What makes a brilliant brief and briefing?


That’s the question I was given by the APG, so I had better try and answer it.

In my humble opinion I think the best briefs and briefings need to be two things:

Simple and Inspiring.

Firstly, simple.

Brilliant briefs are brilliantly simple.

Too often society leads us to believe that complex is clever. However, we must heed the wise words that Di Vinci apparently muttered: ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. Making things simple is difficult, which makes it a valuable strategic skill in world that appears ever more complicated.

A smart person said that there are two types of smart people in the world: people who make simple things complicated, and people who make complicated things simple. Planners and Strategists must strive to be the latter with creative briefs.

A brilliantly simple brief sacrifices the superfluous until only what matters is left. It judo flips complex business problems into creative opportunities. It surveys the chaotic battle ground and condenses it into a plan of attack. It unlocks a new way of seeing the world, which somehow should have been obvious before. It takes the time to write a shorter letter.

A brilliantly simple brief uses simple language. As Arthur Schopenhauer said: ‘one should use common words to say uncommon things’. That’s why Dave Trott’s rule of thumb for creative briefs is that ‘the quality of thinking is inversely proportional to the complexity of language’.

A brilliantly simple brief passes the ‘elevator test’ (you can brief it in 30 seconds), the ‘8 year old test’ (you can explain it to a child and they will get it) and the ‘beer mat test’ (you could fit it on a beer mat and brief creatives in the pub).

A brilliantly simple brief is what creatives want. We once asked the creative department at AMV BBDO what they wanted from a creative brief, and top of the list was simplicity. As T.S. Eliot said "When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost - and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl”.

Secondly, inspiring.

Brilliant briefs are brilliantly inspiring.

Too often as an industry we are guilty of writing the mundane, the cliché and the lazy. We can get away with pasting the client’s brief into our template and passing the buck to creatives. However, creative briefs are our currency and it’s our job to make them inspiring.

A brilliantly inspiring brief is never, ever boring. It knows that people care about their lives not about your brand. It knows that most advertising goes unnoticed, so it’s imperative that we earn attention and entertain people. It knows that people are paying to avoid what we do for a living, so it goes above and beyond. It exquisitely defines an interesting problem, so it's itching to be solved.

A brilliantly inspiring brief often takes a stance. As Bill Bernbach said ‘If you have a point of view people will either be for you or against you. If you don’t they will simply ignore you’. It finds cultural tensions to explore. It doesn’t have ‘positive, warm, friendly, human’ in the tone of voice box.

A brilliantly inspiring brief is what creatives want. It tells them something they don’t know. It forces them to think differently. It’s something they work off, not work to. It’s a means to an end. It leads to inspiring creative ideas and that’s why we all got into this job in the first place.

So, that’s it - briefs should simple and inspiring.

Easy to say, difficult to do.

(Oh, and one more thing, because it’s part of the question and something we sometimes forget. It’s not just about briefs, it’s about briefings. Briefings are a time to be simple and inspiring too. Don’t just read the brief out. Go beyond the brief template. Get out of the office. Add colour and stimulus. Make it memorable. Invade the brains of creatives and fill them with ideas. And remember energy goes a long way – if you aren’t excited about the brief, why should anyone else be?).

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