The Client Brief – Perfecting The Art

The creative brief is your roadmap. Your Sherpa. Your guide to the buried treasure. The creative brief is the contract between the client and the agency and between the agency account team and the creative team. It spells out in inspiring terms exactly what is that needs to be produced to solve a specific business problem.

Yet it is either treated like a piece of literature with an unending number of pages or an uninspiring piece of paper with check boxes to be filled out. There is also a problem of inconsistent understanding of how to develop and use the brief. Usually the account team does not think about adding value on top of what the client provided. The creative brief is developed in silos and this creates disconnect between the strategy, account management and creative teams. Given that the quality of the final work depends on the brief (Garbage In is Garbage Out) there needs to be a shift in the way we approach the creative brief. Creative Brief

To improve the briefing process, PAS recently hosted a one-day training workshop ‘The Client Brief – perfecting the art!’ on February 1, 2012 at Marriott Hotel, Karachi. The workshop was conducted by Sunil Gupta, a Master Trainer and a veteran of Indian advertising with 28 years of a wide range of experience across diverse brands, consumers and markets.

The new brief is a growing testament to the availability of hyper-choice in an extremely cluttered marketplace where traditional differentiation is no longer enough. The creative brief now is no longer just about the document. It’s about the thinking behind it and the ideas that comes after it. “I want to expand the definition of the brief from that piece of paper in which you put down that I want a 30 second Tvc and two print ads to this is my problem and I’m looking for a communication solution part of which can be advertising. Can you come up with ideas that create customer delight”, evangelizes Sunil Gupta. “The customer has to say WOW!” He continues, “Word of mouth now is very critical and that is created by experience. Now you have to say as your communication brief or engagement brief, what is the experience we want to create for our customers and can our systems support those experiences. Therefore internal communication and training becomes as important as communication and advertising. That is the point to create today. Your entire company has to be aligned around your brand. This is a question of willpower and discipline. You can have the best advertising and it still might not meet objectives because the product experience is damaging. Thus advertising is just one part of the strategy today”, said Sunil Gupta.

Muhammad Shoaib Baloch, Creative Director, Prestige Communication concurred with an observation of his own “A brief is a process and the agency is never made part of the actual process of what resulted in the need for advertising. Brief can be the dust or the gold, depending on how the client briefs the agency. The more exciting the brief, the more the out of the box campaign you’ll get”.

Thus it can be said that the brief is not a form to be filled out but the beginning of the creative process, the first creative thinking, the first imaginative leap and the first ad of the campaign and if it’s not written in the format that gets into the agency people’s minds, than they will not measure their work against it – one reason why despite bad briefing, the agency still produces great work…They simply ignore the brief.

Creative BriefYet advertisers cannot afford to take this aspect of communication lightly. With the pace of business quickening and as the number of brands multiplies, increasingly it is not companies but the customer who will decide which brand lives and which brands die and to do that it is now highly important to stand out in the market place. This means finding something, anything which can separate your brand from the clutter. To start this process ask yourself “Are you Asking The Right Questions”. The brief in 1992 which the agencies used to send to their clients included questions like:
• What is the problem or opportunity?
• Who are we talking to?
• What should the advertising achieve?
• What thought do we want to leave with others?
• What will make them believe this?
• What is required?
• Anything else?

Come 2012 and for most part agencies still follow the same brief format namely a problem to be solved by advertising, consumers’ to ‘target’, a message to say AT them, reasons to believe, tone of voice and what media the client needs. This is despite of the fact that the consumer and the media both have changed dramatically in the last decade. A more relevant method of questioning now is What’s the real problem?, Who is this among?, How might we best approach solving this?, Why might they talk about this idea?, How do they get involved? and What will keep the conversation going?

The brief also needs to follow some guidelines amongst which are:
Marketingese / jargon has no place in a brief. Speak with personality (ideally that of a consumer), and immediately you’ll use far more evocative inspiring language and not hide behind generic marketing nothingness.
A briefing is not a dictation. Make a brief closed or directional, and you’ll know what the creatives will produce even before they go away to work on it. A brief should be a platform from which they can launch off from. Not a means for you to force your ideas on a team. Always double check – can you think of two or three ideas from the brief you’ve written immediately? Are any of them your pet ideas? If yes, your agency will produce more or less the same.
A brief should not be written in exclusion of others. Whilst the planner should own the final document, but it is absolutely imperative to go to speak with the creative teams when writing it. Take some options, get their point of view.

If the creative brief is not itself creative, if it does not suggest solutions to problems, present information in an expansive and interesting way, and interpret the information with imagination and flair, then its authors and presenters have no right to expect anything different from the creative agency. To check whether it’s an engaging proposition or not, it helps to ask questions like Is it instantly clear and does it communicate exactly what you want to say?, Does it contain a fact about the product you didn’t know before you started writing? Is it surprising or thought-provoking?, Does it contain a strategic insight?, Does it contain a benefit to the consumer?, Do you yourself believe it? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, it isn’t an engaging proposition e.g. we can say Dawn Newspaper is the paper of choice of the upper income segment of the population of Pakistan which are the core decision makers of the country, which in all likelihood will produce a typical ad. However a better brief would be Dawn Newspaper is for people who like to make up their own minds and a great brief would be Dawn Newspaper – not written for sheep. Thus when writing a brief, these are the top tips.

Consistent – The brief is brief for a reason. There is no space for tangents and multiple ideas. Pick your core theme, and trail it through EVERY element. If it is as fertile a thought as it should be, this will be easy.
Get the right info in the right boxes – Often boxes are mixed up in which Insights are passed off as objectives and the audiences are often found in mandatories. There are no “dull, functional” boxes. Everything should inspire and stick to your theme.

Language – Work hard to avoid the mundane. Let your vocabulary flow and inspire. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. Every word is sacred. Make them all work hard. Remember, if you leave a loose word or loose thought, what’s to stop the creative picking up on this and basing their idea on it.

Follow The Template – It is a fixed template for a reason – to stop everyone going on for pages. If you need to shrink text or expand boxes, you are writing too much. Edit yourself, not the template.

How To Advertisement

Find your trueline – Marty Neumeier in his book ‘Zag’ says that all brand communication should emanate from your trueline. A trueline is the one statement you can make about your brand which is the reason why your brand matters to customers. It can’t be reduced, refuted or easily dismissed. The key to crafting a trueline is to focus on a single proposition. If you find yourself using commas or ‘Ands’, you may need more focus e.g. Avis – Because We’re Number Two, We Try Harder or for a insurance company don’t let your illness cripple your family.
With the wealth of increasing clutter of products, features, media, advertising and messages creating a poverty of attention in our world today, we need to ensure that we create emotions, aesthetics and experience that excite our audiences and creates vibrancy again in an increasingly dull and similar advertising landscape. To do that kind of magic requires crafting a magical brief.

Published: Dawn, Aurora Magazine, April, 2012.