Collaborating on a brief and asking for feedback on a brief are two different things.

Good copywriters remember this mantra: “Tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them, tell them what you told ‘em.”

It’s repetitive, yes, but instructional. The idea is to remember as a sales person (and that’s what copywriters are: we sell stuff with our words), that readers (or viewers or listeners) don’t remember things the first time you say something. Probably not the second time either. But the third time, the odds are much better that you get through. No guarantees, of course, but the Rule of Three is ancient.

So you’ll forgive me when I repeat in this essay an argument I’ve made before. The word “collaboration” is often ill-defined or not defined at all. What I mean by collaboration is often not what you mean.

To wit, collaboration does not mean asking your colleagues for feedback. Asking for feedback means you wrote the creative brief all by yourself and now you’re sending it out for comments. That is not collaboration. In my opinion, that is an exercise in masochism, self-flagellation, shooting yourself in the foot on purpose. You put yourself at the mercy of the more senior feedback-er. If the person is your boss, the danger is that the audience for your brief changes. The audience is and should be the creatives, but now it edges toward your boss.

Another way to look at my argument is to say that “collaboration” is an exercise in partnership, whereas “asking for feedback” is an exercise in power dynamics.

When you collaborate on writing a brief, meaning you work with a partner, whether the partner is a peer or not, you take advantage of a different perspective. A partner, by design, should bring out thinking you hadn’t considered, and you should have the same effect on your partner. Collaboration is constructive, enlightening, a process of discovery.

Asking for feedback puts the brief writer in a tenuous position. The more senior the one giving feedback automatically puts those comments at the head of the line. There is no give and take, no batting around and playing with the idea, the way creatives collaborate. The “creative team” was invented in the 1950s by Bill Bernbach and it ushered in the Golden Era of advertising.

Creative brief writers must apply the same tested team-work approach to writing briefs. In other words, every brief writer should find a writing partner. A team of two people who write the brief together will write a clearer, more inspiring and likely a shorter brief. But it takes practice. And often requires a paradigm shift.

Marketers who write briefs are accustomed to writing the document solo. This must change. Marketers who work with a writing partner will find the task less stressful, less time-consuming, more fun (believe it or not) and ultimately more effective. And they should loop in a creative before the briefing. They’ll gain the trust and appreciation of their creatives, who will probably help them improve their briefs in the process.

Should the boss see the finished draft that two marketers have worked on together? Yes, why not? When you share the brief and tell your boss (or other senior colleague) that this was a collaborative effort, especially if this reviewer knows in advance that the two of you are working together, the draft will be treated differently. Will you get it back without a single change request? Not likely. No one can resist the opportunity to put their fingerprints on any written document. The difference will be that you’ll have a better document to begin with.

Collaborate, don’t ask for feedback. Find and work with a writing partner. Make this a part of your brief writing process. Loop in a creative before the briefing. You’ll write better, clearer briefs. Maybe they’ll even be inspiring.

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