What I want in a creative brief.

I’m speaking now as a creative, a former copywriter and creative director. I’m speaking as one of the people to whom the creative brief is directed, for whom the brief is written, of whom much is expected once I have this document in my hands. In my hands and my art director partner’s hands. It’s never just me. It’s always me “and.”

I want four things, and I urge brief writers of all stripe to pay attention. I will try to speak for all creatives (and the ones who disagree, please weigh in and add your request).

First, I want clarity.

If you don’t know what you want the advertising to do, who we are talking to, what the one most important thing to say is, how the hell am I supposed to figure that out? That’s your job as the brief writer.

It helps if you have a strategy before you start. Too often, briefs have no strategy supporting them, but they’re delivered to creative teams anyway. Too often, marketers try to figure out the strategy after they see the work from the brief that had no strategy. It’s the “I’ll know it when I see it” syndrome. That’s ass backwards. But it’s the way things are done today.

My friend and fellow author, Cameron Day, author of two dynamite books for creatives on managing their advertising career, says that he writes his own “mantra” after reading a creative brief. This is great advice for any brief writer.

Cam distills what he determines is the essence of the brand into a short document capsulizing the assignment.

Before you sit at your keyboard to fill out a brief, grab a legal pad and a pen and do your version of a “mantra” the old-fashioned way: Write a paragraph, a single paragraph, that describes your brand (not your product, your brand) and what you want the advertising to do. Get that much down on paper and use it as your starting point before you tackle the actual brief.

Keep it simple, unadorned with marketing BS and jargon. Write it in language any Joe or Jane on the street would understand. If you write 50 words, cut it to 25 without cutting essence. Clarity comes from practice and an unstinting eye for the unnecessary. That’s hard. But that’s what a good brief accomplishes.

Do this first, and then start writing your first draft.

Second, I want some kind of spark.

I would be perfectly happy with a clear brief. If you hear me say, “I can work with this,” you’ve essentially hit a home run. And every brand merits a clear creative brief.

But why not dig a little deeper and aim for something loftier? I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as a boring brand, only boring brand advertising. If your brief achieves a kind of inspirational spark, I will hold you in the highest esteem.

How do you accomplish this aspiration? It helps if you are already a good writer because a brief is a writerly document. But even short of that, you can set a higher bar for your briefs if you ask me (or your creative director) to review your creative brief draft before you deliver it to me and the creative department.

Why not? As a creative, I am the audience for your brief. My art director partner and I want that extra jolt to get us started. Ask one of us for feedback. We can help you move from clarity to inspiring. We have skin in the game.

Third, I want direction, not solutions.

Marketers too often turn their creative briefs into dinner orders, replete with all the deliverables spelled out. The only things missing are the idea and a few headlines. And sometimes they are in the brief too.

Give me the assignment. Give me your best direction. Give me a clear explanation of the problem, the objective, the audience, the message. My partner and I will take it from there.

Fourth, I want a brief that knows I am the audience.

I often ask the marketers who take my workshops if they collaborate when they write a brief. I almost always see heads nodding and people saying “Yes, of course.” But when I ask for an definition of “collaboration,” my interlocutor tells me she writes the brief herself, then sends it to her boss and maybe a colleague or two for feedback.

That’s not collaboration. That’s an exercise in masochism. The writer is left with the unenviable task of figuring out whose comments take precedence. Of course, her boss’s comments come first. A boss who may not be fully aware of all the details. Thus, the audience for the brief has now shifted from the creatives to her boss.

What am I to do in this situation as the creative? Not much. Not unless the brief writer comes to me for my feedback on her draft. If she does, she knows who her audience is. We’ll work together to get the brief tight. Then, when she shows a draft to her boss, she can say that she collaborated with a creative, someone who’ll be working on the assignment, and that adds cred to the draft. That won’t stop the boss from messing with the draft, but at least the audience for the brief played a role in writing it.

That’s what I want in a brief: Clarity, a spark, direction, and acknowledgement that the brief is for me, the creative.

It’s not asking much.

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