Why the creative brief is so important

Sir Winston Churchill famously insisted that his generals summarize their reports using no more than a single side of paper. He’d have made a good account manager. While weeks and weeks of research might go into a creative brief there’s something magical that happens when it’s forced to fit onto a single page. All the details and complicated data suddenly clarify into a single, single-minded vision of what the creative team is meant to achieve. This not only makes the creatives’ task much easier but the account manager’s too. Nonetheless, it’s amazing how often this vital step in the creative process is skipped.

What is a creative brief?

Although there are hundreds of different versions of a creative brief (every agency will have its own take on it) in essence it’s a document containing all the information needed to come up with a creative concept to sell a product or service. The full brief could run to tens of pages with background information about the product or service, market research data and information about the competitors’ products. It could talk about the brand character, the type of people likely to buy the brand (and the type of people the marketers would like to have buy the brand) and probably examples of advertising that has worked – or not – in the past. It will have things in it like a SWOT analysis – the strengths and perceived weaknesses of the product, and the opportunities open to it alongside the perceived threats against it. And it will refer to the marketing strategy and the communications strategy which are basically the plans for getting the product out to the market and how to tell the right people that it’s there waiting to be bought.

Why it’s important for the account manager

The brief is the account man’s (or woman’s) road map. It has all the directions necessary to communicate a marketing message to the consumer. But it’s also a kind of insurance policy in case a campaign goes completely wrong. The brief will be signed off by the client so when everyone’s looking to blame everyone else for a cock up the agency can at least say that the client agreed to what had been proposed.

That’s probably unduly negative though. At its best, the brief is a link between the client world and the agency world, a way of putting all the relevant facts down on paper so everyone involved can be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Why it’s important for the creatives

There’s a reason why account people become account people and creatives become creatives: they are different species. They don’t just talk different languages, they think in different ways and are motivated by different things. The brief is an attempt to cross that eternal divide, a “Babel fish” for translating accountspeak into normal language.

A diligent creative team will go through the full brief to get an in-depth picture of the product they’ve been asked to come up with a concept for. But very often too much detail can actually get in the way of clear thinking. Having too much information is sometimes worse than having too little.

This is all the creative team really needs to know:

  • What the communications objective is.
  • Who the target audience is.
  • What they should think or feel.
  • What the key promise or benefit of the product is.
  • Why anyone should believe that key promise.

All of that will fit comfortably on a single sheet of A4. (And if it doesn’t, make it fit!) It would be great if the suits did this for you but, if not, do it yourself. In fact it’s a great way of clarifying your own thoughts by making you distil all the facts and figures you’ve been given into a handlable document with a clear focus.

After that you’re ready for the battle to come up with a winning creative execution.

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5 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    Haha, good luck with that. Don’t think I’ve EVER had a brief which would be considered up to these lofty standards!

    • Copywriter Collective
      Copywriter Collective says:

      Yeah, fair point. But I think that even if no one gives you a coherent brief it’s worth putting a single page one together for yourself. It really does help focus your mind on exactly what needs to be done.

  2. Benedict Paul
    Benedict Paul says:

    Brief briefs may suffice for established brands and their reinforcement advertising. In my experience, the deeper the brief the better if you are a virtual unknown/challenger brand and/or if your survival depends on making the sale post-haste.

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