What’s the difference between a client brief and a creative brief?

Follow my podcast—The Brief Bros.—on Youtube. My partner Henry Gomez and I talk about creative briefs, briefing and advertising.

I argue in my creative brief writing workshops for the ANA that the best brief writers work in the ad agency world. That’s where the discipline (account planning) and the document were born. Like all skill sets, there are the elites, the best of the best, and then there’s everyone else. Not all agency brief writers are good at it. I know from experience. Fellow creatives, please testify!

But in a recent article on Campaign US titled “The perfect client brief: Does it exist?” five ad agency strategists weighed in. Most discuss the importance of a well-written key performance indicator (KPI), but I was surprised (not really) and delighted to discover that the more each strategist kept talking, the more their recommendations sounded like the basics for a good creative brief.

There’s a reason for this. Brand marketers know their brands better than anyone, or they should anyway. In my view, and this is what I teach, their brief to the ad agency must be as clear and inspirational as the brief they get back from their agency.

Every brief, client and creative, must address the emotional reasons to buy. Brand marketers are in a unique position to know their customers best, to have access to insights about their customers, even the ones who haven’t yet tried their product. And since agency folks have taught us how to write an inspirational creative brief, why not emulate the best?

Is it more work? Of course it is. Brief writing is not a brand marketer’s primary job responsibility. But it is an important task. The most consistent problem I hear from them regards time. As in, not enough of it. How do you write an inspiring brief when you have less than an hour?

This means I need to preach the value of spending more time up front so you get better results in the end. This means addressing company culture as much as practicing a skill set.

That’s why I teach marketers to write a brief in the model of a well-written agency creative brief, with the addition of business-related factors like KPI.

What I hear on the road, working with brand marketers, is that too many agencies willingly play the role of “order takers” rather than disinterested creative advisors. That hardly helps marketers, and forces me to apologize for my former brethren in the agency world where I used to live.

So I will continue to teach brand marketers what the best agency brief writers already know: Inspiring creative briefs take time. They are not written by soloists, but in collaboration with colleagues (a creative partner if possible), and they are narrative documents. No bullet points allowed.

Marketers want better creative from their creative partners, internal and external. If they can write a better creative brief, that puts them one step closer to better work with fewer re-dos.

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