Not all briefs are created equal. Mike Teasdale explores the world of the nightmare brief, and how to make them better.

If you’re involved in creativity service provision, then you’re probably as relaxed as a bee on uncut cocaine right now.

Not only are you navigating your way through unprecedented change (the competitive landscape, the nature of creativity, the ad model, the economic model) but you’re coping with this while doing something that is very hard.

Creative thinking is difficult, so the last thing you need in the mix is a brief that gives you grief. Yes, it’s possible to overcome a bad brief (even a pig with a sinus infection can sometimes find a truffle), but why make a difficult process more difficult?

While every creative endeavor is a journey into the unknown, my thirty years of being a planner teaches me that if you start the creative process with any of the following types of brief you are likely to be in for an unpleasant journey to a disappointing destination.

The War and Peace Brief

This one damages the environment when you print it.

And it’s not just long, it’s likely to have everything in it so it’s unlikely to be a good creative catalyst. Arses might be covered, but it reveals a client and planner who don’t know what they want. Inevitably, creative work will be sacrificed to get to strategic clarity.

The Frankenstein Brief

This one is where copy and paste has been deployed to join the front end of one brief to the back end of another. As a result, it doesn’t hang together.

If there’s one thing briefs need, it’s consistency of internal logic. There is nothing like the creative process to flush out contradictions quicker than a turpentine enema.

The Cul-de-Sac Brief

This one gives you nowhere to go.

We all like the freedom of a tight brief but if it’s too tight and there is no room for manoeuvre then it will be a creative dead end.

The Daydream Believer Brief

This one is wildly over optimistic in its ambition. It’s away with the fairies with an optimism that is completely divorced from the reality of data or budget or deadline.

These kinds of brief often have a self-importance to them. A sewage treatment system for caravans is very useful if you have a caravan and nature calls, but it’s not going to change the world.

The Chameleon Brief

This one changes constantly. The client and planner never settle on a course of action and instead constantly add new requests. Mission creep sets in.

There is a healthy dynamism to the best creative processes and briefs naturally evolve in response to creative development, but when the brief is changing simply because someone has had another brain wave it usually leads to compromised creative solutions.

The Atacama Desert Brief

This one is drier than a cat’s tongue on a hot day. There is no sense of storytelling or emotion. Reading it makes filling in your tax form seem stimulating.

These briefs often use jargon or business-speak. Or contain language that is generic and meaningless. They’re bland, and with nothing to get your teeth into they suck the oxygen out of the creative process.

The Politician Brief

This one has got something for everyone. It’s hard not to agree with because it fails to come to a POV on the problem in hand.

My experience of large clients is that their multiple layers of people do not create the best environment for the ruthless logic required to distil and sacrifice your way to a POV. This is where a good planner can play a vital role.

Remember, a brief is like a snowball: the more you roll it around the bigger it gets, and the more twigs and poo it picks up.

The Missed-the-Point-Entirely Brief

This one is focused on solving the wrong problem.

Good briefs always have a crystal-clear articulation of the key problem that advertising needs to solve.  Not a woolly business or marketing wish-list but a specific job to be done that advertising is capable of.

Trust in your Michelangelo

Remember that the one thing creatives need from a brief is direction. Inspiration is a bonus, but ultimately what they need is direction.

It’s not much to ask. Or is it?

The brief is simultaneously the most and least important stage in the creative process. It increases your chances of getting to great work in an efficient manner but what matters is getting to great work. If you stumble on great work by good fortune or great talent, then the brief needs to get out of the way and let that greatness come through.

The brief is a means to an end, not the end itself.

After all, no one ever said, “Hey, let’s go visit the brief for the Sistine Chapel ceiling”. Not even the planner’s mum.