The Creative Process 1. ‘Preparation’ Part Two

Written by

Andrew Millar


April 18, 2007

In the last ‘Bleat’ I discussed how Creatives prepare for work by constantly observing life. Today’s discusses The Creative Brief, the second part of the job initiation process…

There are three ways to grow a Bonsai tree.

Firstly, you can plant a seed and watch it grow in a small pot. Good, if you have the time, say around 20 years.

Secondly, you can find an established wild tree and begin the training by digging it up in a National Park and repotting it into a training container for 5 to 10 years. OK, but mostly illegal.

Or thirdly, you can grow one from nursery stock. You are still looking at 5 to 10 years but at least you can watch it grow without prison bars in the foreground. And this method is the only one that has anything to do with writing an effective Creative Brief. Read on…

I bought a healthy looking Liquidambar from a local nursery with the intention of turning it into a 40 centimetre specimen. The first step in this process is to cut all but 15 centimetres off the main trunk. That means pitching over 80% of its healthy growth into the compost. The process is called ‘grow and lop’ and after 5 or 6 seasons you end up with a delicate tapered trunk resembling a fully grown tree.

The point that horrifies gardeners like my father is the act of discarding all that healthy green growth. But to me, it was 2 metres of tree that was not going to contribute anything to the final outcome. So, chop and drop.

And that is the parallel with formulating a useful Creative Brief – the second part of the ‘Information Stage’.

I’ve witnessed too many occasions where a client has presented the agency with a 10 page screed that contains copious slabs of dubious research, detailed definitions of primary, secondary and tertiary target audiences by type, demographic, psychographic, sociographic, all colour coded by income, height or postcode, detailed product descriptions to three decimal places, brand maps, mind maps, road maps and every other piece of eclectic information all designed to abdicate the responsibility of the author making any decision on direction.

And the lowly Account Manager has tried to shoehorn this info into a creative brief format. And we end up working from a tome 3 pages longer than the original.

Sorry guys, chop and drop.

Like training nursery stock into Bonsai, we have to learn the art of cutting information that is not necessary to develop the final outcome. In Bonsai the art is to find the essence of the tree and miniaturise it. In brief writing, the art is to find the essence of the strategy and cut the rest.

It’s called a brief after all. And so few are.

So, here are a few clues that may help…

1) No jargon. Forget industry speak, public sector formats, acronyms and bureaucratic claptrap. It cannot appear in the ad so let’s begin the process of removing it right at the Brief stage. You’ll find the act of removing jargon liberating. Suddenly you’ll find you are writing exactly what you mean to say.

2) One page. Allow yourself only one page. The discipline needed will encourage you to pare it down, and distil and reduce. When you lose bulk, the Creative Brief will become like good gravy; it will be rich and full of flavour. (Remember creative people lose interest after 5 paragraphs anyway.)

3) Ban the word ‘and’. Do not use it when you try to express the ‘Single idea’. In fact, just don’t use it anywhere.

4) Be flexible. If you ‘google’ the topic, you’ll find many formats or templates for constructing a brief. So I am not going to cover the headings here. But I will say that no one format suits every task. Look at the project and develop a heading that will facilitate the desired outcome.

5) Commit. Don’t be vague. Don’t generalise. Don’t try to have a foot in all camps. The more you generalise, the weaker the answer is going to be.