Fireworks. The art of the creative brief.

*By Steve Price, Creative Director*

The creative brief. A critical part of the process of making brilliant work – and where client service team members, as the people under the skin of the client, get to impart the vital knowledge and wisdom to creatives in order for them to do the best job they can.

We’ve been debating this in the office recently in the spirit of making our own briefing process the very best it can be. The quality of a creative brief provided by client service team members really can make or break a project – and one that really works is informative, interesting, smart and inspiring in equal measure.

**The briefing journey**

The creative brief isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s a process. It lasts from the very first client interaction to the moment the work sees the light of day. It involves everyone on the project, from client service to planners to the creatives themselves.

That ‘piece of paper’ though is still an important element. It’s a benchmark. A line in the sand. Something to keep coming back to when creative thought is spiralling out of control or when staring into the unforgiving abyss that is the blank layout pad.

What that piece of paper contains, or whether that piece of paper is the be-all and end-all, isn’t set. The format of creative briefs is often dictated by how a given organisation chooses to approach the problem. Most have a formula. A set of parameters to adhere to in order to put a process in place that can be followed.

The controversial ex-worldwide creative director at WPP Group, Neil French, said something like this on the subject…

*“When I get a new brief, I’ll open a nice bottle of Rioja and have a glass while I read it. Then I’ll immediately start writing. I’ll continue to write, drink the rest of the bottle, then have a little sleep. When I wake up, if I still haven’t cracked it, then the brief’s wrong.”*

**Truth is, there’s more than one way to skin this particular rabbit. **

The who, the why, the what and the when. These are the basics. We might know the client inside out, they might be new kids on the block. Either way, we need to know as much as we can about them and the task at-hand.

Who they are trying to convince out there in the market? What’s our motivation for doing the work? Why does the client think it’s necessary? What’s the product or service itself? Is the communication driven by the product or service or is it more brand-led?

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, what’s the mandatories? Brand guidelines, print or digital conformities and conventions. Does the client hate green? What are the pitfalls we should avoid?

What does success look like? Where is the bar set? We have to create work that works or we might as well not bother.

If you take even a cursory glance at the web, you’ll find a lot of information as to how best to write a creative brief. You’ll even find templates that some of the big agencies purport to follow.

From my research, I’ve assembled six key pointers that I believe are vital to the development of a successful creative brief.

**1. Interrogate the client **

Squeeze the best brief possible out of them. Listen to what they say, read the documents, tow the party line, but push back. Be inquisitive. Ask difficult questions. Agencies want to be seen as client partners not simply vendors. Partners and trusted advisers aren’t afraid to make life difficult for each other if it’s for the common good.

**2. Cut to the chase**

Once you’ve extracted the reams and reams of information out of the client, it’s now that the job really starts. You need to simplify and distil all of that complex information using your knowledge of the client and get to the good stuff. What are the real key take outs? What has the client said without even thinking about it that really gets to the nub of the task. By pushing back, going beyond the party line and asking searching questions, you get little gems and nuggets out of clients. Your ability to spot these and relay them to creatives is critical.

**3. Give it your ten percent**

If you’re going to a party, what do you do? You bring a bottle of wine. Exactly. As author and client confidant, offer your perspective, not just a transcription of a meeting. Inspire thoughts and propositions with your own take on client wants and needs. You should know your client inside out so your viewpoint is priceless.

**4. It’s not just a piece of paper **

Creatives like to procrastinate. Headphones on, they’ll quite happily try and solve a brief using Google, Wikipedia and a smile (if you’re lucky). So get creatives out of their seats. Think of other ways they can experience the product or service. If you’re selling a frying pan, get them cooking a meal with it. What makes this frying pan different to that all the rest that’s out there? Put a rocket up their backsides. Watch this video. Go to this place. Speak to this guy. Attend this event. Eat this cheese. These things take time, obviously, so factor them in – along with all the mandatory requirements, obviously.

**5. Right first time is rare**

Great creative work is really, really hard. Be ready to go on the journey with your creative team. Work with them to fix issues and refine work as it develops. Client service team members are the vital conduit between the client’s problem and a great creative solution. Accept that responsibility.

**6. Set off fireworks**

Finally, a great brief is a powerful springboard. The author should be aiming to get creatives bursting to work on the project. Make sure your briefs are the ones that the creative team fight over. It doesn’t matter what the client is. In my experience, the best and most creative opportunities can come from the most unexpected sources. Inject your brief with positive thoughts, inspiring language and reap the benefits.