Not Every Brief is an Opportunity

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.

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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.

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