The creative output can only be as good as your brief

Creative teams in ad agencies are constantly under pressure because they are only as good as their last work. If their creative ideas won awards for the agency, or better yet, won market share for their clients, they will be paraded shoulder high around the city.

If on the other hand their ideas passed like a ship in the night, they’ll be lucky if they’re not dragged out to the wilderness and left there for the beasts of prey to put an end to their miserable existence.

It’s hard when your life’s work can only be judged subjectively rather than objectively, and when it depends on who’s sitting on the other side of the table. That’s why it’s no surprise that the majority of creatives are highly strung and forever on the defensive.

However, getting consistent quality of work from your creative talent is a collective responsibility because you can’t get good work from a bad brief. I get the sense that over the years the quality of briefs is dropping, or maybe it’s just that the good briefs stand out and are few and far in between.

Many marketers think that you can write a creative brief and then do the research after, which they expect the agency to do. The push back is that you cannot write a good brief if you don’t have the facts on your fingertips, worse still if you don’t have any consumer insights to share.

You’ve got to breathe life into your brief with relevant data around issues like market share, size of the customer universe, purchase drivers and barrier to growth. Its critical to share information about how your target audience consumes media and the kind of content that they are attracted to. Without data you can’t make smart choices about the direction your advertising should take.

Next, you’ve got to have an opinion about the focus of the advertising. There are many types of people that I know who love blank cheques, but creatives are not one of them. If you don’t provide a road map to where you want to go creatively, you will certainly end up on a bumpy road with a tremendous amount of back and forth.

I must offer a word of caution because there is a difference between providing a message focus to inspire the art department and actually writing the ad yourself. The moment you try to write or design the ad yourself is the moment the teams creative juices run dry.

It’s a sign of madness if you hire an expensive advertising agency, do the work yourself, and then blame the agency when the judges at the creative awards are unimpressed by the resulting campaign.

Finally, encourage the agency to challenge the brief because no brief is cast in stone. Your company has to come to terms with the fact that there are several points of view on any issue and it is wise to get the perspective of your advertising partners.

An intelligent ad agency will interrogate the thinking behind the brief, especially the insights generated and how you made decisions about the direction to take creatively. They will challenge selection of the core target audience based on the strategic implications and what you are trying to achieve immediately.

Keep in mind that writing a brief is the first step to harmonizing expectations, and it is an inclusive process that determines the outcomes of your advertising campaigns.

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About Joe Otin

CEO of The Collective digital ad agency, Chairman of the Advertising Standards Board of Kenya, and Rotary Governor Elect of District 9212 covering Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea & South Sudan.

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