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this is an excellent idea, so let me try and start the ball rolling. i think my ideal would be something along the lines of:
What is the problem we're trying to solve? (ie role of communications)
Who is this among?
Where is the best start point to solve this? (a replacement to the proposition - more about an approach than the usual what should the advertising say)
How can we make this interesting? (or why should people care) - more about trying to give some social ammunition/cultural influence
Any sacred cows? (the real mandatories)

The structure of buckets we were taught at VCU Adcenter to try and master and then move beyond were as follows:

Why does our client need to advertise?
What is the advertising going to accomplish?
Who are we going to connect with?
What are the most insightful things we know about them?
What is the single most effective message we can tell them?
What else supports that message?

If I may pose a question... The above format focuses on who you want to talk to, insights about those people with a message to follow that usually somehow relates to those insights. What if your insight is from the brand more so than a consumer insight? That's just one place I find the above structure inhibiting.

Russell asked for examples of briefs. You can find my favorite (by no means perfect) brief on my blog.

Hi Russell,

Haven't talked to you for a while, but after leaving London and horror of finding myself your client for a while at Daily Mail (eugh), kiwi wife bundled me on a plane and I'm now down here in Auckland, NZ. Strangely at TBWA\ again though. Anyway, without sounding like an Omnicom twat (hopefully), I've gotta admit that I'm currently having a torrid affair with the TBWA\ "Shanghai" Disruption brief:

1. Tell me the problem / opportunity / background.
2. How do people conventionally try to address /communicate the issue?
3. What's the consumer / industry insight that would drive us to think differently?
4. So, what is the Disruptive thought which will help to solve the issue?
5. Support / truth?
6. Who are we trying to persuade with this thought?
7. What's the tone?
8. Suggested channels to reach them?
9. Sacred cows?

All on one page if possible (but not by just reducing everything to 6 point). etc.

Unrelated Russell but very much looking forward to your showdown at the APG event on the 11th against Carroll.

Much like Tyson vs Bruno.

Good brief

No-one has yet mentioned this one:
'How will success be measured?'
Could be a sales target, could be uplift in hits to wesbite, could be calls to phone number, could be generate media controversy. But if you don't know what success looks like, how will you recognise the right idea?

Do we still need briefs? Contract for managing the client's expectations, or creative petrol or both?
Maybe we don't need too many boxes just a view of where are our audiences are now and where do we want to take them as a result of seeing, being, engaging with whatever it is we need to make to take them with us.
In my humble opinion I think it is what you do before, during and after the brief / briefing that is vastly more important than what boxes are we filling in.

I think one of the big problems, mostly as a 'client' is the lack of focus and question of the aim.

I believe that if more digging and attention was applied to what the intended communication and outcome is, you can develop more rapidly. If that makes sense...

Hello all,

I’m Frederic, working for an interactive agency in Brussels, Belgium, and the briefing template that we use is based on the following key points. What do you think? Does it help?

1° Reason for briefing: current business situation, market strategy, competition, SWOT, past campaigns

2° Internet strategy: role of the Internet in this campaign

3° Message: what is to be communicated, what is to be sold, how is it relevant, how is it currently perceived by the target…
- Product attributes
- Customer benefits
- End benefits
- Emotional benefits

4° Target: the different target groups and the level of knowledge about them: key insights based on research, known behavior, attitude, demographic profile, lifestyle, expectations, needs…

5° Objectives:
- Business objectives
- Marketing objectives
- Communication objectives

6° Key measurement points: unique visitors, etc

7° Execution mandatories: guidelines to respect, etc.

8° Planning & budget

One thing I've been focusing on lately (courtesy of another planner) is emotion. What is the emotion you want as a result? What's the one emotional feature people can attach to? If you can tap into what a friend of mine calls "the emotional truth," you go beyond talking at people and start to build a relationship. And aren't brands really the promise of a relationship?

Core questions I use, for your consideration:

- Who is the most valuable audience?
- Who is the most impressionable audience?
- What does the client want (each of) them to do?
- How are these people being influenced already/What are their other cultural influences?
- If this is an intentional viewing (something a consumer chooses to interact with), what is the inciting incident or emotion?
- Will this tactic act in isolation?
- If not, where does it appear and what role does it play in the cycle of communications?
- Who's in the client's "approval pyramid"? and what are their goals (if not the same)?
- Why does the budget already look insufficient?

We are looking for a different way of briefing and I've sent this suggestion per SMS to our creative director last week:

"What should our idea DO with WHOM and what TRUTH is going to help us."

