5 Brief Lessons on Keeping a Strategic Brief Inspiring (and Brief)

Ryan Berman // Oct 16 // Insights



If you could ‘body jump’ and truly vault yourself into the spirit of another, I may not have been a bad candidate to jump into last week.

First of all, the ability to visit Chicago in October while the weather was in the 70s was a major win (See: San Diego has made me soft). More so, Chicago’s deep dish pizza, which was bucket list material, was most definitely the real deal. Finally, and most relevant to this audience, I was fortunate to geek out with some super smart people.

This included learning from:

  1. Jonah Berger - Associate Professor of Marketing at Wharton and author of the best-selling book Contagious -- a book about buzz creation and the science behind it in today’s word-of-mouth world.
  2. Don Schultz - Referred to as the ‘father of Integrated Marketing’ and Professor Emeritus of Service at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Don spoke about the changes (and lack of changes) within business organizations fighting to keep up with 20 years of digital progress.
  3. Nicole O’ Rourke - A Global VP of Marketing and past recipient of Business Marketing Association’s Communicator of the Year. Nicole was responsible for inspiring and steering this 3-day session full of marketing professionals.

Of the 40 of us who were granted the opportunity to be in Chicago for some power learning, no doubt, the above were the highlights.

Near the end of Day 2, I was fortunate enough to assist and contribute to a break-out session on how businesses of all sizes could better motivate their internal creative resources or agency partners with the solidification of a sound, inspiring brief.

To keep to the promise of the premise of the above blog title, below were my 5 brief lessons on the matter. My guess is there’s either something new in the below for anyone who has made it this far -- or, a friendly centering reminder of what matters the most when shaping up a brief that will be passed on to another.


Lesson #1: A brief is an agreed upon 'strategic contract' between agency and client

A brief needs to communicate that the agency 1) gets the assignment at hand (see Lesson #3), and is 2) strategically on point. Once this ‘strategic contract’ is agreed to, we're ready to devote energy and hours to delivering a creative solution. From here, think of our creative process like a taxi cab. You should already know exactly where you want the cab to go. When the brief is approved, that’s when you want the incubation meter to start running. Imagine if a cab took you to the wrong location because the directions/address were off. What happens if you have to turn back and go in a different direction? The meter keeps running. So get the brief right -- and agreed to by both sides -- before you kick off your creative teams.

Lesson #2: A brief should be brief

A 'brief brief' is not always easy -- but the hope is that only the most relevant messages make it into a brief. If your first draft is 8 pages, no problem. Review it a day later and start slashing to only the most necessary. We need to make choices to get a brief down to the focus of the assignment.

Lesson #3: Your brief should turn information into an insight

Many times marketers or agencies play 'order taker' here vs. pushing for an insight. This means they're just regurgitating the assignment task vs. intelligently attempting to inspire all parties. Was there an 'ah ha' moment included in your brief? That light bulb moment is your insight. If you haven’t had that yet, you're probably not done with the brief process.

Lesson #4: A brief should address both the left and right brain

A great brief not only has a smart insight but it plays to both the motivational and the logical. This means it should have emotional touch points and rational elements baked into it. More specifically, brief writers should literally answer and include in their brief: I want my target to think....and....I want my target to feel....

Lesson #5: A brief can be a creative’s best friend

We’re back to where we started here with this post. Thoughtfully ‘body jump’ into the person who may receive this brief. Step into their shoes and give them just enough of what they need to tackle your project. Don’t be afraid to inspire them!


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