I’m not certain whether quoting Tim Allen is a good thing or a bad thing. I only know that it’s the right thing.
His utterance is the answer to a question I asked myself recently: Why do you keep fighting the fight about creative briefs?
Tim Allen, a.k.a. Captain Jason Nesmith in the romp called Galaxy Quest, did his Churchillian best to give weight to this memorable phrase, and I’ll bet he, or the script writers, never imagined in their wildest dreams that a creative-brief-writing workshop instructor would cite it as his raison d’être.
Let’s hope they never find out.
But those five words do a stellar job of parrying any stilted account person or marketer who still questions the value of a well-written creative brief. Sadly, they are an abundant lot.
Maybe they’ll need a few words to precede the coinable declaration for clarity’s sake. Why, in other words, will I never give up? Never surrender?
Only when an inspiring creative brief becomes so commonplace in the advertising industry that training to achieve that end becomes superfluous will I lay down my sword and give up this battle.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’ll die with the sword in my hands. So be it.
What we do is worth this fight. What our industry contributes to the economy and our culture is worth this fight.
I have argued before that advertising is a vital instrument in our free market system that keeps hundreds of thousands of people employed, chasing their dreams, providing for their families.
We may not be artists, but we are something just as important, what my favorite advertising teacher and mentor, the now retired ECD and CEO of Hoffman York in Milwaukee, Tom Jordan, called “folk artists.”
I like that. Folk art is to art what journalism is to history: an early draft. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works for me.
Another teacher is my friend the Rev. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder and spiritual director of Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. Ad people don’t talk much about spiritual matters. But I cite my friend Reverend Michael because among other things, he and I share something valuable as educators. We talked about this and enjoyed a mutual chuckle: His message every Sunday, for the last 35 years, comes down to only a handful of core ideas that he repeats every week, week in and week out. He changes up his phrasing, he introduces a personal anecdote, but the message does not change.
That’s what I do, with a slightly less consequential outcome, although I’d like to think some serious budgets and important sales goals weigh in the balance. But my message consists also of only a handful of core ideas that do not change.
Does it get boring? Not a chance. Does it get repetitive? Sure, sometimes, but everyone I talk to—every workshop participant, every student I encounter—brings something different to the party. They may ask similar questions, they may have the same problems, but that’s why they turn to me. And I revel in the challenge, find energy in the possibility of opening another set of eyes. My goal is not to solve their problems, it’s to show them how to solve their own problems. Reverend Michael reminds me that his job is to plant seeds. That’s what I do, too.
I practiced copywriting and team leadership for 26 years. While I was never the hot talent, the flavor of the month, I did my job well and delighted clients. My talent as a conceptual writer probably put me in the middle of the pack, better than some, not as good as many others, but I gathered up those years of experience working at legacy agencies for legacy brands and translated them to a teaching career. A teaching career I never imagined and one I love.
So I will not give up the fight to teach brief writing and show non-creatives why we creatives crave and need a good brief because it will make everyone’s lives better and easier. When non-creatives see how a well-written brief leads directly, inexorably to not just better creative work but ultimately to better sales, they sit up and take notice.
And creatives tell me they always knew when a brief was less than what they wanted but until they took my training, they didn’t have the vocabulary to say why and now they do.
Brief writers of the world: Beware the articulate creative who not only knows when your brief sucks, but can tell you how to fix it. My advice: Listen to them.
Are great briefs possible? Yes. Are they rare? Yes. But I’ll keep fighting the good fight. Never give up. Never surrender.