He liked it. We'll probably add a one pager with the usual practicalities.

At Saatchi we work with an interesting sequence to summarize the creative thinking as sort of a step up towards the creative brief. We call it OIIC.

What's the business ONJECTIVE? What ISSUE is holding our client back from reaching that objective? What INSIGHT can help us to unlock the issue? And then what is the CHALLENGE for our communications idea?

Looking forward to all your suggestions.

What exactly do we want the target audience to DO?

hello Rob,

Splendid to hear from you. I've always liked the fact that those Disruption briefs are very naked and unashamed about having a point of view on how brands work. So many briefs never really get into that.

Frederic - good to see someone mentioning budget.

Random thoughts:

Think outside the box. Any form filling destroys the flame of lived understanding. It's a vgood discipline to write one, it makes you get your thoughst straight. but then destroy it and just talk to people instead.

I like Gareth's one best (it's just like the one we had at St Luke's only better/less hairbrained)

Arent creative brief templates written as a primary expression of an agency (or consultant's brands)? The good ones always have a proprietary twist. They sort of are your IP in action. BBH always used to take great pride in the distinction they drew between "what it the product?" and "what is the brand?". JWT banged on about having a "key response" box rather than a proposition. BMP had "what do we know about them that will help us?"

I liked the qu's Thomas Gad asked clients when I worked with him like "What Do you stand For?" they are all in his first book I think. I remember thinking at the time those would have made a much better creative brief.

Creative briefs exist to keep clients comfortable during all the anxious waiting while the creative department are in labour. They should be reassuring, bland and take months to debate. But they might as well be Soduko puzzles.

My own favourite question recently has been "What is it FOR?" So much stuff gets churned out with no agenda in the real world. I love for instance that Run London was FOR getting people to run more in london.

Having said all of which I cranked out my first actual creative brief in ages this week and - guess what, I gave it very neutral headings like 'objective, target audience' etc.

Russell, first off, your blog inspires me to no end. Keep it going. As for the brief, I always liked this simple formula:

Convince (whoever it is you're talking to) that (this product kicks butt) Because (it does this really cool thing).

Keep it simple.

I think point 3 in the original post is the really interesting bit. I've worked in a few interactive agencies and the brief templates that I've used are always just 'old' advertising briefs that have been recycled and updated to try to take into account that we're trying to do something different. Now that we're all trying to do something a bit different it might be worth sharing some thoughts.

In my limited experience the briefs we write (probably very badly) almost always fail to deliver something that's truly interesting or insightful. The sparks of great ideas seem to come from a totally different place. I've been scratching my head about this to the point where I've got a small scab developing, but no answers. A couple of thoughts though...

1. Word docs might not be the answer - every day I see people spending more and more time in front of screens. Briefs that get wrtten into a word processer turn into processed words. Heavily processed words have to be bloody good to inspire anything or anyone.

2. "I neeeed a brief" - some of my favourite projects have been done 'briefless', I know that's a cop-out, but it's true. The reason that they could be done briefless is that everyone in the team just 'got it'. The challenge was expressed verbally and big ideas were firing off all over the place in the first meeting. I've tended to hear people saying that they 'need a brief' when they need to buy some time and/or they're not getting it.

3. Is the product any good? This is something that it's really tough to deal with. At some point someone has to be honest about whether the product is any good or not. Communicating an awesome product is a very different challenge to communicating an OK one. But you very rarely see anyone commit the crime of criticising a client's product in a brief.

Just thoughts, and maybe wrong thoughts, but I needed to get them out of my head.

Likewise, when I saw Russell's challenge to create the ultimate brief I almost immediately started writing a document called 'The Dark Side of the Brief', the document that no-one is allowed to see, the questions that people want to know the answers to but are too afraid to ask. The kind of thing that would have to be eaten as soon as it was written. But then I stopped because I realised I was being a cynical git and that it wouldn't inspire anyone to do anything. Other than give up their job. And we don't want that!

I'll keep thinking...

I think Dan's comments are fascinating. I've never heard of a briefing template that calmly accepts that what a client wants and what their consumers want might be completely different.

Depressingly insightful.

I've had a chat about this on TIGS - some interesting thoughs [not mine] on there:


Increasingly I'm thinking about things like:

What community do you want to engage with / create?

What do you want people to say about your brand?

Why should they say anything at all?

