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Better briefs breed bigger ideas

I’ve had some briefs in my time, let me tell you. Big ones, small ones, long ones, short ones, 10-hour ones, 2-minute ones, 5000-word ones, 5-word ones, chapter and verse ones, barely even verbalised ones.

The brief is in many ways, of course, the start of the cycle. The first step on the creative journey towards the big idea and, as such, is absolutely critical to the whole process.

Give a good brief and you’re instantly upping your chances of the agency coming up with a great idea.

And yet, in my experience, it can be an area that’s often overlooked, often given scant regard.

Now I know it’s always going to be horses for courses when briefing. The level of detail and the amount of preparation the client or account handler goes into will, of course, depend upon the type of job involved. Not to mention your own familiarity with the client as a creative. If, say, you’re coming up with a small support ad that’s going to take you 20 minutes, you don’t want a four-hour brief. Similarly, if it’s an existing client, you might not want nor necessarily need a blow-by-blow account of their every marketplace innovation in the last 100 years.

But, if we’re talking about a new creative campaign for a new or relatively new client, here would be my tips to help you forge a mutually productive and beneficial relationship with your creative resource – my advice to help you end up with the best possible creative result:

1. Don’t be lazy

Don’t dodge the difficult. Don’t hide from hard work. Few things in life are liable to irritate the art director/writer team more than having account handlers or clients email messages where they’re asked to scroll down through umpteen internal email discussions in order to eke out the valuable snippets of information they need to help them embark on the project.

Trust me, ‘See below’ are two words guaranteed to set off a small fit of creative pique. That and ‘Check links’.

So, don’t take short cuts. Don’t ask people to do your hard work for you.

At the very least, especially if you’re on the agency side, it’s being terrifically lazy. After all, unless you’re intimately acquainted with the product or service, unless you pass on those nuggets you’ve picked up, unless you show yourself that level of understanding and knowledge you’re trying to engender in your creatives, how on earth can you expect to get the desired results?

2. Don’t be a cliché

You come across some fairly weird characters in advertising agencies. We can be an eclectic bunch.

Many, many moons ago, HROC used to have an account director whose entire brief consisted solely of:

‘It needs to stand out and grab attention.’

It didn’t matter who the client was. Didn’t matter what product or service they were selling. Didn’t matter which media it was. Didn’t matter who we were supposed to be talking to. The instructions to the creatives were always the same:

‘Make it stand out. Make it grab attention.’

This came as something of a surprise to the creatives. Naturally, we were under the impression our job was to make the idea as dull and ordinary and insipid as possible. We assumed our key objective was for the creative execution to create minimum impact, garner minimum attention, achieve minimum standout.

What the account director in question failed to understand, of course, is that, when someone’s words and mantras are stuck on endless repeat, their meaning diminishes and what they’re saying becomes a kind of fuzzy background noise. Ignored by everyone.

There was another former account handler (okay, you got me, it might have been the same one) whose default setting brochure brief comprised just four words. Whatever the client, you could be pretty much sure that the brochure in question needed to be:

‘Clean, fresh, modern, contemporary.’

Oh please.

So, don’t lapse into old overdone advertising chestnuts. Don’t lumber your creatives with inane marketing platitudes. If you want the best, well-thought out creative solutions, give them a well-thought out brief. If you want a creative idea that prods and probes and pokes, then the brief you’re writing should attempt to do the same, too.

3. Do look for the compelling insight

Advertising probably used to be a whole lot easier back in the old days.

Back then, you had USPs – unique selling propositions. Something new and different your client could lay claim to.

Nowadays, USPs, absolutely bona fide USPs, are much more difficult to come by. It’s a way, way more competitive world out there. Nowadays, more often than not, you have to dig a whole lot deeper to find that special something about the product or service you’re advertising.

Here at HROC, we don’t look for USPs anymore – not unless they’re staring us right in the face.

We look for the compelling insight instead.

Okay, it’s probably just a more highfalutin and more sophisticated way of saying USP – in fact, ask the HROC Planning Director, and he’ll blur the lines further still by telling you the compelling insight is the attempt to differentiate the client in order to gain a business advantage.

Swopping marketing speak for creative cat speak, I guess we’d describe it as an attempt to identify the quintessential truth of a brief – to get to the kernel, the very crux, of the message the client’s trying to convey.

Give the creative team a focal point. Give them something to go after. This isn’t asking you to do their job and come up with the idea for them, but there’s no harm in tossing out a possible angle – an approach that warrants consideration. An avenue to explore.

Yes, of course, a brief needs all those other ‘givens’. The mandatories, the Instructions on guidelines, the deadlines, the budget, how big the logo’s got to be, so on and so forth. But, if your brief lacks a compelling insight, I’d suggest you keep it away from the creative department until it does.

If you’d like to brief HROC on coming up with a big marketing idea, we’d be delighted to hear from you.