With due respect to the legendary creative director and author, from whom I’m still eagerly awaiting his acceptance of my request to connect on LinkedIn, I think Mr. Trott is half right.
A creative brief is absolutely about thinking. But writing is not unimportant. In fact, I’d say a great creative brief is equal parts thinking and writing.
But the thinking must come first.
Mr. Trott told a story in his February 3 essay for Campaign UK about Nora Ephron’s epiphany about writing when she took a journalism class in high school. Ephron’s journalism teacher opened her eyes and made her realize, according to this story, that writing is not about writing. It’s about thinking.
A line by the novelist and short-story writer Flannery O’Connor had the same effect on me as Ephron’s high school journalism teacher had on her. O’Connor wrote: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” This taught me the value of clear writing. That to be articulate in my head, the words on the page had to match. O’Connor taught me that writing and thinking work in tandem.
I suspect that Mr. Trott would not disagree. And this is where I think we share a similar approach to the creative brief. The title of his Campaign essay is, “The big idea starts in the creative brief.”
It starts with great thinking. And then it requires great writing to bring the “big idea” to life. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.
Poor writing reflects poor thinking. We know poor thinking when we read a badly written brief.
Account planners are trained to write briefs, and they populate many ad agencies.
I work with brands who do not frequently have planners on staff. The task of writing briefs then falls to marketers.
Poor writing among marketers happens chiefly, I believe, because the marketer/brief writer does not engage a writing partner to help them draft a brief. They too often write the brief as a solo exercise. When I meet these marketers in my workshops, they tell me they do, in fact, collaborate: They send their brief draft to a boss or another colleague, or both, for feedback. This is a masochistic exercise in proofreading, leaving the brief writer to navigate the sometimes conflicting comments that come back.
Creative teams were invented, notably by Bill Bernbach, to prevent this kind of siloed thinking. They work together and become each other’s essential “BS detector.” The principle applies to writing briefs. In a manner of speaking, account planners collaborate with their creative directors when they stress-test early drafts of a brief before submitting a final draft to the creative department.
Marketers, who have other account responsibilities besides brief writing, are in danger of siloed thinking, and worse, a sin I call “first-draftism”—the tendency to believe they’ve nailed a brief the first time they put fingers to keyboard. Writing a brief with a partner slows down the process, promotes thoughtfulness and “give-and-take,” and prevents this “first-draftism” danger. Two marketers working together encourage better thinking and therefore better writing. This is how creative teams work.
Writing and thinking are yin and yang. They are equal partners. One requires the other. Nora Ephron and Flannery O’Connor were right.
Marketers can learn from both.