The Creative Brief is the Holy Grail of Advertising. No one knows what it looks like or where to find it, but everyone is looking for it and is certain that when it appears, all will be well.

A lot has been written about improving the Brief. Anyone who has spent ten years in the business has probably lived through several “new and improved” brief templates. But getting to better, more inspiring Briefs continues to be a real challenge.

This article is not about a new or better format. Rather, I will try to approach the issue from a different perspective. Let’s leave the formats and templates as they are and focus on what else we can do to improve the level of inspiration.

Here are five common sense suggestions:

Think Briefings and not Briefs: We are very comfortable with the thought of “playing with Ideas” until the winner shows itself but we tend to think that there should be one “correct” strategy. This is untrue. There are many possible ways to approach a problem, and it is perfectly acceptable to “play with strategy” and let the winner show itself.

In order to facilitate this productive back and forth, set up a pre-document discussion on the problem to be solved. Invite the senior people. Let all the participants air their point of view. Look for divergence. Welcome alternate points of view. The “winning” approach will show itself and it should not be difficult to build consensus around it. This should become the core of the written Brief. 

This approach is almost always used in New Business. It can work just as well on existing accounts. 

Tweet the Brief: Creatives will often say that there is a nugget of useful information in each Brief and the rest of the document is just filler. So try to identify the nugget up-front. Ask everyone working on the account to write a tweet that captures who the target is, what you need to convince them to do, and how. As always, encourage divergence and welcome alternate points of view. And try to stay away from marketing jargon that sounds smart but means nothing. 

Once everyone has crafted his tweet, share them and open the floor to discussion. If there is a “winner” it will show itself. If not, resist the temptation to “cut and paste” your way to a bland compromise. Choose a couple of options to work on: the more provocative the better. Label them as approach A and B and let the creative solutions that come forth break the deadlock. 

Do the Briefing where the product is used. Meeting rooms in Agencies are far removed from the reality of the product. There are no smells, sounds, or pictures that can feed the senses and spark an Idea. It can also be very easy to let the alpha personality in the room dominate the discussion.

You want to avoid this. You want to get as close to reality as possible and to engage the five senses in the briefing session. So if you are working on fast food, do the briefing in a restaurant. If you are working on a beer, do it a bar or at a barbeque. If you work on a sports car, do the brief at the test track. The place and moment of the briefing is up to you. Just make it as close to the true product experience as possible. 

Ask the Creative how he likes the Brief. While the Brand’s Target is the Consumer, the real Target for the Brief is the Creative. So ask him how he likes to be briefed. Some are visual, others are auditory, and others are tactile. Some like long detailed documents and others may like a one word or image Brief. Stay away from one size fits all documents. Tailor your briefing technique to the person who needs to extract inspiration from it. He will better assimilate the Brief and the work should show it.

Do Brief post mortems. Successful coaches “look at the film” after every game. They use this to help coach players to better performance. So learn from sports. After every project sit down with the Creative and compare the briefing document and the process to the results. Identify the things that helped and those that hurt the process. In your next project do more of the good things and avoid the bad things. After a couple of iterations you and the Creative will have clearly identified a better way to brief. 

All of these approaches will not work in all situations. But there is a good chance that one of them will help you improve the level of inspiration in the Brief. This will lead to better work, and you will get there faster and have more fun doing it.

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