ETIP #289

What’s Broken About Briefs

What’s Broken About Briefs

Creative briefs. Love ’em or hate ’em, these one-page assignment summaries have been one of the most widely used tools in advertising and marketing since the days of Mad Men. But just because a practice is old doesn’t mean it’s sacrosanct.

In fact, there are a few things that are pretty broken about creative briefs. Over the course of our four-year Agile journey, we’ve actually moved away from using them. Here are a few reasons why and how we communicate work differently.

Problem: Briefs are written from a single point of view

A brief is generally written by an industry generalist, like an account manager or project manager, to communicate to a team of practitioners, like copywriters, art directors and developers. And that’s an inherently flawed process.

Here’s a better idea

At Starmark, the team plans the work by discovering and cataloguing the details that each subject matter expert deems important. This creates a shared understanding of the project that’s more well rounded and circumspect.

Problem: Briefs create an illusion of simplicity

It’s right there in the name — brief. These documents are inherently reductionist. They have a tendency to minimize or ignore complexity and complication if it doesn’t fit within the confines of an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper.

This is another way

The subject matter experts who do the work understand that the messy insights, peculiarities and unknowns of an assignment are often what define the best solutions. Allowing a fuller understanding of the context allows for bigger, more effective solutions to the problem.

Problem: Integrated campaign briefs lack substance

A brief is absolutely the wrong tool to kick off big campaign thinking. Many agencies have created campaign briefs, which are just creative briefs that are simultaneously less brief and more vague. Usually, this just results in a constellation of baby briefs that attempt to split up an integrated challenge into a series of discipline assignments—like media, creative and SEO—that are tackled by siloed teams in a waterfall sequence.

Try this instead

A huge multimedia solution to a genuine business challenge is irreducibly complex. Like a living cell, the customer journey doesn’t work without all its parts. By creating a collaborative roadmap, both the team and the client can understand and address the challenge holistically and avoid the slow, siloed waterfall process.

Briefs don’t adapt well to change

In general, part of the purpose of a brief is to define the scope of a marketing effort. The client signs off on it, and then the team goes off to work. This is designed to prevent change in direction with phrases like, “You signed off on the brief,” and “That’s not what we agreed to.”

There’s a smarter solution

Each story in a roadmap is both detailed and negotiable. Our clients know what each story is and why it’s important during the roadmap walkthrough—because we discuss these things in plain English. No spin, misunderstandings or mumbo-jumbo. And when priorities change during the course of the project (because change is inevitable), we’ve planned for that, which gives us the flexibility to reprioritize the sequence of work or brick out old stories in favor of new ones.

Here’s the bottom line: Briefs aren’t the only way to define work

Being able to adapt to change is an essential tenet of Agile Methodology here at Starmark. When we roadmap a project, an entire team of experts is involved in defining and solving a client challenge. And that means the entire team defines and understands the full context in a way that simply doesn’t fit in a traditional brief. It’s a more collaborative, flexible approach that allows a team to own the work and respond to change for a more successful project.