I’ve been thinking a lot about creative briefs recently – I deliver Creative Brief Writing training for agency account handlers and/or junior planners and I’m also currently prepping a brief writing workshop that I’ll be delivering to some students soon.
It turns out that I have pretty strong feelings about briefs and briefing:
1. The brief is just a piece of paper, it’s the briefing that brings it to life. Phil Adams wrote a great piece on The Drum last month about ‘passing the baton’ and I’ve always tried to take the time not only to brief my briefs in face-to-face, but to actually prepare properly for the briefing itself – to dig out any potentially useful background info and/or the client’s previous creative for reference, to swot up on all the facts and figures I could possibly need, to book a meeting room and to remember to bring biscuits.
2. In terms of ‘passing the baton’, the article linked above notes that communication long before the baton exchange is vital. It isn’t always possible when freelancing, but I much prefer to talk to the creatives involved about where I’m heading before I actually sit down to write a big brief. Not only does it avoid the briefing being tainted by a creative’s instinctive negative reaction to a direction they really weren’t expecting (been there, they took 3 days to come round), but their minds will inevitably be busy turning things over long before the A4 lands on their desk. More time in creative’s brain = better work. In a perfect world, it’s this ongoing, respectful dialogue between brief writer, creative and the wider team and some serious thinking time on both sides that results in good work. The best briefs I’ve written evolved collaboratively on war room walls over the course of a few days.
3. I’m very much against fixed brief writing formats – the stylishly designed single page landscape PDF that leaves a 5cmx5cm box for target audience will inevitably result in entries that are either much too brief or written in 6pt to fit it in. Planners aren’t the only people in an agency writing briefs and a busy account handler has better things to do with their time that try and make that section four words shorter so it fits in the box. I’d much rather that people used their brainpower and limited time on writing a better brief. A fixed brief also effectively communicates to the writer that you can’t be trusted to fill in every box or that otherwise you might copy and paste in the entire client brief.
4. Equally, I’m not a fan of briefs that could rival War & Peace. Everything on the page(s) should be there for a reason. Charts and the history of the business from 1893 onwards belong on the war room wall or in the client folder. Briefs aren’t the place to show off everything the writer knows about the company and brand or to detail the exact artwork requirements when you haven’t landed the campaign direction yet.
5. You’re writing for the creatives, not the client. There’s no need for industry jargon or acronyms. There is usually (hopefully) a written client brief for the client’s instructions to be preserved for posterity, so they shouldn’t need to sign off the creative brief too. Some agencies insist on this, but after the client has made their ‘helpful’ amends I strongly advise saving that as ‘client version.doc’, reverting to the previous version and editing in a more human tone since you actually know the people you’re briefing and they might laugh out loud if they read ‘enabling holistic experiences’ on the brief.
I could go on for a very long time about the humble creative brief (don’t get me started on Facts vs. Insights), but to hear more you’ll have to hire me to run some creative brief writing training.