How to write a practice brief without actually writing a practice brief.

All professionals practice. Why? Because they know they need to stay sharp. Often, their profession requires it, but even if it doesn’t, pros practice anyway. That practice comes in many forms: refresher courses, conferences, online and in-person training.

If you write creative briefs for a living, even if it’s not your main task, you need to practice, too. Because writing a creative brief is writing. Writers write. We stay in shape by writing. Every day.

If you write only a handful a creative briefs in the course of your job, waiting to write your next brief does not fall under the definition of “practice.”

You must practice. Resistance is futile.

But there is a short cut.

I’m going to show you how to write a practice brief without ever putting pen or pencil to paper, or fingers to a keyboard. In other words, you’ll have no excuse to avoid practicing once you finish reading this short essay.

So either be like all other professionals or stop reading.

Still here? Okay, here’s the drill:

When you get home from work, whether that’s turning off your computer and going out for a walk in your neighborhood, or commuting back to your home or apartment from an office, do one thing differently every day:

Keep your advertising professional brain turned on. For three minutes.

I know it sounds silly, but ad folks are a lot like other people in one respect: We turn off our pro brains when we leave. Not always, but often.

To hone your skills as a brief writer, be mindful once a day when you’re not “on the job” to stay in advertising mode. Then, when you encounter an advertisement somewhere, you will see it as an ad professional, not as a consumer.

This distinction is important. While you’re in your ad-pro mindset, think like a brief writer and scrutinize the advertisement. Ask the same questions of the ad in front of you that you’d ask when you write a brief:

Who is this ad talking to?

What is the one thing it’s trying to say to me?

Can I figure out what problem this communication is trying to solve?

Answer only those three questions. If you can, you’re thinking like a brief writer. You’re engaging with the communication not as a consumer, but as a marketer, a strategist, a client. You’re in brief-writing mode.

You are practicing.

Here’s what I think you’ll discover:

Most of the ads out there suck. You may already know that, but doing this exercise will prove it.

Suckiness comes in many forms. An ad can suck because 1) it’s trying to say too much, 2) it doesn’t say anything at all, 3) it doesn’t know who it’s talking to, 4) it’s talking to marketers not to real people. You can add more stuff to this list.

In other words, what I’m advocating here is a thought exercise. You can write a brief in your head. It takes no more than a few minutes. You’ll be bombarded with messages everyday, so choose one of them. Just one. Then dissect it by asking the three questions above. You’re honing your skills as you answer each question.

Want to get more advanced? Try answering harder questions:

Can I figure out something interesting the ad writers discovered about the customer? The competitive market? The product?

If you don’t know the brand very well, can you figure out what its personality is? Or its tone of voice?

We do this in my workshops on brief writing. They’re called reverse engineering exercises. We write a brief based on the ad and nothing more. The best advertising telegraphs its brief.

Next time you’re flipping through IG or looking at a magazine at the dentist’s office, do this mental exercise. It’s good for you. It’s called practice.

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