Episode 361:

If you’re in a creative role at your agency, you’re probably familiar with receiving creative briefs that just don’t measure up. Instead of getting inspired to do great work, you’re left wondering where to start or what the point of the project is.

If you’ve ever created or pitched a brief, on the other hand, you’ve probably worked from a template or simply checked off the boxes of the bare minimum — it happens to the best of us!

This week, I’m interviewing Tim Brunelle, a creative director with decades of experience in marketing and advertising. Over the years, he has seen hundreds of creative briefs that span the whole spectrum between gold and garbage.

When our brief falls flat, it won’t inspire our creative minds to do great work. In this episode, Tim challenges us to think bigger and better rather than checking off the boxes and reading from a sheet of paper in our briefing meetings. When we think creatively about our creative briefs, we get a wealth of inspiration in return.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Creative Brief

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why creative briefs often fall flat for creative teams
  • Why brief-makers should care about the project just as much as the creative team they’re hiring
  • The two core functions of creative briefs
  • What the pipeline of the creative briefing process should look like
  • How to mentor and inspire creativity across teams to collaborate on the briefing process
  • Why location is important when discussing your vision
  • Determining when a creative brief is necessary to inspire a team to do ground-breaking work

“The expectation is for a creative person to find this amazing thing; the clock is ticking. We've given you a creative brief to help you go and do that. Oh, by the way, you have 10 hours to get it done.’” Tim Brunelle Click To Tweet“The creative brief could be the unlock that changes your agency in a good way, forever.” Tim Brunelle Click To Tweet“Creative briefs serve two functions. You need to inform and you need to inflame. I should receive a brief and feel like I'm going to hit a home run with bases loaded.” Tim Brunelle Click To Tweet“One of my premises is that there is no universal singular best way to brief.” Tim Brunelle Click To Tweet“If you're not putting the best, smartest people on the briefing side of it, why should I, as a creative person, give you my best?” Tim Brunelle Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Tim:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run. Traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to the podcast, thanks for joining us. We have a great conversation today. We’re going to look at something we do inside our agency every single day, but from a different lens, which I think is going to be really, really interesting.

So I will tell you more about that in a second. But before that, I want to just remind you. Several of you have been asking me when the December and January workshops are going to be live on the website so you can register. So I just want to let you know that I am recording this on, let’s see, the last day of August, and they are live. So Money Matters is December 5th and 6th in Orlando and then, Build and Nurture Your Agency’s Sales Funnel is January 19th and 20th in Orlando and Mercer Island Group is back with a brand new workshop called Get it Write, W-R-I-T-E and they’re going to talk about proposals and whether it’s an RFP or you’re just answering somebody saying, “Hey, send me a proposal on what you might do for us,” whatever it is, they’re going to break down the elements of a written document that we send to prospects, and everything from cover letters, to case studies, to how you present your ideas, and they are going to walk us through good and bad examples.

One opportunity for some of you is that we’re going to be looking for some volunteers to actually give us some of the elements that you currently are using with your written proposals, and we’re going to make those part of the workshop and help you make them even better. So that’s sort of a plus up for some of you. But anyway, that workshop, I think I told you, is January 24th and 25th in Orlando. So all of those are live on the website and you can grab a spot now, before they sell out.

All right. So let me tell you about today’s topic. So I wrote something, I think it was on Facebook, but it might have been in LinkedIn. But anyway, I wrote something about Creative Briefs and how most of them are just really not what they need to be and an old friend of mine named Tim Brunelle sent me a note and said, I want to talk about this topic. So Tim has been a creative director. He worked for many years on the Volkswagen drivers, wanted campaign. He’s also worked on 3M, Anheuser-Busch. He’s been at BBDO, Carmichael Lynch. He’s just had an amazing career and his last gig actually was at Land O’Lakes on the brand side. But anyway, Tim is a writer by trade.

He and I have known each other for gosh decades now and he is a brilliant creative mind, but his point in his email to me, which triggered this episode was no one ever talks about a Creative Brief from the creatives point of view. So this is a document that we get handed that is supposed to inspire us to do amazing work, and oftentimes the way it’s handed to us or the way the document is done, doesn’t actually inspire great work. And so I want to talk about how we as agency people can think differently about Creative Briefs from the creative’s perspective, which I thought was a great idea. So I invited him on the show and we’re going to dig into that and I think you will enjoy his insights and his ability to sort of crystallize down from a creatives perspective, what a Creative Brief could and should look like. So let’s dive into that too. Tim, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Tim Brunelle:

Thanks Drew. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So give everybody a little sense of your background, because what we’re going to be talking about today is really your perspective on the Creative Brief and so having them understand a little bit of your history and your story, I think will be helpful.

