Real magic happens when a creative brief doesn’t (necessarily) result in an ad

360i chief strategist thinks that the outdated nature of the creative brief holds agency pros back from greatness / Rawpixel via Unsplash

A great deal has changed since in the advertising industry since its 'heyday.' Why, then, has the creative briefing process remained the same?

In this brave new advertising world, brands are built under ever-changing circumstances; every client needs a true business partner, and agencies need to be able to address challenges with creative problem-solving. And to be sure, there is no shortage of complex business problems to be solved.

Although clients’ expectations shouldn’t simply be to address an issue with advertising alone, agencies must be increasingly capable of providing different answers to clients’ needs. At the root of these lies the fact that creative briefs are in desperate need of a makeover.

Conceived in the 1960s, the creative brief aims to save time and establish complete alignment between client services, creative teams, media, and the client itself. Essentially, creative briefs detail the campaign objectives, target audience, critical messaging, reasons to believe, and deliverables. It’s easy to see how the standard creative brief, still widely used today, is built to inspire creative advertising, not creative business solutions.

If agencies are to be viewed as a trusted business partner that is able to help clients solve business challenges in new and creative ways, the process surrounding the creative brief needs to evolve in the following ways:

Invite the agencies in earlier.

The earlier agencies are brought into the conversation, the better. It gives them full insight into the origins of a challenge, how it came to be, who is responsible for resolving it, what the implications are, what partnerships (internally and externally) need to be fostered to create an effective plan of action, and much more. By being part of the conversation as it’s forming, agencies not only gain more perspective, but also a greater sense of accountability.

Interrogate the challenge with them.

Because agencies are hardwired to be aware of human behavior, consumption habits, and what’s culturally relevant, they can provide valuable insight and a unique perspective when it comes to identifying a brand’s key challenges. Tasked with helping to define a business challenge, not just solve it, an agency can then help its client get to the root of the obstacle, ultimately leading to new perspectives on how to solve it.

Examples of challenges could include low profitability, pressure from stakeholders, increasing competition, new market entrants, shifts in sources of volume and growth, and more. When an agency is exposed to a client’s problem before it’s processed and articulated, the agency is set up to deliver a more successful and effective creative product.

Organize an open brief.

With the client’s challenge identified and analyzed to exhaustion, the newly formed team (consisting, ideally, of the agency and the client) can then proceed with conceptualizing a solution to the task at hand. This “open brief” allows the client’s challenge to be tackled by a multidisciplinary agency team, which will work in tandem with the client to consider the various ways to solve the issue.

Because an open brief doesn’t include a predetermined set of deliverables, it allows the problem to be solved collectively, and fosters the proliferation of new and different solutions. It also encourages collaboration between different entities that may not have previously worked together.

Be open-minded.

This new type of collaboration between agency and client requires open communication and open minds. Each side needs to be receptive to a variety of ideas and solutions that might be different from what they might have otherwise considered.

For the part of the agency, coming up with creative ways to address an issue may or may not result in an ad, and the client should be amenable to that possibility.

Creativity extends beyond art direction and copy — it can assign purpose and meaning to images, words, concepts, and more, all in service of creative problem-solving. Reimagining the brief as we know it is essential if the agency is to continue to provide the best and most comprehensive solutions for clients.

Define new metrics for success.

Finally, with creative solutions in place that may not be ads, new metrics of success may also need to be put in place; those used to measure success in advertising, such as brand awareness and reach, won’t necessarily make sense on these new terms. If we set out to solve a business problem, the metrics we use to identify that problem should play a role in measuring the effectiveness of the solution created, which will, of course, depend on the problem in question.

It’s time to rethink the creative brief, and in the process gain stronger results and more success for clients and agencies alike.

Raig Adolfo is chief strategy officer at 360i.

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