How do you know when you’ve written an inspired creative brief?

Since I began writing this blog, I’ve focused on as many of the elements I can think of that go into writing an inspired creative brief.

But I’ve discovered that, to my chagrin, I haven’t answered perhaps the most critical question facing any brief writer:

“How do I know my brief will inspire the creatives?”

Fair question.

So here’s something I found that will help you know when your brief is doing its job. And here is also where I remind you to collaborate with your creative team! Don’t slave over your brief and then hand it over. Talk to them before you put fingers to keyboard. Get a dialog going.

Creatives don’t do creative solo. They pair up. This is a good concept to steal for brief writers!

I got this from a friend of a friend. It was written by the folks at Leo Burnett in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. And it’s called the 7+ Brief Standard. It looks like this:

HEAVEN
10. This is a real opportunity to make the brand famous.
9. I can see brilliant advertising coming from it.
8. I can see it will breakthrough in the category.

THE GOOD LIFE ON EARTH
7. It’s very inspiring — I want to work on it.
6. “I get an idea quickly from it.”
5. It’s focused and single minded.

HELL
4. It’s unfocused.
3. It’s a client’s wish list. “Just too much stuff.”
2. I have difficulty understanding it.
1. “I do not want to work on it at all.”

So, when you read this David-Letterman-like top 10 list of criteria for an inspired creative brief, who’s speaking?

Answer: Creatives. The people who’d be reading your brief.

Why is the list called 7+? Because anything less than a 7 won’t earn a ranking of inspired.

If you want to know, I mean really know, if your brief is inspired, use this list as your standard. If you’re collaborating with your creative team, gauge their reaction to your draft brief. Better yet, show them this list and get them to rank your brief. Believe me, they won’t hesitate to give you a critique.

But isn’t that what you want?

After all, once they’ve given you something above a 7, then it’s their turn to deliver.

Which should be no sweat. Because you’ve just inspired them.

How do you initiate changes in the way your creative brief gets written?

Change is easy to talk about, harder to actually do.

If part of your job includes writing creative briefs, and you’re not satisfied with how you’ve been trained to write them. Or you just think it’s time to step up the overall quality of the way briefs are written where you work, it’s natural to ask the question, “So, how do I change the process around here?”

I think we both know the answer.

With apologies to Nike, just do it.

If you’ve been reading any of the posts on this blog, you know enough to start writing better, clearer, more inspiring briefs. I’d like to believe you’re doing that already.

But the way to start is to just start. I also think it will pay huge dividends to enlist your creative team as collaborators. That alone will make your job easier and give it more credibility.

In other words, I’m suggesting that you simply take the initiative. Don’t wait.

Ask forgiveness, not permission.

Advertising and communications professionals tend to be self-starters, people who don’t wait around for orders. Whether you’re a creative or an account management person, the field of communications attracts problem solvers.

Let the quality of your work speak for the need to write better briefs. There’s no guarantee that what you do will automatically filter into another brief writer’s efforts. But it might. One thing is certain: it can’t filter into your colleagues briefs if you don’t step up and make your briefs better yourself. It has to start somewhere. Why not with you?

Writing a better brief offers many benefits, not least that it gives you, the brief writer, a bigger role in the direction of the creative you’re asking your team to develop. That’s a heady thing.

You can lead your team to the buried treasure. Or you can lead them astray. You have the power to do both.

Use that power wisely. Grasshopper.

How does the creative brief reflect changes in our industry?

When thought leaders—and here I refer specifically to account planners, fellow practitioners and pundits who blog, address conferences and write articles—talk about what new directions advertising is taking, they tend to speak about how consumers connect to brands.

That’s hardly a revelation.

For example, one of the more recognized thought leaders in our industry is Russell Davies, who blogs regularly. I was sent a PowerPoint presentation recently that included this quote from Russell:

“The whole industry is obsessed with the idea of a simple message, endlessly repeated…What people actually want is stuff with complexity, some meat, some richness…Not stuff that’s distilled to a simple essence or refined to a single compelling truth. No one ever came out of a movie and said, ‘I really like that. It was really clear.'”

What struck me about Russell’s observation is not that consumers are smarter than some of us give them credit for and can understand intelligent communications, something David Ogilvy said decades ago.

What struck me was his notion of the sacredness of the single compelling truth. If he’s right, at least part of the reason has to be the responsibility of its role in the creative brief. Everything in the brief points to that one key thought. All the objectives, all the consumer insights, everything we learn about who our brand loyalist is and why she is.

We’ve been trained to focus on this central reality without really thinking about it.

Since no one gets a real education in how to write this document, unless you’re an account planner, we tend not to examine its make up, the individual questions it asks us as we march to the inevitable conclusions that every creative brief reaches.

This is my obsession, of course, but it leads me to ask, “Well, why don’t we re-examine the brief? It’s not carved in stone!”

Except that it is. Because those of us who use it don’t think about it. We’re too busy doing the work.

And that’s exactly why we have thought leaders, people like Russell Davies, who challenge our thinking.

But the good news is, whether there’s agreement or not on the role of the “single compelling truth,” the creative brief, that ubiquitous document everyone loves to bemoan and ignore, has the ability to address change.

The creative brief is not the last stage of the strategic process. It’s the first step in the creative process. If you want to make a change in how advertising connects people to brands, start with the creative brief.

You can debate the correctness of Russell’s observations. But you can’t debate the importance of the document creatives use to translate those insights into effective, measurable communications.

The vessel is worth only as much as the value of the information you place in it.