Tim Brunelle:

Sure and to frame it, we’re going to talk about Creative Briefs, primarily from the perspective of those who receive the brief.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Tim Brunelle:

Most conversations around Creative Briefs are about the author’s perspective, the strategist perspective and so as a creative person, I’d love to talk about the reaction and to look at the Creative Brief as a tool that as a creative person, I need to go use now to go, create something. So, yeah, I’m a writer by trade, got into the advertising industry a little bit before Al Gore invented the internet and so I was very fortunate to get trained in the craft of print advertising and the craft of broadcast and radio, and then the internet arrives and all of a sudden you’re able to interact with folks and there are wonderful new tools like blogging, and that’s where you and I met, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yep. That’s right. Many moons ago, I think there were 10 of us marketing bloggers back then.

Tim Brunelle:

Right and that was, so this idea of wait you can interact with a brand was this new thing and I think about that great old story about what was it. Dell sucks that blogger that to the point where Michael Dell is seeking out a blogger. I want to persuade you. So, that changed how we perceived marketing and I got very fortunate. I wound up working on the Volkswagen drivers, wanted campaign for about eight years, and that allowed us to both do great work across all different kinds of media, but also kind of build and learn as the plane was being built in the air. So the internet was this new thing, and we had a large team and we had a great client and we had funding and so we got to figure out what is an interactive copywriter? What is an information architect? What are the processes for making digital things?

So got involved in that space, worked at a bunch of different agencies. I worked for agencies as a part of all the major holding companies and then had a chance to start my own agency back in about 2008. The phone rings, you have an opportunity. It’s like, well, I could pitch that and pitch the thing and all of a sudden it’s like, who do we cut the check to? And my two other co-founders and I were like, “We have 24 hours to name this thing, find a URL, get a bank account, et cetera, incorporate all of those things.”

Drew McLellan:

Another accidental agency owner.

Tim Brunelle:

Exactly and so Hello Viking became an agency and all of a sudden we had a lot of work and we’re like, you’re in that space of now I’m running something and what do you mean your laptop doesn’t work? What do you mean the toilet’s backed up?

What do you mean the furnace doesn’t work in the building that we’re in? All of those things, nevermind selling and dealing with client relationships and all those things. In the midst of that, a Hello Viking birthed two different startups. One was a software company called Curation Station, and it was sort of a precursor to percolate or sprinkler in the idea of being able to take a fire hose of information and organize it and repurpose it, and then the second company was called Banner Pelusa. This was back when, right at the end of we were making tons and tons of flash banners, and we put together a production company to handle that for other agencies. But then as it happens with many agencies, Hello Viking came to a halt and I went back to freelancing and went back to agency world and my last stint was at BBDO in Minneapolis and then the phone rang and it was a CMO.

This guy named Tim Scott at Land O’Lakes. And he asked me if I wanted to come work for him. And honestly, I hadn’t really ever considered going Brandside. But Tim Scott had worked at McGarryBowen. He’d helped grow McGarryBowen from 15 people to the behemoth that it became and he is just an amazing human being. I consider myself very fortunate that he was a mentor and a friend and a coach, and he gave me great opportunity. So Land O’Lakes was a great opportunity to on the one hand, help that organization think about centralized in-house agency services. How are we going to do that? How might we structure that? And on the other hand, I got thrown into the kinds of assignments that I’m really excited about now, which is, the CTO and the head of supply chain are cooking something up. Why don’t you go represent marketing in that conversation? And so you get to go and talk about budgets and numbers and strategies.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, business issues.

Tim Brunelle:

Business issues, but represent them through the lens of, well, if what could marketing do to help improve that situation or fix something that seems broken-

Drew McLellan:

Or take advantage of an opportunity or whatever, right?

Tim Brunelle:

Exactly. I’m really attracted now to call it business transformation or change management, but it’s all of the things that marketing causes can cause in the world, but applied to, how do we think about ESG? How do we think about sustainability? How do we think about cultural change inside of organizations? They’re all really marketing problems and it’s kind of fun to be brought into those environments, given my background in advertising.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, especially, I mean, you’ve been doing it for a while, so you get to sit at a pretty senior table to have those conversations, so you could actually affect change.