I've just been going through this process at my place. The biggest single thing to come out of all the consultation I did with the rest of the agency was that we need to make it really clear what we MEAN by 'desired consumer response' or whatever because everyone interprets headings differently.

The IPA has a mini library of different agency's briefs at http://www.ipa.co.uk/creativebrief/

I am a big fan of original qualitative research - quote it in the brief, chat about it with everyone, have a rip roaring debrief session - but that's because research makes me fall in love with the product.

It's important to really know the competitive frame. Don't be daunted if it's huge.

Determine all the psychological barriers to buying the product.

Dig through the data and find something no one's noticed before, don't stop til you do.

A good brief should be easy to understand with a punchy, sticky writing style.

A tv producer said "the cool agencies never pay the full rate. They know if you have their ad on your reel it will get you more lucrative work."

So, don't worry about the budget if you're in a cool agency, or the idea is stupendous.

I always liked Jon Steel's recommendation (I think it was his) that a "creative brief" should be both "creative" and "brief".

I also liked Tony Bucks

"Who EXACTLY are we talking to?
What EXACTLY do we want them to do?
How MIGHT we get them to do that?"

When at HHCL I always resisted a template; I just thought we should create something good that would help the creatives. But the structure I most often found myself using was :

Background/Introduction (the what, the why etc)

The Problem

A Strategy (note the "A" : it should be a good one, but is is only one of many options and often the creatives would come up with something brilliant) ending up with a...

Core Thought (I always challenged myself to get this onto the first page; if I couldn't do this I had failed the "brief" test)

Target Audience

Creative Starters (at least five). This was to test if what you had written was a creative spring board or a dead end. If you couldn't think of any ways of executing your thinking, why should you expect anyone else to...?

Requirements (media, time length, budget, timings etc.)

As it happens, when a "committee" of people did eventually get around to coming up with a template (during the Decline and Fall phase of HHCL, he notes bitterly) it had numerous boxes (12 or so?) and was neither creative nor brief. Perhaps it was a "Bureactratic Long" - not the sort of thing planners should be producing.

Good luck with this experiment!

A few more thoughts to add to the mix

This brand believes : (mission / belief etc)

What is the brand's ambition?

Why hasn't it achieved that ambition already?

What are other people doing to overcome these barriers?

How can communication help?

What do we want people to do with this communication?

Where are people most likely to get involved with this communication?

Wouldn't it be great if.... (thought starters)

First up, it's worth saying that we don't always use formal written briefs - all very planning 1.0 ;-).

In good Kids-from-Fame fashion, it's often a case of "let's do the show right here", particularly for fast track projects. With a little bit of prep, we'll get everyone in a room - planning, creative, production, directors (if TV) - and bring collective wisdom and inspiration to bear.

And this marriage of planning and creative, strategy and execution, at an early stage is very fertile. There's still lots of work done after that, but it's always (and genuinely) highly collaborative and iterative throughout (I recognise we can only really do this because of our size: it would probably cause havoc at a (big) hierarchical, Process-focused agency).

Where time allows tho, we will put together a written brief. However, given the way we work, this brief operates more as an internal reminder, and as a contract with the client, than as the 'holy scripture' it is seen as in some agencies.

And even then there isn't necessarily a fixed format: it's what's the best way to express this challenge on paper. But if all the boxes are ticked (they rarely are), it would look something like this (a drama in 4 parts)...


What is the essential truth of this brand (boil it all down, and what do you have left)

What is the brand’s agenda, it’s point of view on life?

What’s the brand’s tone of voice and personality?


What’s the problem or opportunity?

What results are we looking for?

Who will we need to engage to deliver this?

What’s the specific role of communications in this?


What do we want to talk about? (overview of comms strategy basically)

What is the central thought we want to bring to life?

Supporting facts it’s worth knowing

How do we think this will get people talking about the brand? (cos that word-of-mouth thing is important, as we all know)


Specific requirements

Must haves and no goes

To all these excellent ideas I would add "What is the 10 Word Brief" ... or if we must do it on the phone, "go, you have 15 seconds".

A different approach to the what, why, who, how, when in whatever shape the many brilliant suggestions will lead to - could be to look at the form in which the brief is set, discussed and experienced.

In could be in the form of Creative Brief Cards

In the style of IDEO’s inspiring Method Cards the brief would be 3-5 cards for each overall question – in total maybe 20 cards.

The briefing session would be based around a mix of open question and statements. Furthermore the IDEO method is based upon the belief that a lot of the question should be experienced live in order for the creators to really understand the business problem to be solved.

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