It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…
Two marketers, both of whom work for the same reputable national brand, arrived at the office early on a Monday morning. Both had been working for this brand for 10 years. They each managed a different product line within the company.
And there the similarities ended.
Our first marketer, an intrepid soul, had just returned from a meeting with senior executives of his product line. They asked him for a new advertising campaign to kick off the next quarter. He took copious notes and felt confident that he understood his marching orders. He sat at his desk for a moment, gathering his thoughts, and called his in-house advertising department and spoke with the creative director.
“Good morning, it’s Chuck,” said the CD.
“Hey Chuck,” said our marketer. “Can you get your team assembled in an hour? I want to brief you guys on the new campaign.”
An hour later, our first marketer, brimming with enthusiasm, arrived at the conference room where Chuck accompanied his two teams of copywriters and art directors.
“Morning everyone,” said our marketer. “Here’s the skinny on the new campaign.” And he proceeded to talk for 30 minutes.
“That’s it?” asked the CD. “No creative brief?”
The marketer shook his head. “I gave you everything you need to know. It’s all straight from the executive team. Can I see ideas by Friday?”
The CD assented reluctantly. He and his teams looked crestfallen, but not surprised.
A week later, the creative team returned to the conference room to present their campaign ideas. The marketer looked, listened and frowned.
“You didn’t follow instructions,” he fumed. And he sent them back to the drawing board. This time, they worked over the weekend.
Monday morning, the results were the same. Our marketer didn’t like what he saw.
“You keep changing direction,” said the creative director. “You asked us for one thing last week, and now you want something else.”
The creative team struggled all day and by nightfall, had come up with a third set of ideas. Our marketer felt only marginally better, but decided to present the work to his senior executives the next day.
The meeting with his superiors did not go well.
“This work is off base,” said one.
“You know how we feel about using humor,” said another.
“I thought we agreed that this product feature wasn’t appropriate,” said the third exec.
The list of objections continued.
“It seems that every time we give you direction,” said the first executive, “you return with ideas that don’t meet our objectives. Why does this continue to happen?”
Our intrepid marketer skulked off to regroup.
Meanwhile, our second marketer sat in her office after a meeting with senior executives for her product line. They, too, asked for a new advertising campaign. She sat across from Chuck, the brand’s in-house ad agency creative director. They were deep in discussion about the assignment.
“I took lots of notes at the meeting,” said our second marketer, “and I turned those notes into a client brief. I’ve already run it by the executives and they approved it.”
“This is good,” said Chuck. “Let’s get to work on a creative brief for my team.”
And for the next two hours, Chuck and our second marketer brainstormed to fill out an inspired and inspiring creative brief. When they couldn’t agree on something or got stuck on a point, our second marketer put in a call to one of the senior executives and the three of them discussed the problem in a conference call. It typically took less than five minutes to resolve.
When they had a completed draft, our marketer typed it up, made copies and walked each one to the offices of the three senior executives she’d met that morning.
“Can you take a look at this creative brief and get back to me by the end of the day with your thoughts?”
They all agreed. Each executive made minor changes. Our marketer incorporated the edits into a new draft and emailed a copy to Chuck. He called his marketer to discuss the changes. They both agreed the brief was tight and ready for the creative team.
The next day, our marketer and Chuck briefed his copywriters and art directors with the final creative brief. The team asked a few questions and promised to have ideas ready soon.
When concepts were presented, the marketer smiled. “These are great. They’re on brief. I’m confident the senior execs will approve one of them.”
True to senior executive-dom, they offered some push back, but at the end of the presentation, they approved one of the ideas. They complimented the marketer for shepherding the project so smoothly and praised the creative team for its ingenuity.
Do you recognize one of these scenarios? They are condensed versions of real situations. I’ve worked at brands and ad agencies that did not use creative briefs, or had allowed the creative brief to become a rote exercise. The work always got done, but the truth is, it often took more than one try. The results were often less than satisfactory.
The process was broken.
Ask yourself this question: Would you try to assemble furniture from Ikea without the instructions?
You might say, “Sure, I’m game!” In fact, if you’ve experienced the situation described above for the first marketer, you have assembled Ikea furniture without instructions.
You can do it, but it likely will take longer and the experience will be frustrating. Just ask the creative team.
The more important question to ask: Why would you even try?
Is it the best of times or the worst of times?