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July 24, 2012
Why Do Creative Briefs Suck?
I’ve been an agency creative, a freelance creative, and a corporate creative for over 26 years. For the last 10 years, I’ve been on a crusade to improve the quality of the document we love to hate: the creative brief.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out what’s wrong, nor does it require much effort to fix things. Creatives should and must take the lead. It’s time to make the creative brief meeting an hour of rejoicing rather than dreaded punishment.
Start with this basic fact: It’s almost certain that the account person who wrote your last creative brief never received training in how to do it.
Creatives are likely rolling their eyes and thinking, “Yeah, that’s obvious...”
This isn’t a laughing matter. Unless your brief writer is British or Canadian, two places on the planet that take the process seriously enough to provide education in brief writing and creative briefing, he or she learned from copying the next most-senior account person’s brief or from copying the boss’s last creative brief.
So to a large extent, you can’t blame your brief writer because he was left to his own devices. (And for all you non-British and non-Canadian account folk who did receive training...bless you! You’re in the minority.)
Next, be sympathetic. Realize that the brief writer toils in utter solitude. She writes the brief alone. It’s written late in the process and chances are it’s rushed.
Whereas you, the copywriter or art director or IA or designer or creative director, would never do such a thing. When you come up with what you think is a fantastic idea, what happens first? You get a reality check from you partner.
Yes! You have a creative partner! You work as a team. You thrive in an environment of collaboration.
Truly brilliant partnerships are like old married couples, where each individual knows what the other is thinking and can finish the other’s sentences. I know. I’ve had partners like this.
The brief writer? No such luck. Addressing this sorry state of affairs is critical. Step up to the plate and offer to help write the next brief with your brief writer. The document exists for creatives. You absolutely need to be part of the process.
Believe me, you’ll learn a lot. About your account person. About the client. About the product. About how a brief comes together. It’s not easy. Especially the Single-Minded Proposition, or whatever the term you use for that (oh please let it be) enlightening sentence every creative looks at first. Try your hand at writing it yourself. You’ll see what I mean.
Collaborate with your account person/brief writer. Not just once. Make it a habit. You have a choice. Sit back and bitch, or get to work and help.
Yeah, I know. What else do they want us to do? As if the creative isn’t enough.
But that’s the point. The first step in the creative process is the creative brief. You have a stake in the outcome.
Expect resistance and skepticism. They’re natural. But don’t take “no” for an answer. Maybe the offer will be accepted with gratitude. Regardless, the payoffs from a creative-brief-writing partnership can be monumental.
Imagine — a united front between creative and account on the document that usually divides them.
Oh, my. I’m getting weepy.

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Howard Ibach is a college English instructor in Los Angeles. For almost 30 years, he was an advertising copywriter and creative director. He leads a half-day workshop on writing inspired creative briefs, and writes about briefs on his blog. He is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic textbook, How To Write An Inspired Creative Brief 2nd edition. It is available on Amazon, BN.com and other online retailers. It is now ranked #1 on About.com's "Ten Advertising Books You Absolutely Must Read." Visit www.howardibach.com for more about the Inspired Creative Brief Workshop and how to purchase the book.
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