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah and those are the fun stories. That’s the excitement for me.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So what led to this conversation was I posted something about Creative Briefs and we got into an email conversation and your point was, as you know, my agency life background was as a writer as well. And your point was, we never are the ones that get to create or actually influence how Creative Briefs are done and yet they are this vital tool that everyone thinks. When I give a writer or an art director, a Creative Brief, that is the magic potion that will allow them to create genius work. So you said, “Hey, we should talk about Creative Brief from the creatives perspective. And I thought, oh my gosh, that’s a great idea. So you’ve probably seen 100s and 100s and 100s of Creative Briefs in your career. Let’s talk a little bit about how you as a writer receive that document and what you need to do with it and what you normally experience versus what you wish they were.

Tim Brunelle:

Sure. Yeah. So first and foremost, aside from a paycheck, I think that the Creative Briefs, the most important document in the agency, and if we aren’t treating it as the most important document to the agency, then we’re missing a huge opportunity. So there’s that, right? And that impacts how you go about briefing and who does it and who’s involved, but let’s start at the room where it happens. You’re a writer, you’re an art director, you’re a designer. You go into a conference room and it’s been on your calendar and you sit down and there’s people you know, there’s a strategist and you know this is a briefing and they hand you a document and then they basically read all the words that are on the document-

Drew McLellan:

If you have a meeting at all.

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah. Sometimes it just gets emailed to you and that can be okay because one of my premises is that there is no universal singular best way to brief. It depends on the people. It depends on time. It depends on context. And sometimes an email or a phone call could be the best possible brief given players and time and all that other stuff. But typically you receive a brief and that’s kind of like the end of the movie from the perspective of most literature around Creative Briefing. It’s like we’ve handed it over and then magic occurred. So here’s what happens. You receive the brief, whether it’s you working alone as a creative person and you know this as well, you take the thing and you go back to your desk and you go, well, now what?

Drew McLellan:

I have to make something out of this.

Tim Brunelle:

You are literally in a metaphoric fog and the expectation is creative person, please go and find gold or platinum or something amazing. Go find this amazing thing. The clock is ticking. We’ve given you a piece of paper to help you go and do that.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, by the way, you have 10 hours to get it done.

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah and other tasks to solve and life to live.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Tim Brunelle:

But it would be really great if you come out of the fog with an idea that will change all of our lives. We will now have words and images and a concept that will create a 10x for our clients’ revenues, change the fate of this agency. I mean, that’s the expectation, right? Generally speaking, I’m not talking about a purely tactical brief, but in general, that’s the expectation. Go do something amazing. That’s the allure of advertising. So you’re in this fog and you’re starting to make connections and you have and this brief and so if the brief is, matter of fact, fill in the blank, not creative. I mean, it’s called a Creative Brief and I love that there’s a great Pat Fallon quote that said, “If the Creative Brief itself isn’t creative, then its authors have no right to expect brilliance.”

That’s essentially the argument like the people making the brief, they have to put as much effort in as is expected to result and so as the recipient, 99% of the briefs I’ve received are kind of a waste of the paper. They’re a waste of the toner because in the one part they’re telling you something you already know. If I’m working on a brand, I already know who we’re trying to affect. I know our audience and I have a pretty good sense of their behavior. Seth Gunn says, “All marketing is about affecting change,” and I would argue that marketing is actually a subset of behavioral economics. We’re just the working functioning part of behavioral economics. So we know who we’re talking to. We kind of have a general sense of the behavior that we want to affect and we know that what we have marketing is the way to do it.

So it could be words and images on a sign somewhere, on a screen, on a billboard or we create an event or we create motion. Those are our tools. So when you receive a brief, that is uninspired or is essentially very mechanical and fill in the blanks, it’s just very disheartening and it kind of affirms that this is just a poorly run business. It is true that without a brief, everybody’s just guessing. So one of the purposes of the brief on the front end of it is, can the strategist and the account team, can they please get some consensus around the potential of this opportunity? Aside from the creative people. Can you guys get agreement about what it is we’re trying to do? What we think success looks like, not how to do it, but what do we think success looks like? And can we create something that when we hand it over to the creative people who are jaded and busy and overworked, that they go, “Hold on a second. What a gift? Thank you. You have handed me something that now I’m inspired.”

Drew McLellan:

I’m excited to try this. Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

I feel like Creative Briefs, there’s sort of two functions. They do two things that are critical. One is to just inform and that may be checking off the boxes. Okay, we know who we’re talking to. We understand that this is a billboard assignment or a talk assignment.

Drew McLellan:

Well, here are the rules right. Here are the brands’ rules. Here’s the timing rules. Here’s the budget constraints, all of that. Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

Great. And you’d be surprised how often that they fail to do that. What is the budget, really? What is the timing? Why are we doing this? Well, the client needs an ad. Like, no, no, no. Why did we need the ad? So the information side of it is worth is examining and getting. But the second side of it is to inflame. I say that you need to in inform and you need to inflame and I should receive a brief from you and feel like I’m going to hit a home run with bases loaded. Wow. I’m going to put everything else aside because this is so awesome and that’s really hard to do, but you have to want to do that, right?

