I’m not a big fan of ad agencies, but even as we move into a new era of customer communications that makes old models of advertising less relevant, I’d argue that there are ad agency practices worth maintaining.
Chief among these is the creative brief. Written before any deliverable is fulfilled, the creative brief defines the project and must have the client’s approval before the work proceeds. Besides its obvious CYA advantages, the brief provides a foundation of understanding that reduces subjective judgment and encourages an objective evaluation of a given piece’s value.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a significant decline in briefs – and not in a good way. The immediacy of social media not only encourages speed, it imposes haste; in the rush to produce content quickly, too many marketers succumb to the temptation to proceed without a brief. Without clearly defined goals, objectives and measures, however, the resulting project that begins quickly also dissolves into chaos just as fast, leading to delays (and/or poor results) that could have been avoided: a few hours up front can save days and weeks down the road.
So what goes in a good brief? Content should include:
- A clear definition of purpose: what do you want the people who consume this piece of content to do as a consequence of this content? What’s the next step, the call to action?
- A clearly defined message: what do you want people to understand from this content? What impression do you want to make? What ideas/thoughts do you want them to have? (The “take away,” as it were.)
- Who is the target audience for this piece? What are their fears and desires, needs and wants, hopes and dreams? How does the piece speak to those needs, hopes, fears?
- What resources are available to inform the piece? Experts to interview? Documents to read? Graphics to see?
- What’s the form of the deliverable and what are its limits? Number of pages, number of minutes? Budget for art?
- Big one: How will success be measured? By downloads, registrations, mentions, references, link backs, etc.?
The brief not only serves as a mental map for creating the piece, but as a standard against which the piece is measured. That way, you move subsequent conversations off of subjective responses (“I just don’t feel comfortable with this picture”) to more substantive discussions that evaluate the piece by its ability to meet the terms outlined in the brief.
When you’re in a hurry to create content, do yourself a favor and take a moment to write a brief. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache. I promise.
Put content best practices into practice: learn more in my content strategy workshop.