I use real briefs when I teach my workshops on writing creative briefs. Not blank templates, but completed briefs. Not case studies, but real working briefs.
Among the questions I ask attendees is this: What’s missing from the briefs they review in my workbook? I know the answer before I ask it, of course, and among the first observations I hear about these briefs is this one:
Where’s the budget?
It’s true. Every brief in my small but ample portfolio of teaching briefs either does not ask the “What is the budget?” question or leaves the question blank.
This absence puzzles my workshop attendees. Well, not all of them, but most of them.
So when someone asks, “Why is there no budget on this brief?” can you guess what my response is?
I teach Socratically, so I ask a question: Why do you think there is no budget? They did this for a reason.
At first, there is more puzzlement. But invariably, someone who gets it speaks up. They know the answer. It’s typically a creative, but not always.
Why is there no budget on many, indeed most, of the best briefs out there?
Because a budget is about execution, not ideation. You don’t need a budget to think up the idea. In other words,
An idea costs nothing.
Okay, that’s not literally true. We creatives have to fill out time sheets to allot the number of hours we spend on this client’s project or that client’s project. So in a technical sense, the time we devote to “thinking” is billable, and therefore the ideas we generate do not cost “nothing.”
Instead, I ask this: What is the difference between a $100 idea and a $1,000,000 idea?
The only honest answer I can come up with is, I don’t know. An idea is an idea.
The numbers person will answer: that depends on how the “idea” is executed. Is it a television spot? A new website? A live event in the Colosseum in Rome? A handful of billboards?
But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. You can’t put a budget to an idea you haven’t conjured up yet. Yet brief writers do it every day. They get a number from their boss or the client, and that number ends up on the creative brief. That number, I think, is not about the idea. It’s about the media spend.
So how do you buy media when you don’t know what the idea is yet? That’s the subject of another blog post.
Here, my point is simpler: A creative brief sparks creative thinking. Done well, the brief sets the creative teams down a path. They may or may not stay on that path, but, hey, that’s the way creativity works. We creatives don’t need a budget number to get going down this path.
The next question is predictable. What happens if the idea is bigger than the budget allows?
Most ideas, even the big ones, do not need huge wads of cash to come to life.
Worrying about whether creatives will propose an idea the client can’t afford is a waste of time. If the idea is brilliant, smart clients and smart creatives will find a way to execute the idea. But it’s still putting the cart in front of the horse.
The lesson is: Idea first, tactic second. Creatives understand this. Some brief writers don’t. That’s why great briefs leave the budget for another day.