So that’s where in an agency environment, the reason that the Creative Brief is so important is so critical is because it’s the thing that unlocks, it’s the thing that can all of a sudden change the fate of your agency, if you do it right and that’s where I feel like it’s worth spending the time, at the very least get buttoned up on the information side of it and definitely block time if you’re the author of a brief block, time to ask yourself, how can I make this brief truly inspiring? So that when I handed it over to other folks, again, I’m not doing their job for them. I’m not solving the puzzle themselves because you know what, if you can solve the puzzle, please go and do it. We are all plenty busy, but if you so, make it inspiring.

So, that leads to another thing. So there’s a document typically, right? And I said earlier that there’s no kind of universal template. Most people come in, why are we advertising? What are we advertising? Who are we trying to? If you want to use that template fine. You don’t have to, no one says you have to, there are no rules.

That’s the brilliant thing about Creative Briefs, there are no rules and agencies oftentimes have a template. It’s like, okay, that’s an educated starting point. If certainly-

Drew McLellan:

If you want to attach some pictures or tell me to go look at something or watch something.

Tim Brunelle:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Great.

Tim Brunelle:

If you can use the template fine, but there’s no rule that says that you have to do that. I mean, there’s the classic. The one sentence brief that Widen used against the 1996 Olympics and that work led to so many interesting things, including the Olympics themselves changing the official rules of how sponsorship works, as the result of this brief and the brief was one sentence. It was this quote from George Orwell, “Sport is war minus the killing.” Can you imagine receiving that as a creative person? Here’s your brief, it’s one sentence. Sport is war minus the killing.

And you look at the work that resulted from that right is amazing work, amazing media work, amazing creative work. They literally changed the game. So your brief doesn’t have to be the same template every time. Another thing that when you think about, well, what are available to me? It could be a conversation and it doesn’t have to be in a conference room that has left over pieces of paper and junk from previous meetings that just a sidebar. You walk into a briefing. This is supposed to be an important moment, a transition from strategy to now we’re going to create and you walk in and you realize that the account folks, the project managers, no one could be bothered to come into the room and clean it up. Several previous meetings, junks on the wall and so you’re in a room where you’re like, no one cares.

And now we’re going to talk about-

Drew McLellan:

This is a disconnect, right?

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah and you’re receiving a brief where I’m supposed to care, but I’m looking at the fact that the account person couldn’t be bothered to take 30 seconds, to just clean up the junk and get the old stuff off the wall to help us focus because that tells me you care. You care about this moment and that’s another thing. The moment doesn’t have to happen in the conference room. To me, some of the best briefs I’ve received, essentially didn’t occur in the agency. They maybe happened on a location. When we’re dealing with a retail client I’m going to take you, the team to a location and show you the problem. We’re going to observe it. We’re selling a car, let’s go sit in the car. And so there’s an opportunity there to change the environment in where the briefing occurs. Again, that’s being creative with the briefing process.

Drew McLellan:

So if you are directing strategists, account people, whatever, and they’re listening to this and they’re saying, “I want good work to come out of the creative team. I want to deliver to the client something that wows them.” How would you coach them on how to think about or how to, cause I think for a lot of account people, the Creative Brief is a necessary evil. They banging out in a hurry. They don’t think about how to connect with or inspire the creative teammates. In their mind its a, I am passing a task and information. So if you were coaching account people, how would you mentor them to think differently about the brief and where would you send them? Because they have to be inspired to inspire. Right?

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah. So the first thing is, it’s not a task. It’s not this drudging thing that you are forced to do. The first thing I’d say is you got to change your mindset. This is an amazing opportunity, could be once a career making opportunity. And if that’s your mindset like, “Okay, I’ve dealt with the client, we understand we’ve got all this stuff. We’re primed.” You’re pretty excited cause you’re going to go create a new campaign. How do you convey that excitement in the form of a meeting and a document of some type that’s going to further inspire others. So you have to change your mindset from, oh, I got to fill out… I don’t know who said this, but they’re like, if we have the lowest paid, least informed person and a low level account person, filling out, treating a Creative Brief, like fill in the blanks, guess what’s going to happen.

