Why is there no list of the Best Creative Briefs of All Time?

If you’re a fan of the NFL and someone asked you to put together your Dream Team offensive line, you’d know who to pick, right? Anyone who plays Fantasy Football gets the exercise.

Quarterback? Lots of greats to choose from: YA Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady. Arguments would erupt over who’s the best, but each of us could pick out 12 people for the starting 12 positions and many of us onlookers would likely nod in agreement over at least some of the names. Grudgingly, perhaps, but we could do it.

Lists like this are abundant. The Best Movies. The Best Novels. The Best TV Shows. They break them down by decade, too. Best Sit-Coms of the 1970s. An so on.

Alas, you can scour the Internet and Google, but you’ll find no such G.O.A.T. list for the best creative briefs.

Why not? Two reasons.

First, there is no single repository of creative briefs for folks like me who might care to rifle through them. But I’d certainly love such a vault.

Second, even if there were a cache of briefs, there is no organization, big or small, that would rank the briefs. The Jay Chiat Awards come close, but this organization looks at strategy, and a creative brief is not part of strategy. The brief is the first step of the creative process and comes after the strategy. Although truth be told, lots of marketers seem to think the creative process is where they figure out the strategy. But that’s another can of worms.

No, you just can’t find a single website or even a file folder in an old-fashioned filing cabinet that holds even a few dozen outstanding briefs.

You might own a few. Others down the hall might have stashed some from previous jobs, but I think most people in our industry trash the brief as soon as the client chooses something. Once execution commences, the brief is history.

I have often argued in my workshops on brief writing that a well-written brief belongs in a portfolio. A planner, even an account management professional, should show them off. I think this rarely happens, and thus the habit of keeping and cataloging briefs never took off.

Every now and then, I hear whispers from a senior muckety-muck who tells me he has a stash of briefs from the 1960s, but he’s shy about sharing them. Too bad because they would be great teaching tools.

And that would be the whole point, right? We have lists of “best” for a simple reason. They become what is commonly called The Canon of Great Work. Some argue such a canon is old school and no longer relevant, but humans are built to compare one thing with another as a way to determine personal or societal value, growth, progress.

One of the most effective ways to teach brief writers how to write outstanding briefs—and a seriously overlooked avenue—is to review and study great briefs from the past. This is how anyone becomes better at what they do: by studying the giants who came before them.

If they leave behind something to examine, to break down, to critique, they become teachers.

There is no repository of great creative briefs and that makes me sad. We need one.

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