Are (traditional) briefs still important?


January 30, 2018

‘Give me the freedom of a tight brief’, David Ogilvy once said. The point being of course, that creative types truly flourish when they have a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing.

But in a world of increasingly tight deadlines and tighter budgets, just how important is the traditional briefing process?

Very often these days, with time being of the essence, there will be no brief at all (save perhaps for a few words scrawled on a piece of paper or an occasionally long and rambling email thread to try to decipher). And I guess this is kind of okay – as long as what’s needed is fairly straightforward. It’s where things aren’t straightforward that problems can arise.

Multiple audiences. Varied messaging. Specific client feedback / requirements / comments. All these things (and more) can go towards making the lack of a proper brief incredibly challenging… and that’s where problems can arise / mistakes can be made.

For me, it’s basically about communication. Even if there isn’t a proper brief, then dialogue between creatives and account handlers is absolutely key. Forget the emails – this is when people have to sit down face-to-face and communicate with each another. Better still, why not get the creative/s in front of the client (if time / schedule allows) and get the information straight from the horse’s mouth?

As a copywriter, the one area where I think briefs are needed, are when it comes to copy (and, in particular, very specific types of copy). This is when the traditional brief comes into its own – informing the writer of what we’re writing, who we’re writing to, what we want them to do and what the key elements are (that have to be included in the copy at all costs). Fail to brief writers correctly and there’s a chance that everything can implode – which is bad news for everyone.

I started with a quote and I’ll end with a quote… this time from TS Eliot. He once observed the following: ‘when forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.’ I can’t think of a better argument for a proper brief than that!

by Dave Washer