You’re going to get junk work back. Again, it goes back to if you’re not putting the best smartest people on the briefing side of it, why should I as a creative person give you my best? Honestly, it’s kind of a sign of respect. If I walked into a brief and realized, hey, the person that owns this agency or the person who I know they’re the smartest person here at the agency may or may not be the owner but they are showing me that they care that they spent time in the brief, you have my attention. I’m going to be a lot more attentive and put a lot more of my best effort forward. So you got to shift the mindset from this is just a task to this is an opportunity. I think that’s a big part of it. There’s that part of it and then I think so in terms of, well, where do I go to learn, to do better briefing, thank you internet.

There’s so many amazing resources. I mean, of course you can Google how to write a great Creative Brief, but there are at least two resources that I would go to. The first is Julian Cole, brilliant strategist, part of this BBDO and Sneakers and all that stuff. And so he is a school, strategy school. He calls it a Strategy Finishing School. Julian Cole look him up and he’s got courses like how to write briefs and they’re easy to digest. They’re fun. So that’s a great resources and then Faris and Rosie Yakob, Y-A-K-O-B. And they have the school of stolen genius. He was an early blogger with us too. Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah right.

Tim Brunelle:

And so they have written stuff for, it was the European version of the 4A’s. Basically it’s called Beyond Boring Briefs. And if you Google Beyond Boring Briefs, you’ll get Faris and Rosie’s presentations.

But again, they have classwork as too that you could sign up for and go through the sequence. And it’s a lot of the same stuff they’re going to help you understand the full potentiality, the rich world that a brief could be if you decide you want it to be that. And so much of it is about not just filling in the blanks and not using the same template that you used before, because you might miss an opportunity. If you think every briefing is the same, you’re kind of missing the whole point of it because the whole point of what we want is we want an advertising campaign that is fresh in ways that people have never seen it before, it’s mildly familiar and it is going to change behavior. You’re asking for new. So your brief, can’t just be the same old, same old.

So Julian Cole and Rosie and Faris Yakob, the two of those are great resources for how to think about briefing. I would also argue from a book perspective, I mentioned that I think that marketing is a subset of behavioral economics, Rory Sutherland’s book Alchemy. So, Rory Sutherland is a co-chairman of Ogilvy in the UK. He’s got some great Ted Talks, but the book Alchemy really gets into explaining why the science of behavioral economics is really marketing. They’re really one and the same and that book was very helpful to me in terms of thinking through how do you look at a business circumstance and frame up an opportunity, if you think of a brief, as an opportunity to explain, “Hey, here’s the potential” that book, it was really useful to me.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a great book. All right. So I want to take a quick break, but when we come back, I want to talk about the juxtaposition of how important the Creative Brief is and how little time we build into the budget to do it, which I think begins to create some of the pressure and the spit it out sort of mentality. So let’s take a quick break and we’ll jump into that in a sec.

Hey, everybody, I promise I would keep you more than a minute, but I want to make sure that at AMI, one of the things that we offer are virtual peer groups. So think of it as a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table, figuratively in this case is an agency owner. So you have to be an agency owner to belong. The virtual peer groups meet every month for 90 minutes on zoom. This was not a COVID creation. It was pre COVID. You see the same people in your cohort every time. So you get to create relationships with them and it is facilitated by AMI staff or Craig Barnes who has owned his own agency for 25 or 30 years. So plenty of great experience, both from Craig, but also learning from each other. So if you have any interest in learning more about how that works, head over to the AMI website and under memberships, you will find the virtual peer group and you can get all the information there. All right. Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. We are back and we are talking about Creative Briefs and what they could be versus what they often are and so right before the break, I said to Tim, part of the challenge of this of course, is that we don’t allow what everybody is… I hate to sound like an old man, but I think about the business when we started and how we presented concepts with pencil sketches and nothing was done for a long time. We actually had time to think and let things percolate and the computer’s done amazing things. But one of the things that it had done is everything we show someone internally or externally looks like a finished product and I think one of the things it’s done is it’s robbed us of some of the time in the raw or stages.

So for the agency owners who are listening, who are struggling to build budgets that clients find palatable, and they’re always looking for places to be more efficient and more effective. Let’s talk a little bit about how much time should a good Creative Brief take? How much time should I be allowing for that? Is that a 10 hour task? Is a three hour task? Is the answer like all answers it depends? I mean, we can quote the, measure twice cut one sort of mentality of if the brief is right, the rest of the work is not only better, but more efficient and effective. But I don’t think a lot of agency owners or the project managers, whoever’s building out the budget, give the account folks very much time to get it done.

