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(FrustrationWith apologies to Pascal and Twain:  this post is a bit long because I ran out of time to write it shorter). Creative briefs – ah the bane of Agencies and Clients, alike.  Who cares and who needs them? Otherwise called: “communications briefs”, “marketing briefs”, “innovation briefs”, “design briefs” or something akin. Regardless, it’s the traditional starting point for most Agency-Client projects. At best, the brief is a crisp way to inspire and provide a framework for the Creative team… at worst, it’s a labored puddle of disconnected data left open for too much interpretation.

How do avoid the process becoming an exercise that produces CYA pages rather than useful direction? There’s certainly no shortage of sage advice and teaching.  An AdAge blog post on its Small Agency Diary site just recently revisited the subject.  Google lists 17+ million hits on the topic… Bing: 22 million. Even Youtube weighs-in with 1000+ videos (a useful one, actually, is of a Creative Director talking head on the topic here.

UPDATE 7/15:  here’s another take on the same subject from a fellow blogger.

The traditional view is that “Creative Brief” = Contract. But don’t confuse the CB with a Scope of Work (SOW) or Request for Proposal (RFP). Further, brief provide summaries of objective, audience, and success metrics. The best ones inspire! The best ones do not prescribe a solution, rather they outline the playing field and leave few questions unanswered or open for interpretation. They are honest, clearly communicate the most compelling need and what constitutes success; they frame the assignment then leave the Creative team open to be creative.

Agencies often use the brief as a way to clarify befuddled client thinking. Clients often use the brief as a hammer to hold Agencies accountable. A better approach is a collaborative document that both sides endorse and can own.

Here’s my own roadmap suggestion for thinking through Creative Brief content, and when it’s most useful to draft one: • What is it? Written document that outlines crisply the business and creative requirements. Think of a creative brief as a roadmap between Agency and Client – the strategic creative plan.

• When do you need one? Any time you think you do, but not every time does it need to be formal/public. Going thru the process is a good way to clarify your thoughts and what you need to communicate to your Creative team. It’s a good step for most any major initiative. Smaller, rifle shots – or projects with experienced repetitive teams may not require a written document.

• Be crisp. Cut to the chase: Be crisp. Be economic. The goal is to define the playing field, not orchestrate the outcome. The creative team needs latitude to bring forth their best work. If too restricted, mediocre is the result. Mark Twain misattributed to quote: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” (actually by 17th century French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal) pointing out the difficulty in being succinct.

• Who owns it? Who drives it? The Agency client-lead. Or at least it’s my experience that the brief functions best when owned by the Agency (in-house or external), not the marketing client. The best usually start from client inputs and evolve by adding Agency experience. Agencies usually own putting it down on paper. Ultimately, both sides need to agree and bless.

• What to include? The list can be long: problem statement, what does success look like, messaging platforms, tone and/or voice, any prohibitions, company and competitor background, target audiences, branding information. Contact information, creative strategies, timelines, key milestones and budget. Some briefs include a list of stakeholders, core contributors and detail on the approval process.

Best advice: include key elements, be blunt and take a stand – don’t leave questions open, but keep it short. Aim the brief at the Creative team, the designers, writers and creative directors charged with solving for you problem. Edit yourself. Commit the time to getting your thoughts to one page (Make Twain/Pascal proud), certainly no more than two. Then step back and watch the magic happen.

UPDATE/ADDITION:  Reader suggested blogsite on the process of developing the creative brief.

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