The following is from the Introduction of the forthcoming book, How To Write A Killer Single-Minded Proposition. “You need a whole book to explain how to write one sentence?” a family member asked me. He was clueless about what I do for a living, but don’t blame him.
The answer, in a word, is “Yes.”
I was just as surprised as he was. I say that without an ounce of irony or sarcasm. To illustrate this point, I reviewed the Word deck for my first book, How To Write An Inspired Creative Brief, a text that takes readers through the process of writing the advertising document of which a single-minded proposition (SMP) is but one part. That text runs to over 18,000 words. The text for this book — parsing just one sentence — comes in at just under 16,000 words. I’m certain I could have written more.
If it were so easy to write this one sentence, everyone would be doing it, as the saying goes, and you wouldn’t need this or any similar book. You might say that everyone is doing it and doing it poorly. I will amend that to say people attempt to write this one sentence, but they struggle.
I made two discoveries as I wrote: First, I reconnected with colleagues, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in almost 20 years, and I was happily surprised at their ingenuity and imagination. No two answers to the questions I put to them are alike. That speaks to the almost countless avenues into the writing of this beasty little line. It also reveals the amount of energy this line requires of the professionals who spend so much time attempting to write a good one.
Second, these conversations, bits and pieces of which are sprinkled throughout the text, confirm a need to focus on the basics, which this book lays out for you to review, consider, challenge and add to. More than anything, I want to start a conversation about the SMP in particular, and generally the Creative Brief itself.
Not everyone uses the term “single-minded proposition” or, for that matter, believes in it. This fact lays out the path this book will take. Section I addresses the status quo, what’s generally practiced and accepted about this one box on the Creative Brief. I will take you through five elements of the brief and examine how each one influences the writing of the single-minded proposition: communication objectives, product benefits, insights, brand personality and target audience. These elements reside in one phrasing or another on most Creative Briefs.
Section II examines new perspectives regarding the SMP’s effect on the brief (new to many, but not all). Here I explore the writing and thinking of two people: Paul Feldwick and Lance Saunders. I have met and worked with Saunders. I know Feldwick only by reputation and the book and articles he authored. Their ideas, many would argue, are already at work in our industry.
Who are they?
Paul Feldwick is a consultant, a brilliant account planner, and a protégé of Stanley Pollitt, one of the founding fathers of account planning, the discipline from which Creative Briefs emerged. His book The Anatomy of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising is an enlightening and compelling argument for alternatives to proposition-based advertising.
Lance Saunders is a friend and my mentor when I began studying the Creative Brief seriously, in 2007. When I met him he was director of strategic planning at Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. Today, he is president and chief operating officer at DDB Canada. Saunders proposes that we focus our energies on an ownable emotion.
There are others, I am sure, who echo the ideas presented by these professionals. These two, however, succinctly challenge us to higher standards of truth and authenticity, and therefore better Creative Briefs that inspire better creative work.
What follows are the ideas I think about when I read creative briefs. These are the questions I ask. This is the information I want. This is what turns over in my head.
As an educator, I pay attention to the things students ignore, overlook, forget. I know that students, in general, don’t do “optional.” I learned that the hard way, probably because I forgot that’s what I “didn’t do” when I was a student myself. So I take those extra steps and explore as many nooks and crannies as I can. I am curious — perhaps the single-most important quality a creative person possesses.
Call me intrepid. Call me obsessive. All writers would be advised to study the guiding principle behind what makes a well-conceived SMP so gratifying when it’s done right: clarity.
It’s such easy advice, and so difficult to achieve.
Expected publication: April 2018 on Amazon and other online book retailers.