I offer these five truths about the creative brief that will help you take a successful first step of the creative process.
1. Collaborate, especially with creatives. Never write this document by yourself.
How many of you remember Steve Jobs’s Parable of Rocks? It bears repeating. This is Jobs speaking:
“When I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something.
“One day he said to me, ‘Come on into my garage I want to show you something.’ And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, ‘Come with me.’ We went out into the back and we got some rocks… some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ This can was making a racket as the stones went around.
“And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other like this (Jobs clapped his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.
“That’s always been in my mind, my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about.
“It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.”
I know you’re thinking that he’s speaking about creative people: art directors, copywriters, digital folks, graphic artists and others. Maybe.
But think about the principle. Put an account planner, a creative and an account management person in a room together, and have them forge a creative brief as a team. Everyone has a stake. It’s not “You write it, I’ll work from it.” No. It’s a team effort.
Creatives have done this for decades. Creative brief writers should be doing it this way, too.
2. You must make choices. Less is definitely more.
The tendency is to cover your butt. You don’t want to accused of forgetting something. So everything is included. Nothing is excluded. Your brief is not brief.
Not everything matters. You must make decisions. The principle of “Liberating constraint” applies here. Box in your creative team with restrictions, rules, walls, the very things they detest. The result is creative freedom. This is the definition of the creative brief.
The creative brief is not a product encyclopedia. It’s the opening line of a brand poem.
3. Take a stand, and stand by it. You must be courageous.
If the Single-Minded Proposition (or the Core Idea, or the One Thing, or whatever you call it on your brief) does not spark a debate, go back to the drawing board and try again.
When it does spark a debate, relax. You done good. Now defend it.
4. If you’re really a professional, practice.
Gary Player, the South African golf legend, told this story some years ago.
Player was practicing sand shots out of a green-side bunker when a fan stopped by to watch. Player hit shot after shot after shot, each one landing softly on the green and rolling into the cup. After each shot, he heard his fan say the same thing, “That’s just luck!”
Player, clearly annoyed, turned to the man and with a smile on his face, said, “That’s right! The more I practice, the luckier I get!”
If the only time you write a creative brief is when you actually have to write a creative brief, you’re doing yourself a disservice. And everyone else on the team.
Imagine if Gary Player hit a sand shot only when his ball actually landed in a bunker. Or if LeBron James shot a free throw only when he was fouled. Imagine if these two sports giants never practiced. You know what would happen. We would never have heard of them. They’d have been failures.
It’s your job to practice writing a brief even when no brief is required. You can do this anytime: On your commute. Waiting in line for coffee. In the dentist’s chair. Think about a product, an everyday item, anything. What is its Single-Minded Proposition? Who would truly use it? What insights can you conjure about this consumer? What are the obstacles to overcome?
These are simple mind exercises you can do at any time. You don’t have to put fingers to a keyboard. But you do have to engage your brain. It’s a muscle like your bicep or hamstring. Use it. Practice.
The point is to develop muscle memory. Do this for 30 days and you have a habit. A professional habit.
5. You have permission to be creative!
The creative brief is the first step in the creative process. I like to quote Sir John Hegarty here: The brief is the first ad. It doesn’t have to be great, but it must be good.
So don’t be shy. You are allowed, encouraged, to offer up creative ideas. I have seen them called “creative starters” on some briefs. They may lead nowhere, but if you leave them out, we’ll never know, will we?
Remember these five truths and you will write better, clearer, more inspiring creative briefs.