In February I published a guide on How to Freelance in Advertising. It's been downloaded 5,000 times from 65 countries. And I've had some really lovely feedback. Just last week I was sent this bloody nice message: "I've just gone freelance and it's been my bible. I've now got a financial framework (I wouldn't have had the foggiest) and have even upped my rate thanks to you. I just wanted to say a big thanks! Keep doing stuff!" But something interesting happened as I was writing the conclusion. Getting a little self reflective, it triggered a long term need for something more fulfilling. Clients and projects I could sink my teeth into and do some proper damage with. (Maybe not the best analogy.) And the stars aligned. After freelancing with Ogilvy Melbourne for a few months, they asked me to come on board. Today I start with them permanently. Still only four days a week, of course. Time for the next chapter. 👊🏻...

Two clichés I hear often from agencies are "Good ideas can come from anywhere" and "Every brief is an opportunity". The former is true, although ideas are almost always better when they come from the people who are briefed, accountable and experienced. The latter is false. Not all client problems are equal. Many are not opportunities, for the client or the agency. The smart ones treat these efficiently, pushing simple ads out fast. Strategy is the same. There's three ways a planner can write a creative brief. #1 Write A Decent Brief We unnecessarily fetishise insights. Sometimes you don't need a deep cultural truth or an undiscovered human insight. For some problems, you just need a simple articulation of the challenge. Distill what the client has given the agency, and give the creatives a roadmap so they don't get lost. I recently worked on an FMCG brand who were introducing a new flavour. They had a small budget, and pre-booked six second Facebook ads. The problem only needed a decent, clean brief. Some direction on what the answer could look like. In this case a challenge to make it visually compelling, giving the "new" announcement some impact. The concept the client bought was lovely, and everyone was happy. (It actually allow us additional time to craft the art direction, rare these days.) Sometimes the best thing a planner can do is very quickly get out of the way. #2 Write A Good Brief Better creative briefs bring something new to the table. Something that makes you think “Oh fuck, that’s true and I haven’t thought about it that way.” They inject something interesting. Setting a richer playground for the creatives by telling them (and the client) something they don’t know. Then, they sacrifice the alternatives. If strategy is just a fancy word for "focus", good briefs draw a line in the ground and declare this is the insight to build on, and shape the messaging around. #3 Write A Killer Brief This is where the brilliance happens. Where you solve the problem. It's a misconception that it’s creative’s job to do the heavy lifting. Because it’s the planner who answers the brief. If you’re just providing the direction, that’s a decent brief. If you’re scarifying with inspiration, that’s a good brief. But when you find the opportunity and make the problem go away, you're really doing killer work. These are the kinds of briefs when you observe a behaviour that leads to new product development. Or uncover a new segment which grows the category. Or find a new benefit that's never been communicated before. Or a way to reposition which kills a competitor. Rob Campbell, Head of Strategy at R/GA, disagrees. He says "If you solve the problem for Creatives, you're a dictator." But sometimes the job of creative is to make the solution more compelling. If you write two of these in 12 months you’re having a blinder of a year. - - - I had an old boss who said “simple or wonderful, but nothing in between”. You can’t spend your whole career writing wonderful briefs. Sometimes the best strategy is getting out the way, especially when it allows you to focus on the opportunities instead....

When you decide to freelance, the most common advice you're given is to expect quiet Januarys. Well, I had a quiet January. So I wrote How to Freelance in Advertising - a practical guide to getting started and not being homeless, by someone who's been doing it a while. It's real long tail stuff. A blog post accidentally became 12,000 words. Turns out I have a lot of advice and a few battle stories. These are my tools and truths for taking the leap. Revised August 2019. If y'all read it, let me know....

[vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text] There's a famous joke called The Aristocrats: A family walk into a talent agent's office. The agent asks what their act is. The family get on stage, and do the most vile things to each other. Eventually, the agent asks what the act is called. "The Aristocrats." It's a favourite among comedians, a rite of passage. The setup and the punchline always remain the same, but each person can make it their own, riffing on the middle. Usually it's an excuse to be as filthy and offensive as possible. This is South Park's version. Good advertising works the same way. Effective brands find new ways to say the same thing again and again. Gareth Price says "Advertising must find new ways of repeating itself." This is the power of a brand platform, like Specsavers' Should've Gone To Specsavers and Snickers' You're Not You When You're Hungry. Consistent messaging for decades, not weeks. Sadly it's often the first thing a new agency or client kills. I love what UberEats are doing, in the early stages of building their Aristocrats: [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text] [/vc_column_text][vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/embed/P_-VAm_bhOM"][vc_column_text] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text] This is good advertising. It's product heavy, uses celebrities to grab attention, and is establishing a clever brand mnemonic in the doorbell. And it has longevity. As sponsors of the Australian Open, the template was adapted with some very cute executions like this: [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text] [/vc_column_text][vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSmkBgdDPdE"][vc_column_text] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation="" row_type="row" use_row_as_full_screen_section="no" type="full_width" angled_section="no" text_align="left" background_image_as_pattern="without_pattern"][vc_column][vc_column_text]The effectiveness in these is not a big idea. They aren't creatively sexy. But they are good advertising. It's far from boring and fits their brand platform template. Mark Ritson would call it "disruptively consistent". Not all ads need a big idea. This camping store won't be winning any creative awards, but the campaign will work its guts off. This car ad doesn't have a human insight or big idea, and yet is distinctive and positions them as the fun SUV. Especially if they run quirky ads like this for the next decade. The Nordics have been doing it forever. As I write this we're hours away from Superbowl. There will be plenty of big swings, and many of them will hit. But if you're ever worked in an agency, you know getting to a big idea is hard, and making one is even harder.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]...

Occasionally I read something which completely challenges a long held belief. Most recently it was BBH planner Mel Arrow's piece Forget Human Truth, Brands Should Be Talking Human Fiction. She suggests we spend too long obsessing over insights, when humans are just as attracted to fiction and narrative. It's a good argument - Homo sapiens lasted by sharing stories. There is no insight in Justice4Grenfell's 3 Billboard campaign. It's simply a cracking media idea. As a subscriber to "strong opinions, lightly held", I'm suddenly questioning my philosophy on how advertising works. I've long been fascinated by how agencies treat insights. (I'm partial to Mark Pollard's definition: "an unspoken truth that sheds new light on the problem".) One of the great things about freelancing is being exposed to a variety of strategic frameworks. When you flirt with eight agencies in a year, you see their differences in how each uncovers, uses, respects and encourages insightful thinking. (Or rather, how similar everyone is!) Almost always, at the foundation of every brief template is the coveted 'human truth'. Surprisingly no one seems to agree exactly what this is: An evolutionary truth - human behaviour that has always been true and will always be true A pop-cultural truth - a long or short trend to exploit which may only be true right now A target market truth - a unique behaviour true only to our audience and no one else   Arrow asks a bigger question - do we need a truth at all? (And no, it's a cop out to say "the human truth is humans like fiction" - I'm talking about writing a useful creative brief). Walmart's Famous Cars campaign is a glorified product demonstration. There's no insight in this work, but it is fame-building excellence. Agencies worship their human insights like deities. Yet there are a number of schools of thought suggesting they may not be as critical as we once believed: Low Involvement Processing theory suggests most comms are processed relatively passively. Simply by being exposed to an ad builds preference through familiarity, irrespective of message (see mere exposure effect). The value of advertising is in its signal as much as its message. Ads create (a self fulfilling) faith in the future popularity of something. Byron Sharp's research on distinctiveness, where being famous for something, even when it's not technically different from competitors, creates memory structures which influence you at purchase. Ads do not need a human truth to be effective. Which is a compelling notion having worked on two automative clients last year, where uncovering an insight on yet another retail brief isn't easy (or necessarily helpful). Instead, perhaps the role of the planner remains simplifying the problem (not to be underestimated), ensuring the approach to advertising is theoretically effective, and then getting out of the way.  In many cases the brilliance in an ad comes from a well told story. This is what makes the product or brand famous for something. Like the greatest product demonstration ever made, for Volvo Trucks, which is entirely devoid of truth: John Hegarty said "Advertising is 80% idea and 80% execution." That doesn't leave much room for a human insight. So when do you need one, and when do you not? I don't know. If you're a strategist who's stretched (lol, joking, that's everyone) ditching them on retail campaigns might be somewhere to start. Campaigns that focus on specific product attributes might be another. If you have a thought, let me know in the comments below....