How we transformed our creative brief and survived to tell the tale.

Like any modern business we are constantly asking ourselves, is there a better way we can be doing this? Can we automate that? Can we be more mobile or collaborative without wasting efforts? While this can be disruptive, ultimately, we think it makes us better.

Most recently, we took a look at our creative brief—arguably, the single most important document we use within the agency. The creative brief solves the age-old problem of how do you give enough context and consideration to inform the creative challenge and inspire great work. Often this means taking upwards of 100 pages of documentation and turning them into (ideally) a single page of insights. (It’s not called a brief for nothing.) Again, the exercise of brief-writing is about determining context—too little and the full story is missed, too much and it’s buried. So, it comes down to finding balance, and identifying only the most meaningful, relevant, differentiating facts, and the authentic emotions behind them. Do that, and the potential for creating breakthrough work grows exponentially.

For historical context, the brief April Six is using today was created by our best minds a little over a year ago. We wanted a better brief, one that could coach the give our brief-writers a better starting point for the creative work. It needed to be simple to use, globally relevant, and feel authentically April Six.

What we came up with is a new-world twist on an old-world brief. Inclusive of audience details—what we want them to think, how we back that up with facts—the new brief is ultimately aimed at getting a single thought from companies who often want to say everything about their products. The twist comes from the urgency applied to the action at hand. We strive to reach beyond why we should say this, to a single thought, “What about today makes this a relevant conversation?” We loved it. We launched it. And now, one year later, the question is, how well did we do?

To find out, we did something crazy; we asked our creatives, our account teams, and even our accountants (though the latter did not have much to say). The resounding answer was, well, inconclusive but off to promising start. The collective group felt that the structure was right, straightforward and insightful, however, each team member had a common issue. In practice, the brief was not living up to its intent. More specifically, the sections were being used either inconsistently or incorrectly.

Had we created a creative brief that was all promise and no proof? We think not, but we may have fallen short in one key area we had not fully appreciated. In short, we failed to consider training and silos. Sure, we did an internal launch to train individuals, however we did not include the mechanism for ongoing training to be supported by groups. This single thought is what led to an unexpected insight: Solo is not the way of better work. One strategist, one account person, and one creative will write a better brief together than any one of them can write alone. Luckily for us, these are both things we can internalize and solve.

All of which brings us to our new resolution: starting in December, we will be running joint creative/account training sessions for brief-writing across each of our offices. We will be following up on progress with quarterly nominations for the “best brief award,” nominated by those who rely on them and presented to those who create them. This training and feedback program is also tied to a new internal process for brief creation. We are looking to create a more open dialogue about our briefs, as they are being considered and constructed. In our new world, feedback will be appreciated and excellence will be applauded. We are hopeful and excited.

Once we tackle this, we will move on to the next task of transforming this traditionally Mad Men-era document into a digital-friendly solution. Stay tuned for more on that!

Oh, and one parting thought for those aspiring brief-writers out there. As Bill Bernbach wisely said, “The essence of a great brief is sacrifice. Our job is to simplify.”