Introducing the “Blitz” Brief, a novel approach to communicating effectively with your remote team in a fast-paced work environment
The Creative Brief, as we know it, is dead. If you’ve worked at an ad agency before, you’ve felt it too. Despite having long been a staple of ad agencies, the traditional components of the brief have remained almost like a residual stain for quite some time, and we’re all somewhat guilty of resisting the urge to change it.
What’s the chief purpose of the brief? To communicate clearly and most efficiently what must be achieved. This means that in today’s fast-paced environment, where many businesses and agencies are operating online with remote teams spread across the globe, this purpose comes to occupy centerstage.
Working remotely inevitably leads to communication delays and errors, issues compounded further by language barriers and time zones. Moreover, having a single team member misunderstand the goal of a campaign can result in costly delays, with a painful explanation to be delivered to the client by a higher-up.
A strong creative brief can mitigate many of these issues, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to take a look at each of its components. Considering there’s a ton of resources out there on how to write the creative brief, let’s borrow a standard industry example from “Strategic Thinking for Advertising Creatives” by Alice Kavounas Taylor.
The components of a traditional creative brief
- Product: What is the advertising selling?
- Objective: What must it achieve?
- Target: Who is the primary focus?
- Strategy: How will the advertising achieve the objective?
- Proposition: What’s the hook that will attract the target?
- Support: Why does the product interest this target audience?
- Competition: Who else is fighting for the target’s attention in this area?
- Mandatory elements: What has to appear in the advertising? (e.g., discount code)
- Tone of Voice: Describe the campaign’s character in 3 adjectives
- Desired Consumer Response: What do you want the target to do, feel, or think after exposure to the advertising?
- Media Requirement: Where will the advertising appear?
I’m sure that, at a glance, you can tell how helpful this might be for a traditional brick & mortar agency. But for agencies working remotely, it just doesn’t work. Imagine trying to organize 30 Facebook ad campaigns with detailed briefs for each and every single one, and you’ve got to launch those in 4 days (or 4 hours!). It’s insanity.
So let’s look at each of these components and their place of importance more closely to suit our conditions.
The Product (or service)
Your team members must absolutely know whatever it is you’re selling. And it’s rare for a client to sell more than a single good, so this is required. Think product range or best sellers. What does the client want to push for this campaign?
The objective is obviously required as well. A strong objective drives the campaign in a clear direction. It also implies a sense of purpose, and in many traditional agencies, exercising their creative juices in this area is how they make the big bucks.
Here’s an example: Your client’s main target audience comprises women aged 30 to 55. This makes sense, considering she sells anti-aging cream. But now, she wants to start targeting younger women as well. How do you do it? Obviously, just creating similar ads that feature younger women is a weak concept.
To this end, we can think of the creative brief as an exercise in problem solving, and this is where brainstorming can really work wonders (but at the cost of time and agility).
Unless this is subject to change frequently, there should be a default target here for each client. There shouldn’t be a need to fill this out every time.
An obvious example: Your client’s business is called “Toys for Boys”. You get the idea. But even if it was more inclusive, like “Toys for Kids”, the responsible party can choose to target both boys and girls in the same campaign or split-test the targeting by gender.
The strategy in a brief usually sits under the larger, overarching marketing strategy to ensure consistency in furthering key objectives. Therefore, the strategy doesn’t necessarily need to be too in depth when launching speedy campaigns.
And since many agencies prioritize data, testing usually forges the path forward and helps flesh out future directions. This isn’t an excuse to let creativity take a backseat, however. Yes, lean on the data to create better campaigns, but leverage your critical thinking skills and, once in a while, don’t shy away from challenging the data if you’re convinced that an idea will work.
This is the hook. The angle. What John Caples calls the emotional appeal, and it can make the difference between a well-thought-out campaign and a poor one.
Say a client wants to sell their summer fashion line on Facebook. What would make a better campaign? A bunch of visual assets showcasing the new line? Or the same assets organized around a central message that resonates with the target audience? Off the top of my head: Maybe you might want to emphasize how the material can help you withstand the heat without compromising style. Sweating in the heat isn’t sexy, after all.
When you look at it this way, we can combine the Proposition with the previous element, the Strategy, because they’re related, and combining these two together into a single element will pack for a more powerful punch.
Supporting evidence goes here. Considering that most marketers leverage data today, do we really need supporting evidence to determine that certain jackets are more in demand with women than with men? And do we really need supporting evidence in order to execute the campaign successfully?
If the planner or strategist has done their job, the team should assume that the brief contains just enough of the right information for them to be able to carry out the campaign. Does a video editor really need to see the supporting evidence?
I would be very surprised to meet a creative team that doesn’t know who a client’s competitors are. This part should have been covered in the overall marketing strategy when the client first came on-board.