Tim Brunelle:

That’s true. Okay. So it kind of boils down to looking at all projects that could have a brief, and let’s be clear. There are absolutely many assignments that don’t need a brief, they’re just hugely tactical. They’re revisions. They’re resizing or look this is essentially a media by first assignment. We got a program ad in an event that the client is sponsoring and sure you could think through in that instance, I guess you could write a brief or something, but there are certain instances where we can collectively agree the creative team, the account team, the strategy team, we can all collectively agree that’s kind of jump to execution and it’s about brand standards and it’s about core message. [inaudible 00:31:33].

Exactly. So probably in the range of work that your agency does, there’s a certain percentage that you can just go and let’s name that and claim that this is not a Creative Briefing opportunity. We’re not going to do treat the brief. We’re not going to misuse it and I think that’s one of the first things that people do is that, well, we have to have a Creative Brief. So when you go and take something as important as a Creative Brief and used it inappropriately-

Drew McLellan:

Right, for a bill stuffer.

Tim Brunelle:

You are teaching everybody the bad habit, so stop doing that. That’s literally a punching order or a punch list of like, “Hey, it’s a bill stuffer. It’s whatever the thing is, it’s something we’ve done 17 of before.” We’re not writing a brief for that. I think being clear about that so that people realize when a brief shows up, oh, this is different than the status quo. This is an important moment. So again, it’s the mindset change. The first thing I would do is as an agency, talk with your creative teams, talk with your account teams, and ask it’s like, can we point to in the past year and a half, two years, a handful, four or five instances where we did our best work. This is the work we want to put on our real, this is the work we want to share with other clients that will attract new clients.

And you look at that stuff and go, “Okay, what happened with the brief, work it back. How much time… Here’s this great campaign that we did. Here’s another great campaign that we did. All right, how much time was spent on the brief there, right?” And I think you can create an average and it’s learning your own teams. So much of briefing is about the relationship. There’s the authors and the recipients and if they’ve been working together for a decade, so much of this is shorthand, and that’s why I’m like, you don’t have to formalize. Do it what works for you. But if you can recognize that, oh, we are acknowledging that we’ve been working together for 10 years and so it literally is going to be a sidebar conversation that constitutes the brief, but memorialize that a little bit.

I mean, from an hour standpoint, it really also depends on how complex or how complicated is the situation that we’re in. If you’re talking about a highly regulated scenario and the subject matter is very complex and the moment that it resonates in is very complex that briefing could take a long time because you have to do a lot of informing. Whereas if it’s like, this is a retail thing and it’s made with more sugar, then you’re in more of like how do we make this exciting and fun and fresh?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

Part of it is recognizing it’s a really important part of our process and we need to have a conversation amongst ourselves to say, what do we think is the right amount of time for us to do the best possible briefing?

Drew McLellan:

So I want to talk a little bit about the conversation because we started on this ear earlier in the conversation where, get called into the conference room and basically the AE reads you the document, as opposed to, “Hey, you guys, this is an opportunity for us to actually have a conversation. The brief isn’t done yet because we have no input yet from the creative folks, we don’t have their questions. We don’t have their ideas. We don’t have their what abouts. So let’s talk a little bit about that from a creative point of view, what would make a great briefing meeting?”

Tim Brunelle:

Sure. So, we haven’t talked about a particular kind of pre-meeting that needs to happen, but is in my mind baked into the process. All right, client says, I need a campaign and you know, go have those conversations and figure things out. Okay, now we’ve got enough of the information side of it. We started to figure out, we’re looking at calendars, we’re blocking things out. That’s a great time for the creative leader, the creative director, or whatever, to sit down with the account people and go, okay, there’s a brief coming. Here’s what we know. This is the information side of it. We’re getting a sense of timing. I’m starting to think about workloads and what’s the right casting? What’s the right team for this particular assignment? That’s a great moment to ask ourselves, how can we make this brief better, different, and truly inspiring? And that’s a conversation that you should have with creative leadership, right?

It’s not like a group of people off on their own rights, a brief and then ta-da the first time anyone in the creative department ever sees it is at the presentation. No, no, no. It is a back and forth. It is a conversation to how can we make this the most inspiring brief possible and a lot of that has to do with, well, who are we presenting it, that writer and that art director, yeah, you know what, they’re both dyslexic. Let’s just not write anything down. Let’s talk. Yeah, they’re both very visual. Okay. Or they’re both really impatient. So, that’s recognizing that the brief has to fit the team you’re giving it to, and that people have personalities and so to me, that’s an important conversation to be had before the room where it happens. And so that builds into well, all right schedules and timing and things like that.

