Culture of Consensus

[November 3, 2009]

What’s a creative brief supposed to accomplish?

I doubt I’ve ever heard the same answer twice. At one end of the spectrum, people see a creative brief as a recipe, a list of dos and don’ts based on a closed set of assumptions. At the other end, people see a creative brief as no more than a jumping-off point.

Where someone stands on this issue has very little to do with their title. What really determines their position is expediency. We all come to a project with our own bottom line requirements. So if arguing for a loose interpretation of the brief meets those requirements, so be it. If only a strict interpretation will do the trick, guess which approach we favor?

Sad to say, that’s human nature, but it’s also an indication of how poorly defined the thing we call a “creative brief” actually is. Philosophy aside, it’s time to realize that a true creative brief is not a piece of paper, but the thought process behind it—a process that must be agreed to from the beginning.

Differences out in the open…
Having seen so much time wasted on meaningless disputes about what is or is not “in the brief,” I think every agency should commit to a coherent definition of the structure, function and intent of a creative brief. Agencies should then weave that definition into the very fabric of each client relationship.

In the process of defining the creative brief for a project, real differences of opinion will arise between agency and client. That’s a good thing. In my experience, nothing drags a project to mediocrity faster than smoothing over differences just to “make nice.”

In fact, the next time someone tells you they “don’t want to open that can of worms right now,” ask them why they want to perpetuate bad practice. As I see it, the only way to work together effectively is to reach an open, honest consensus that takes everyone’s point of view into account.

…then reach for common ground.
Because that’s exactly what a creative brief is supposed to accomplish: A basis for mutual agreement. Why? Think back to the number of times in your own experience that a project has reached a crisis point mid-stream. You’ll find that’s when the lack of consensus finally came to light.

Clients who say “I don’t want to inhibit creativity,” only to quash anything that doesn’t meet their detailed expectations, aren’t doing the project any favors. By the same token, agency types who want to give every SMS barcode-coupon “the One Show treatment” —should let their intentions be known up front.

That way, both sides are more likely to avoid the scenario I’ve seen played out more times than I can count: The project that’s over budget, out of time—and has as much audience appeal as an exploding can of worms.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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