The Lost Art of the Creative Brief

Last week I was having a discussion with one of our agency partners about the impact of media proliferation on the client-agency relationship. With both clients and agencies trying to grapple with this complex media landscape the communication between the two parties has become complicated. Most often, this complication is reflected in the loss of clarity and focus in the creative brief (CB).

The discussion made me reflect on my own CB writing experience. I wrote my first brief almost 11 years ago and had to rewrite it 15 times to make sure I got it right. This experience and many more after this taught me the art of writing the brief, a skill that has allowed me to build brands through effective campaigns.

A search for “effective creative brief” on Google leads to 4.2 million hits. To save you the trouble of trawling through millions of pages, let me share some of my learnings.

Every brief should answer four fundamental questions:

1. Why do you need the campaign? Clearly and precisely articulating the objectives of the campaign is real purpose of the brief. The SMART-er the objectives, the easier it is from multiple stakeholders in the organization and agency to understand and act upon. At times, clients want their campaign to work too hard and add multiple objectives (e.g. share gain and category development) in the brief. Multiple objectives could potentially lead to a weak creative execution thus missing them.

2. Who would you like to talk to? This section is the heart of the brief and in my opinion should be the most fun! In this section, marketers have an opportunity to paint a picture of the person that they would like to talk to (beyond just the demographics). In my opinion, the section should comprise a detailed description of our audience similar to the way you would describe a friend or a close family members. It would include their likes, dislikes, life style, passions, media habits and any information to form a crisp picture in the mind of the reader.

3. Why should the audience listen to you? A deep understanding of the product benefits, the beliefs of the target audience is the first step in answering this question. The next and more important step is to identify the unique and ownable product benefit that could be genuinely relevant to your audience’s belief. If you can establish that relevance, then you are on the right track. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board.

4. How do you define success? How do you define success is crucial for the agency in designing the campaign. The closer the action standards are linked to the business objectives, the more meaningful they will be. With social media becoming increasingly embedded in the campaigns, supplementing traditional metrics with the digital ones like engagement, conversations, and blog interactions will be crucial to understanding the total campaign performance.

Let me conclude by saying as the word “brief” suggests it is a succinct expression of what the client wants the agency to work on. In tough times, when everyone is looking at maximizing each dollar spent, a clear brief is the first step to creating a compelling campaign to achieve business objectives. Remember it all starts with the brief!

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.