And also recognizing that, “Hey, you know what, in this instance, this seems like a really good opportunity.” The creative director may say, given who we’re going to be briefing. It’s like, I think we should do the briefing at a museum, in the parking lot, on the roof, wherever. What’s the right environment for that briefing to take place and what do we think is the right amount of information to give to them, to hopefully inspire a great result and that’s why I’m saying it’s like, you might have an agency template for a brief, but it’s a starting point, but it is not a mandate, right? And you may realize we’re going to check that, we’ve evaluated it, but it’s the wrong type of document for this point in time. But I also think that, got to be consistent with your process, right? Cause creative people, we start to recognize either you’re kind of lying to me a little bit here. You’re not telling me the full truth or you’re being inconsistent.

So I feel like process is consistent. We need to make sure we have the right amount of information and it needs to be inspiring. It needs to kind of inflame. So what’s the job to be done. And then again, it also depends on what the media side of it too. Like sure of course. That’s a huge component of it. When you think about the typical brief, question’s like, why are we doing this? And versus why aren’t they just changing the price or why aren’t they working on their distribution problem? Or we all know the product is flawed and the competition’s product is better. Why don’t they spend the money fixing that? So the, why part of it, that’s an important part of it. And then obviously who well, we’re making advertising to persuade someone, a human being to behave differently.

And that’s usually most of the gold is really understanding. We’re talking to a particular type of human being in a particular moment, whether that moment is at night, on TikTok or during the day in a billboard, really distilling that out, that’s important. But I also think that in this modern age, again, you and I thinking about blogging and interaction, it’s like what sort of reaction, the simplest way to think about this is there a call to action? At the end of the day we’ve amazed you, we’ve intrigued you, we’ve persuaded you. What do we need you to do next? And thinking through that call to action piece is an important part of the strategy. Literally what next?

Drew McLellan:

Cause oftentimes it’s not by the thing or send the money or whatever. There are multiple steps in between. Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

“Learn more” is the wrong answer.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Tim Brunelle:

And that’s kind of like, so we’ve attracted this audience, we’ve gotten them to stick with us through some type of message it’s like, and then what, and that’s an important part, especially in digital performance marketing to really to be able to think all of that out together. And that may be part of the briefing that we’re going to do, is we’re going to kind of workshop what’s the architecture of the campaign that we’re trying to create. The other part I think that’s interesting is this idea of longevity. Like you and I, we’re going to make in the old days, we’re going to create a print campaign. Well, as soon as the files went off to the publication, we’re done. Go take a vacation. The website’s built, but when is a website ever done, it’s never done. And so this idea of longevity, if you’re briefing for TikTok, and if you follow TikTok best practices, it’s like, they’re telling you should be posting several times a day.

I don’t know a single agency that there are very few agencies that are built today to be posting multiple times a day on behalf of a client. That’s a completely new type of construct. It’s not like, “Hey, we’re going to do this ad campaign that has three or four components.” If you’re on TikTok, it’s like thousands of components. So that’s a very interesting facet of the briefing process, you know to think about, Hey, we’re going to do something that’s going to live for years versus live for a moment and-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, 13 weeks.

Tim Brunelle:

Die off or something like that. So again, diving into a lot of the mechanics of it, I think are really, really important. And those mechanics might be the place where you discover the gold. It may not necessarily be in the audience segment of it, but it may be in the like, “Hey, we realized we’re going to be creating something that’s supposed to last for over a year. And that might be the real insight that fuels things.” So that’s why I say, you got to take the brief apart. So that conversation is important to have with the strategy team and the account team and creative leadership to infer, like what is it we’re trying to do here and then that gives an opportunity for the account team to go, “Okay, good. We’ve had a conversation now it’s our job to go figure out, how can we make this inspirational? How can we treat this briefing moment differently than others?”

Drew McLellan:

But it also does. We could talk about this forever, but as I’m thinking about this, the other thing it does is it actually gives the account people and the strategist, the opportunity to also be creative, which is why they got in the business in the first place and it creates a cohesive team as opposed to what we always talk about in the agency world, which is the silo of account people versus the silo of creative. But now we’re coming into this room or again, we’re hanging out in a park or a museum or we’re sitting in a car, but we are regardless of role or title, we are creating together even if it is just the path to the creative.

Tim Brunelle:

And that takes courage on both sides. So it’s very easy to believe in the stereotype of the wedge of only creative people are creative, which can be like, don’t you dare try to be creative, because I’m the creative person and all that. Everybody’s creative. Everybody at our agency can come up with ideas, all of that politics and stereotype. This is where the brief sits and it’s an important part and it can be an important mechanism for addressing that because I can tell you if creative people are the only ones who are allowed to be creative, good luck, man. You’re going to ring everybody out and it’s really going to be a struggle. So it is a matter of saying, well, what do you mean by creativity? And if an account person or strategist can help get us to an insight, which is a creative act, please, because the last thing you want is you get handed a brief and you realize, oh, I’m going to have to go do their jobs for them.

