undertaking the unimaginable: reshaping the creative brief for the year 2012

The catalyst for this post is the many conversations I’ve had with planners, creatives and people not even in the business of advertising* recently, about THEE CREATIVE BRIEF being A TAD broken. Being a HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE THING, the very nature of the brief has been debated probably since Adam first showed Eve the mind map. However, some people still fail to admit that there is a problem with the brief, despite a list of MISGIVINGS longer than my (admittedly rather short) arm.

What’s astounding is that despite the debate surrounding the notion and composition of a brief, the template and the questions that we ask ourselves really hasn’t changed that much. Given we’re an industry that gets paid to solve problems, it seems a bit sad. It’s a prickly issue for many reasons we won’t discuss today; needless to say, most of the people I’ve talked to have an opinion on it but choose not to speak up or agitate for a solution because they think the following:

a) It shows a type of treason toward the agency they work for. (fear)

b) They don’t have all the answers at the ready and don’t want to appear stupid or worse, out of touch. (fear)

c) It’s just the tip of the iceberg of much larger and looming issues. (fear)

d) The brief is what keeps them in a job. (fear)

e) All of the above. (fear x 4)

We all know that fear’s a strong emotion, and more importantly it’s probably stopped a lot of great things happening over the years. But being a low-mid planner, and thus not having the responsibility and therefore risk of someone more senior, I’ve decided to have a crack at the problem: reconfigure the creative brief for the year 2012. But before we re-wire, we need to get to the bottom of what’s really wrong and in typical planning fashion, I’m going to deduce this with the power of A SURVEY. Yep, I have my own two cents on what’s working and what’s not, but I could use your collective brains in coming up with questions for the surveys: one for creatives and one for planners. Yes, we’re staying true to 2012 and we’re going to do this thing together.*** And because the issue’s a sensitive one, I’m going to use the power of Survey Monkey****, so you can all anonymously answer and add your thoughts.

 Here’s some research fodder (yep, others have been here before me):

Here’s some more proof of the problem if you need it:

Here’s a pick and mix medley of more proof:

Thanks for reading and hit me back with some questions for the survey*****.

Pirate. Navy.



############ ############ ############ ############

*up for debate.

**also up for debate.

***/ you do the work for me.

****thanks for being free.

*****Yes, it’s g33ky, but it works.


  1. Richard

    Well I think for starters planners spend a ludicrous amount of time debating the constituent parts of a creative brief. I used to think that redesigning the creative brief was the first thing a new planning head did upon taking office just to prove they were doing some work. And plus I hate creative briefing templates. So I have always advocated people writing the right brief for the task they had at hand – the so called naked brief. This had the effect of making all briefs technically future proof as what went into the brief could change with every project.

    That said I have recently tried a different tack – simply because it felt that to force the issue a little in terms of agency output one might need to force the issue a little in terms of the input. So our creative brief now includes a contextual piece covering the communities, connections and chatter that surround the audience – and a greater focus on some specifics like the production budget since this has such a demonstrable effect on what we can do or make.

    Overall I think one of the fascinating issues that we face is where media and technology go in a brief or in a creative development process. We have spend a couple of decades getting media out of creative briefs because we were looking for more than TV ideas. However, more and more we need some ground rules in a brief about what sort of thing we might be making and where.

  2. Faris


    Every generation must redefine its own terms. That’s probably a good thing.

    Richard – you wrote a very similar comment when I posted on the perfect brief in 2006 – well the first bit anyway

    (have a look on my blog for perfect brief and you will find the post with comments from Richard John grant mark earls and others)

    You also said you write a good brief by having a good idea – which I have never forgotten.

    Is a brief a question or an answer? That’s an important consideration I believe.

    Also I absolutely agree that we have to indicate what kind of ideas we are talking about – content or software or action? What is most likely to solve the business problem?

    I had a go recently in my planning the future of planning paper:


    Also looks at communities and meta communication etc.


  3. Martin

    I’m with Richard. The brief template is a rather boring obsession of planners. Sorry.

    But to indulge in it just a little, I think I’d take issue with your thesis that something is ‘broken’. For there is little compelling evidence that the structure and semantics of the brief template have a disproportionate impact on the nature and quality of the creative solution.

    For while both the nature and quality of creative solutions in our industry vary wildly, the brief format itself varies far less.

    After all, when you strip away the clever window dressing at heart all briefs ask pretty much the same questions. What’s the issue? What’s the task for communications? Amongst whom? In what places? In what voice?

    We demand that creatives and planners jointly develop the most interesting strategic starting point possible. However, while it gives us vital focus, for us it is but a starting point. What really matters for us are not the headings in a template but the conversations we have in the ensuing development of ideas.

    Which is why we look for smart people who understand that strategy and creative are inseparable, who aren’t afraid to collaborate, who recognize that a good idea can come from anywhere, who have the confidence to start over if something better comes up. And why we don’t have a rigid template of any kind.

    If you’re not getting to good work from your briefs, the chances are that it’s not the template and its semantics which are at fault. But the people you’ve hired. The way they work together (or don’t). The agency culture in which they operate. And the kinds of clients you’ve chosen to work with.

    • CP

      Martin, irrefutable logic in my view. That all said, the whole ‘creative brief’ process still seems to fit a ‘start-stop’ brand world rather than an ‘always on’ one. Surely the only ‘brief’ that needs nailing 100% is why the world is a better place for the brand being here (built on a set of relevant beliefs), ensuring that the brand does stuff in the real & virtual world that is evidence of those beliefs that, in turn, drive the brand’s purpose that, in turn, encourages advocates of the brand and its beliefs to share with people they care about.

      • Martin

        CP, While the rhetoric of ‘always on’ makes me feel slightly nauseous, your point about ‘start-stop’ is an interesting one. Perhaps we should be thinking about ‘rolling briefs’…

  4. addwax (@addwax)

    The brief we work with is a working document that demands all creatives/planners/other paticipants finger prints (yes, physically – ink and finger) on it when it\’s considered \”kind of done\”/interesting/feeling really right. Up until then, it\’s discussions around the beta brief (hence working document), if you will, that starts with a briefing (much more important). Early ideas/thoughts are documented and brief amended. So it goes from pretty wide to more narrow by way of everyone\’s input. First version, however, is very clear on the problem/challenge and desired outcomes.

    The best thing; creatives love it as much as planning because we all write it and reshape it. Longer process, granted, but in the end all onboard.

  5. Gina Williams

    Hi team! Thanks so much for the debate here. Am loving the thinking from all angles. I’m going to reserve adding my two cents until the survey results are out. On that, am going to be distributing the link on Monday, so stay tuned to help me propagate far and wide. The more minds on this thing the better. Ta!

  6. Thom Pulliam (@thompulliam)

    One problem I see is oftentimes the brief is seen as the kickoff to an assignment, but because it is an advertising brief it assumes an advertising solution (usually set in stone). I like the idea of a rolling-brief as mentioned by Martin. This implies one starting brief that starts from a place that doesn’t rely on paid media as the solution (but still aware of a working budget). Initial ideas and interesting solutions would flow from the first briefing and then iterative briefs that strategically hone and add value to the initial ideas would follow. This iterative cycle of briefing, ideating, honing, and briefing again would continue until the best solution is reached in the given time frame. This idea of a rolling-brief also seems in line with the new philosophy Google is pimping called Agile Creativity. Check out what they’re saying and about their Minimum Viable Brief here: http://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/insights/featured/agile-creativity/

    P.S. You didn’t mention Ed Cotton’s previous Creative Brief Project from 2010. http://www.slideshare.net/ed1001/the-creative-brief-project

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