[Published originally in December 2021, but this one never gets old.]
No one wants to write a bad single-minded proposition.
I get it. There’s a ton of pressure on you to not just write the damn thing, but to write a brilliant one. When everyone expects, well, Just Do It, anyone would shrivel up into a dried-out raisin.
So here’s my advice.
Number One: Save the SMP for the last question on your brief. In my experience, all the other questions play supporting roles. Let them support you while you mull things over.
Number Two: Get yourself a writing partner and collaborate. Even if you’re the GOAT SMP writer, chances are you don’t fly solo. No one does.
Just ask my Brief Bros. videocast co-host and buddy, Henry Gomez. He writes briefs for a living, and he’s one of the best, too. But he’s the first to admit that even though he takes the front-and-center job of writing a creative brief, he gets lots of great input from his team. Especially his creatives.
Number Three: Give yourself permission to fail. I mean, fail! Fail miserably. Write whatever comes into your head, put it all down in your notebook or your iPad, wherever you keep track of your thinking. You have to get through the crap before you get to the gold.
That means failure. It’s a word most of us hate, and would never want to associate with our own work. But we need to fail before we can succeed.
As Michael Jordan says, “I have failed over and over and over, and that is why I succeed.”
Be like Mike.
Number Four: KISS—Keep it simple, students. Every part of the creative brief invites over-thinking. The SMP probably more than any other question on the brief.
Some of us automatically go for the Hail Mary, and try to write the tagline of all taglines, the next “Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands” Gold Lion.
That’s a surefire path to failure (See Number Three above). And maybe a seizure.
Number Five: Study the best briefs if you can get your hands on them (my books have a handful of what I consider truly inspiring briefs). But if you can’t find great briefs (they are rare), study the best taglines. “Just Do It” and “Dogs Rule” and “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” and many others, are the expressions of great SMPs. Some used to be SMPs.
Notice what they all have in common: A truth. You nod your head and say, “Yeah, that’s right.” It’s believable, it’s real, the emotion it evokes is honest. The line is the opposite of over-thinking.
A brief is a private document, but a tagline is the closet thing to the brief’s public face. You can learn a lot about a product’s brief by studying great taglines.
Number Six: Practice. Yeah, you saw that one coming. It’s the only way anyone ever gets good at anything. Closely correlated with study (Number Five above).
Here’s a story about practice that I heard from golf legend Gary Player, now in his 80s. He was hitting chip shots from the edge of a practice green one day while a fan was watching from a respectful distance. Gary hit shot after shot, and every one of them went into the hole. After each shot, the fan scoffed and said, loudly enough for Gary to hear, “Oh, that’s just luck.” After one more sunk chip shot, Gary turned to the fan and said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Some brief writers say the SMP is the hardest part of the brief to write. That’s a debatable claim. But I think we all agree it’s not easy. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to write a memorable one.
If you’re new to brief writing, be patient. Good things are worth waiting for. If you’re seasoned, trust your instincts and your experience.
SMPs are hard for a reason. That will never change.