The burger account syndrome.

“We work in the _______ industry and you don’t have a ________ industry creative brief. You don’t know our business.”

I hear this only after my creative brief workshop and only when there was resistance to my training. I never hear it when things go well.

The truth is that the number of outstanding creative briefs for a _______ industry client is just as rare as in any other business category.

A great brief is rare, period.

I heard a version of this conundrum when I was a working creative director. When a client okayed the hiring of a new copywriter at its agency of record, the approval sometimes came with a stipulation: Make sure the writer has experience in our product category!

We called this “The burger account” syndrome. Meaning, you can’t work on a burger account unless you worked on a burger account. It’s not good business sense, it’s myopic. Drove me nuts.

The attitude reveals a complete lack of understanding of the creative process. A burger account could probably use a creative who knows nothing about burgers just for the sake of fresh eyes. That kind of thinking is too often beyond a non-creative person.

But the syndrome has carried over into creative briefs. When I do a creative brief workshop, and my participants don’t see a creative brief in my training workbook for a product in their category, there is a tendency to become close-minded. Or put another way, the lack of brief parity can be the excuse they need—and point to—to resist my training.

“We don’t do it this way” is a common refrain. At least I know one thing: I’ve succeeded in taking them out of their comfort zone. That is one of my goals. I rarely fail in that department.

It’s the hazard of my trade. Process breeds comforts zones. Marketers love process, ergo they love comfort zones. I don’t recall who said it, but the line I love to quote is, “Nothing good comes from your comfort zone.” If no one ponies up to claim that one, I’ll take the credit.

I’ve been doing creative brief training for about 17 years. It is a typical occurrence for me that when the survey results of my day with a group of marketers come back and the numbers are less than ideal, the most consistent complaint is one or both of the following:

  1. That’s not how we do things at our company, and,

  2. The instructor was not open to my opinion.

Of course, I’m happy to report that only occasionally are my survey results less than great. Most organizations who request my training are open to the changes I advocate. Most employees pick up what I put down, and fully and willingly embrace the comfort-zone-busting concepts. I am not a rocket scientist. I do not teach rocket science.

And I’ve never heard either #1 or #2 from creatives who’ve taken my training. Never. They get it. They crave the clarity of a well-written brief. They also recognize the rarity of such a brief.

Now I’m not saying my content and my teaching style are flawless. They are not. I have an opinion and I’m not shy about expressing it. I openly encourage my workshop attendees to push back, to challenge me and my thinking. Sometimes they do, often they don’t. Creatives, not surprisingly, are the least resistant to being argumentative.

Also, I don’t lecture. I engage in Socratic methodology. Sadly, that approach, while highly engaging and arguably the most effective way to teach, is also intimidating to the uniniatiated. You ask a question and I will often ask you to answer it yourself. Or I’ll re-ask it in different words. I want discussion. Not everyone finds that, well, comfortable.

But company cultures get stuck in ruts and the last people to see it are the ones three-feet deep. When I point out that the Emperor has no clothes, plumage gets perturbed.

I signed up for this, so I welcome it. I am sometimes to blame for appearing uncompromising. I may in fact be uncompromising. Mea culpa.

Here’s the truth: I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I am strong drink. An acquired taste. I do not go gently into that good night.

When you take my training, you get your money’s worth. I am a process disruptor. I will challenge your thinking and open your eyes to a better way. A way to make your life a bit easier. Not easy, easier. I’ll show you a process to save time, save money, build morale, sell more product. Everyone wins.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to write a great brief. You don’t want anyone teaching brief writing who isn’t clear about that.

I am.

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