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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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