the restrictions, the goals of the project… Also details like ‘how many words’, if that’s an essential part of the project instructions. It’s all there in black and white. It’s written by the client, or sometimes the client and the creative director on the project will do it together.

mick jagger creative brief sticky fingers andy warhol

Mick Jagger’s rough but effective creative brief to Andy Warhol for the album, Sticky Fingers. The album cover had a working zipper! Imagine control-freak Jagger actually writing, “I leave it in your capable hands…” and “How much money would you like” … clearly he trusted his designer (and who wouldn’t?) It made me smile to see Mick’s comment that Warhol should “take little notice” of the deadline! We don’t recommend that for most briefs!

In an agency environment, the Account Executive works with the client to develop the brief, sometimes getting the Creative Director’s input. Internally, while Creative Briefs don’t seem necessary, they will save hours of messing around or heading in the wrong direction.

Yes this takes time. Ah, well! It’s time that nobody has, it seems – but it always reduces the screwups down the road that are caused by misdirection. A Creative Brief to follow reduces the relentless impromptu decision-making that starts to take place when there’s missing information and a deadline to be dealt with.

Years ago a client said, “Show me crappy work/results, and nine times out of ten, I’ll show you a crappy brief.”  Her exact words. Inside the agencies she worked with, she would review some of the latest work, and if she made a comment that something was not as she had expected or requested, the eyes would slowly start round the room, everyone trying to figure out who missed that essential element in the creative brief. Heads would silently explode.

Now, in the agency world, this is enough of a reaction to end relationships for even minor infractions. In the non-agency world we try to be a little more even-handed. But the bottom line is, the discipline of a solid brief takes care of all problems that are possible to avoid, and sets the project up for faster completion and a happier conclusion.

A colleague of mine recently noticed that even after a long standing relationship he has with one client, he still gets consistently good, short briefs from them. This is a client who works with a number of different creative teams – and their work performs so consistently that they are ‘return Echo award winners’. So, what is the element that makes every creative team they work with a winner? The Brief. While those creative teams are very talented and deserving of a lot of credit, the common thread in this consistency is the input process — a well written, cohesive and thoughtfully worked Creative Brief.

Every day, there are marketing articles, news items and blogs in which pundits (usually young enough to be my kids) offer reasons why ‘impression fatigue’ seems to be happening to marketing campaigns these days – that’s their excuse for campaigns not working.

That’s just plain hooey.

It’s easy to blame too many impressions, disintermediation of media, and viral marketing for failure.  Sissies blame the rest of the world for failure – winners find ways to make things work in new conditions.

There are still plenty of campaigns, large and small, that do just fine because they have good solid roots. And those winners started with a pretty good creative brief.

Next time you’re looking for a project – internal or external – to work better, sit down (even on the phone) with a smart, experienced creative, a marketing manager, and a blank for a Creative Brief. That hour you take will save you hours later and make the project fly more successfully.



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