Tag Archives: creative brief

Are propositions still important for digital strategy?

Preparing a training session on creative briefs, I came across this ancient piece of wisdom from 1993.  It’s a document about propositions.  Propositions are the single most important thing you want to say in a communications activity, and also known as the thing that will be carried into the ad (because we were always told that it was the only thing the creative would bother looking at.)

When I was learning to be a planner propositions were absolutely the most important thing we had to be good at.  Propositions are the distillation of the strategy, and should be based on an amazing insight.  (Insights are also apparently out of fashion these days.  That’s a topic for another blog post.)  When I was learning to be a planner a good proposition was a sexy, beautiful thing.  They’re really hard to do well.

Because a lot of digital stuff needs to say more than one thing (and perhaps because propositions are hard to write well) the proposition has dropped off the radar a bit.  Creative briefs have become less tied to insights and propositions and are often about the medium, and the creative discussion is more about the potential for technology.

This is good in some ways because it’s freed up the creative process, made it more fluid and collaborative and exciting.  The strategy is all about the objective, what we want from the activity, rather than the steps taken to get there.

It’s not so good because I feel like we’re moving away from thinking really hard about who we’re designing and creating for.  We need to think about what motivates our consumers, ensure we’re not creating for technology and creativity’s sake. Insights do bring us closer to our consumers’ needs, wants and goals, and help us to connect them to our clients.

It might be that the nature of insights and propositions have to change for the digital age, but I think we can learn from the past in terms of ensuring we keep thinking hard about what we are doing and why, be lateral and creative with insights, and work with our creatives to produce briefs that motivate them.

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10 things creatives complain about (and how to turn them into better briefings)

While I was preparing my Social Media Week presentation last month I wanted to demonstrate the importance of creativity and creative strategy in social media.  In order to do this I had to question whether we needed a new briefing method for social media in particular.

So I did a wee survey of a load of creatives I know, and they pretty much all came up with the same complaints about briefs and briefings.  I found that the complaints encompassed all channels, and that ideas are ideas and the process is pretty much the same.

Here are those complaints, and some thoughts on how we can harness them to make better briefs and run better briefings, whatever you’re briefing for.

1. Why are we doing this?

A lot of the creatives I spoke to said they weren’t told what the point, the objective, of the exercise was, or where it fit into the bigger strategic picture.  In digital we are often asked to implement Above The Line work online, and this hardly ever works out well if we have to lift it straight across.  Online display advertising has to do something, in fact ‘display’ is a bit of a misnomer. It needs its own strategic thinking and infrastructure.

It has to lead to something; it has to engage, encourage/irresistibly invite participation.  Setting up a Facebook page or building an app works on the same principle.  This piecemeal/bandwagonesque approach to digital and social media still happens in some places, so I am told.  We have to think about what the brief is for, what success looks like.  Talk about the objective before you talk about the channel.  Is what we have been asked to do the right thing?  Involve your creatives in this discussion (with the client if possible,) and don’t be afraid to challenge your client.

2. What does the client expect?

Assuming that you’re happy with your client’s brief, you still need to communicate to your creative/designer what is in your client’s head.  This might be that they really liked Brand X’s campaign, and want something like that, or it might be that they hated it and want to make sure they get the antithesis of that.

It could be more subtle than this, of course.  It could be based on what ROI they are expecting, what conversion rate, in which case you really have to test, test and test your usability and make sure it’s going to tick all the right boxes…  Communicating this to your designer will save you headaches later on, anyway.  It’s not the same as doing what your client thinks they want (see point 1.)

3. What does the user get from this?

In the olden days the planner was the voice of the consumer in the agency.  They should still perform this role and look at a client’s brief – and concepts developed from them – with the same hat on.  They should help designers/creatives see things from the consumer’s point of view when design is taking place (as well as the client/account manager.)  Helps to reinforce point 1 as well.