Cause they didn’t get to an insight and then there’s the fear on the other side of, yeah but if I write a quote big idea, that’s a typical brief, what’s the big idea? In one sentence and then it’s like a paragraph and you’re like, did you not…? But the fear is like, yeah, but as the account person or the strategist, I shouldn’t come up with the tagline. It’s like, there’s so much work to be done. There’s so much opportunity. Please stop. If you can come up with a great tagline, awesome. You’ve just made everybody’s jobs easier and we’re all going to win.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. It is a team sport at the end of the day.

Tim Brunelle:

It has to be, you have to recognize it as a team sport.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. This has been great. Like I said, I think, I feel like we just sort of barely scratched the surface, but here’s what I’m hoping is I’m hoping that this conversation got people a little fired up about the fact that there’s so much more with a [inaudible 00:45:27] more of effort. There’s so much more that could come out of it.

Tim Brunelle:

To be gained

Drew McLellan:

Yes, for everybody, for the agency, for the clients, for all of it, for the industry. So this was a good start. We’ll have to do a part two down the path, but I want to be mindful of your time and also people could only be on the treadmill for so long listening to us.

Tim Brunelle:

And I would put it out there to your audience. It’s like chew on this. Think about this. Think about where has briefing succeeded? Where has it failed in your experiences and send Drew some questions.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

Let’s broaden this conversation. I mean, I’m out there on Twitter talking about this sort of stuff a fair amount. I tend to write about it in my blogging. So I think it’s a conversation that we need to hear from the audience to get a sense out. What’s working for them? What’s not working for them?

Drew McLellan:

What gets in the way?

Tim Brunelle:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Agreed. So I want to make sure people know how to track you down. So give everybody the best way. If they want to read the blog, they want to follow you on Twitter. They want to learn more about your work. They want to reach out to you to talk about a freelance opportunity or something like that. What’s the best way for them to track you down?

Tim Brunelle:

Timbrunelle.com T-I-M-B as in boy, R-U-N-E-L-L-E.com and there’s there. And then you Google me, you’ll find me on Twitter and LinkedIn and other places, but-

Drew McLellan:

So much easier than a business card. Yeah.

Tim Brunelle:

It’s all search. It’s all out there, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yep. It’s a beautiful thing. Thank you my friend, this was fun to do. Was fun to have the conversation.

Tim Brunelle:

I love the subject and thank you for welcoming me and creating the opportunity to talk about something that just means a lot.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s an important conversation that I think, and to your point, we often too often make it just this perfunctory thing as opposed to the really powerful tool that it could be. The Creative Brief could be the unlock that changes your agency in a good way forever. All right guys. So as always that I like episodes that get you fired up that, get you to go back to the shop and do something different or have a conversation. This is a great conversation to have with your leadership team. This is a great conversation to have pull the account people and the creative people together and have this conversation about how you could do it different or how you could do it better. I completely second Tim’s recommendations both on the courses and the book that you talked about all are great resources, but I think it starts with a conversation in your shop about how you want to do great work and how you can use the Creative Brief as the springboard to that great work.

So don’t just sit on this. I’m hoping that this got you a little fired up and maybe feeling a little, I don’t know, disappointed that you’ve allowed your Creative Briefs to be what in many agencies they are, which is basically an information sheet. So as Tim said, both inform and inflame and ask yourself, is your shop doing that? And if not, what do you do to create that kind of an environment? Because one of the things we didn’t talk about, and we don’t have time to talk about it today, but I will also tell you, I know all of your worried about retention of your good people and one of the ways to keep your good people on all sides of the office is by allowing them to do better work and so here is a way a conduit to doing better work, which will get them fired up and feeling good about the shop and good about your clients and saying no when the recruiter calls them because we know that’s happening.

So for both your agency, the clients financially, there is nothing about a good Creative Brief that works to your disadvantage. So do something with this episode, put it into practice, okay? All right. Quick, thank you before I let you go. Thanks to our friends at White Label IQ, they are as the presenting sponsor of the podcast. So super grateful to them for making sure that we can come hang out with you every week and as always, I appreciate you carving out the time to listen. And so whatever we may be doing together, if we’re on the subway or on the treadmill or wherever we are together today, thanks for bringing us along. All right, I’ll be back next week with another guest, hopefully to get you to think a little differently and shake things up inside the shop. All right. Talk to you soon.

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