Why copywriters must kick the sh*t out of their brief

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

Throughout the considerable canon of apocalyptic zombie television, there is not a single ragged group of survivors that contains a copywriter.

The reasons for this should be upsettingly clear. How many of our inky number would have been picked off in the first wave of attacks – our brains slurped from our skulls like Ribena as, inevitably, we push at the pull door.

But while, as a species, we may be more suited to smugly circling a misplaced apostrophe than smashing in the spongy heads of the risen dead, there is one particular act of aggression a copywriter must have the stomach for.

A copywriter, however gasping and reedy, must be able to kick the shit out of a brief.

The common marketing brief is probably the most contrary character in our business. In most cases it’s simultaneously revealing and reticent, focussed and distracted, courageous and diffident.

It empowers imagination in one breath and shackles it in the next, all the while telling you what it believes is the answer without ever really articulating the problem.

Of course, there are good briefs, just as there are wasps who are respectful of personal space.

But a copywriter’s job is never to merely to accept and answer the briefs they are given, but rather to thrash their secrets from them.

You see, while the words of the brief may be too much wrapped in the anxious, disobliging gloop of a ‘stakeholder’ bukkake, that brief probably still has valuable information to impart.

And the more you hack and twist and gnaw at its crunchy exterior the more creative possibilities you will uncover.

Think of your brief as a generic villain on the now-slightly-dubious torture lark that was TV’s ‘24’. It is concealing vital information, but you may have to snap at its genitals with a wet towel to find out what you really need to know.

With a little force, bland assumptions can become a nuanced, sympathetic understanding of your audience. And if you’re prepared to windmill into it, even the most insipid and inhuman brief can show you a believable problem – and a meaningful response.

Beating up your brief until it’s swollen and weeping in a puddle of its own teeth and dribble gives you the freedom to find the astonishing answer, the creative solution that answers the need, not the task.

Perhaps those zombie survivor gangs would find us quite useful after all. Perhaps.

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