4. You gave me too much/too little/confusing/irrelevant information

Creatives need information, but they need it sorted out for them.  They need to know what the 1, 2, 3, most important things are, whether that’s about the market, the consumer, the product, whatever.  They don’t need pages and pages of stuff.  The more time you spend thinking about what your designer needs to do his or her thing without being confused, the better.  Then you get the best out of their time.

5. This brief is just a copy of the client brief

I hate this.  It makes me swear and stamp my feet when I hear about it.  Sometimes a wee client brief for a banner or something like that comes in and it’s not thought of as important enough for its own thinking, so the brief is just copied and pasted across.

The thing is, a well executed, witty and effective little banner is a Thing of Great Beauty and deserves love and attention just like anything else.  Give it the thinking time it deserves.  I guarantee you will get better results.

The little things are the big things, as the wise man said.

6. I’ve been given too many directions

Creatives get really upset if everyone tries to get involved in their project.  Protect them from committees and their opinions.  Decide at the beginning who can give your designer feedback, and agree amongst everyone what direction you’re going to take things in. Then no one’s feelings are going to get hurt and you’ll get better work.

7. This isn’t the right briefing team

The schedule is a tyrant and sometimes the person who knows the brand best just isn’t free to do all the work on it.  However, they should have time to sit in on the briefing and share their knowledge and thoughts on the brief.  This helps a lot.  They might know wee foibles in the brand guidelines or something about what the client likes/doesn’t like.  Remember to involve them!

8. Are these the right details?

Apparently some people don’t get told what format the work is to be in, PSD or Flash number X or whatever.  It’s not my field of expertise but it’s a big deal to designers and can save a whole load of hassle.

9. What requirements will restrict me?

Brand guidelines, templates, links to landing pages, use of language or whatever.  They can all restrict what a designer can do, where the idea can come from.

10. Where is my creative freedom?

Finally, this question comes up.  It’s funny that it comes last.  In many ways it is the most important question.  Issues 1-9 above often seem to restrict that freedom quite a lot, but with a good creative strategy – a good base of ideas – to work from, there should still be a lot of creative freedom.

I hope this helps.  Some of it seems quite obvious but I know it can get a bit pushed to one side when people are under pressure.  I’ve turned them into a quick checklist for the briefings I am involved in.  It’s important to remember just how much a tiny bit of thinking time can save you in the long run.

If you liked this my whole presentation is available to see on video here or you can have a look at the slides here:

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Where do good ideas come from? A post about ideas and creative briefs

Where do good ideas come from?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, as I was asked this very question the other day, as my good friend Nicki Sprinz was giving a talk on ideas at the most recent She Says event.  I answered her question with lots of rambly stuff, which she kindly edited into something that sounded quite pithy and sensible.

I said

Good ideas come from intelligent creative people working together.  The brief just sets the parameters for the direction and records the thinking.

This has come at a good time as I’ve been asked to do some training with the people in my department on what a planner/strategist does, why planning/strategy is good, and also how to make better creative work/ideas happen (but still be ‘on brief’.)

One of the important elements in this argument is the creative brief.  Creative briefs are important.  Lots of agencies don’t bother with them any more – many more than that don’t seem to care if they’re good – but they should still be held in high esteem because:

They are a record of all the thinking that has happened to date.  This should be a lot of thinking.  There should have been desk research, consumer research, trawling through stats and reports and whatever else to find golden nuggets of insight.  These insights, challenging thoughts which should be no less than ‘revolutionary’, should get people excited about the task.

Here’s an absolutely terrific presentation about creative briefs from Dare:

Anything can be exciting if the benefit to the consumer is made clear in the brief.  If that’s clear then thinking up the next ideas beyond that is down to the people in the room.

Good ideas come from creative people working together.  The brief should be great and the person doing the brief has to know their stuff.  The other people in the room should be creative, smart, funny (funny is essential), enthusiastic, and prepared to say whatever comes into their heads.  The cliche that nothing is wrong in a brainstorm is right.  That’s why it’s a cliche.  I also say ‘working together’ because it is work.  We should be prepared to take lots of time to hone, refine and perfect our ideas.

So, that’s it.  I really would have liked to have been at the event – sounds like it went very well.

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