Whether you work in an agency, an in-house creative group, or freelance, crafting good work in the digital age means being able to do it in unstructured fast-paced environments under extreme time pressure and high expectations.
And, as often as not, working without the framework and clarity creative briefs bring to the process.
Social media exacerbate the problem with its pressure to publish a continual stream of content—and as a result, we see a lot of work that’s forgettable, irrelevant or plain embarrassing.
Basic as it sounds, and despite how much the digital era has altered the formats of advertising and the process of making it, creative teams still need an approved creative brief to set the course and define the problem in a way that inspires them to find the best solution.
Otherwise, brands, agencies, and the work that floods our screens will continue to suffer from weak ideas and flimsy strategy.
The reality is that writing creative briefs is a lost art and one I’d love to help restore. Which is why I plan to devote a future post to the basics of writing them, such as which information fields are essential to include and what not to add.
But first, here are the six reasons that make the business case for using creative briefs.
1. Creative briefs save time. And money.
Yes, writing a creative brief and then going through the process of client review and approval takes time and delays the start of the project. But the hours of wasted time saved more is well worth the extra steps.
Time is money in the agency world. Using creative briefs can avoid write-offs, which as anyone in account management knows is the cardinal sin of profitability.
Even in a healthy economy, clients and managers expect agencies and marketing departments to run lean. So teams are juggling multiple assignments, which limits the amount of time they can devote to yours. Create efficiency from the start with a creative brief that cuts to the chase and has been blessed by the client.
Of course, there’s always the chance the client will change her mind about the deliverables or the timing of project milestones, and you’ll have to roll with it.
But these days, no one has time for revisions or edits that could have been avoided up front.
2. Creative briefs keep everyone accountable.
I’ve heard account executives complain—with some justification—that writing a creative brief isn’t worth the bother because the creatives won’t follow it anyway. Trust me; if it’s a good brief and you’ve got a good team, they’ll refer to it at every step in the process.
Seasoned teams and their clients understand that creative briefs hold everyone to an agreed set of expectations. Clarity at the outset benefits makers and approvers because even under the best of circumstances, things can get murky fast.
Developing ideas is a process of mentally navigating your way through the objectives, the guidelines, and mandatories, and then blocking out the white noise of clashing egos, competing priorities, and external circumstances not in your control.
Being able to look up now and then to check a bullet point on the brief, similar to how a backpacker uses a blaze on a tree trunk, builds confidence in your direction, and momentum in your progress.
3. Creative briefs protect you from the trap of familiarity.
The danger of having a cozy client relationship is complacency can start to set in. When you’ve got a team that’s worked on the same business for many years, shared tribal knowledge makes it easy to skip process steps because everyone knows the client, what they want, and the most efficient way to deliver it.
But eventually, that comfort level can lead to stale solutions, a miffed client, and an opportunity for another shop to snatch the business.
Writing a creative brief for every project, and not just the yearly campaign, forces you to look at the client and their challenges with fresh eyes. And a new perspective often brings new insights and solutions.
4. Creative briefs can transform small projects into significant breakthroughs.
I’ve worked in enough agencies to know some jobs that don’t require a creative brief.
Examples include the agency Christmas card, the beloved client’s retirement video, and the poster/microsite/app for the charity run.
Fun stuff and favors aside, any client project that involves more than one creative staffer is large enough to write a brief. Jobs with tight budgets and timelines have less margin for error and typically, barely enough hours to get it right the first time.
Also, those little, ankle-biter jobs you don’t have time for are ideal training opportunities for junior account people to learn how to manage the creative process properly.
Make sure they follow best practices on the minnows, and you’ll be able to trust them with handling a whale when you’re out on maternity leave.
Lastly, we’ve all seen small projects lead to big creative ideas and impressive hardware at award show time. And let’s not kid ourselves. Clients may claim that awards don’t matter to them.
But the number of client lobbies or offices I’ve seen with creative awards on display tell me differently.
5. Creative briefs pre-sell the client.
Forgive me for stating and re-stating a point that should be obvious, but get the client’s approval on the brief before starting work.
For reasons I have never understood, checking this box seems to be a problem for many account executives. Getting clients invested in the work from the beginning makes them more likely to approve it in the end.
That process starts with their input and approval on the brief.
Trust me, clients at brands with seven and eight-zero production budgets not only expect their creative partners to be skilled at writing and using creative briefs, many of the brands I’ve worked with require the agency to use their format.
6. Creative briefs earn the agency more client respect.
Account people who insist on working from creative briefs and other scopes of work documents like estimates and calendars earn a place at the strategic table by getting the execution right. Clients trust they’ll make sure things get done, and done well.
That trust leads to input on planning and spending priorities.
So if you’ve got a project bearing down on you, better get cracking on that brief. After all, you’re probably already behind the eight ball on your timeline as it is.
Can you afford the hours it will take to do the project twice?