Therefore, there’s no need to repeat this info in brief after brief, unless a new competitor has entered the market, and the client wants to hit them directly, or some other such circumstance (in which case, this info should be included in the objective anyway).
Tone of Voice
Unless this is a one-off campaign, the tone of voice should be consistent with the brand voice of the client’s business. So unless you’re lacking a brand guide and this is the first time working with the client, this element is unnecessary.
Besides, the copywriter (or whomever writes the ads) should be more than familiar with the brand voice and personality to the extent that the client is comfortable working with them. If not, the client may want to provide the copy themselves, in which case this part is unnecessary.
And even if it refers to the general tone and mood the team wants to set for an ad, if the brand is sexy, the ad should be sexy. It can also be witty, or humorous, or whatever, but it should be sexy first. Like Axe. Axe is sexy, but the ads are exaggerated and quite amusing as well. So, Think Axe. Do we really need to write down the tone of voice for every ad we might write for Axe?
Desired consumer response
Other than the sale? This, too, ties in with the objective, and from this perspective, it’s redundant. Remember: We’re trying to strip this down to the barebone essentials, and paraphrasing the objective is overkill.
Let’s take an example.
Say you’ve got a new preworkout formula. Yes, your primary goal is the sale, but you also want the target audience to start thinking about your product every time they want to go to the gym.
Humor me. I know the example above is an obvious one, but my point is that you can work the desired consumer response into a strong and well-thought-out objective.
The media requirement is unnecessary. This is because every agency will have a brief that suits their medium. For instance, if the brief is for a Youtube video, then it will be a video brief.
What you do need to specify, however, is the format, which I cover in my Blitz Brief below.
And now that I’ve covered each element that goes into a traditional creative brief, let’s go over the Blitz Brief and take a look at how and why it’s better suited for a fast-paced work environment.
The “Blitz” Brief
Once we strip the traditional creative brief of all its “unnecessary” elements, we get what I call the Blitz brief, my format for DR-style Facebook ad campaigns, which I’ve refined over time to suit agile and remote teams working in fast-paced environments.
I kept in mind the challenges of working with remote teams, and the purpose, which is to communicate only the necessary details as clearly as possible, to reduce any unwarranted delays and achieve the best results in the least amount of time.
Here it is:
- Target Audience
- Funnel Stage (TOF, MOF, BOF, POST-PUR)
- Concept (optional) & Hook
- Visual Asset Description (to be provided to Visual Lead; e.g., Boomerang GIF, 15-s video, Image, including format) w/ Link to Production Assets
- Mandatory elements (can be left blank)
- Tone of Voice (include if not evident from concept)
What need immediate explanation are the funnel stage and the visual asset.
Because the funnel stage determines your target audience’s mind state and where they’re at in terms of their customer journey, you should know what types of ads each funnel stage requires. In this manner, we can eliminate a lot of the many other elements scattered here and there, and channel them all here in this single element. TOF, MOF, and BOF are simply Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, and Bottom of Funnel, respectively, with POST-PUR indicating post-purchase campaigns.
The visual asset description is important for the designer, video editor, and other visual asset members. For Facebook and Instagram, the format can make or break the ad, so this is crucial, and correcting an incorrect format can take up to an hour. Traditionally, the copywriter works with the visual lead to create the asset. Alternatively, the visual lead provides the asset first based on the brief, and the copywriter goes to work.
This does not work online, at least not in my experience. The best way to work here is for both to agree on what is to be produced, and to trust both the copywriter and the visual lead to create something that not only makes sense and fulfills the campaign objective, but is also complementary. Too often do we see ads these days where the copy and the design are out of balance.
A couple caveats on the brief before we close
If you’re working with a media buyer, make sure they get the purpose of a creative brief. Many a time I’ve had them fly across my desk, and they weren’t even real briefs! For example, one concept I read was, “New jackets are in.” That is not a concept. It’s the background for why we’re running the campaign, the reason for writing the brief. So, this should’ve been formulated as a question:
“How are we going to sell these new jackets?”
If you pose it as a question, it will be much easier to write the brief. This way, the answer will automatically be framed as the objective: “To…”
Also note that the amount of information supplied in the brief is not commensurate with quality. Simply because you’ve overwhelmed your team with info does not mean a better result will come out. With briefs, it’s best to emphasize the quality of information and to be economical and respect your team’s time too.
What exactly do your team members need to know?
No more, no less.
Lastly, if you can involve the entire creative team somehow in coming up with the brief, you’ll have a much easier time. Even if it’s a 10-minute pre-brief to discuss ideas, it might save you a lot of time and headaches in the long run.
Anyway. I know a couple agencies that have adopted the Blitz brief based on my recommendation. I’d love to hear what you think, and of course, how you adopted it to suit your own needs, so comment below.