How To Write A Creative Brief

Howard Ibach

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You can also watch this interview on my YouTube Channel

Table of Contents

  1. Why do you need a good creative brief?
  2. Most common mistakes brief writers make
  3. How to write a single-minded proposition

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.


Howard Ibach: Some people think they've got 20 minutes to write the brief and it's done. The best briefs that I use to teach are clearly writerly documents. They've been sweated over.

Arek Dvornechuck: Hey what's up branding experts Arek here at Ebaq Design and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And my guest today is Howard Ibach. And Howard has been teaching creative brief writing workshops for more than 17 years.

And Howard has read over thousands of briefs for hundreds of companies including major brands like Lexus, Jaguar, Honda, Wells Fargo, US Bank, British Airways just to name a few. So Howard is also on the faculty of the largest advertising organization in the world, which is ANA, Association of National Advertisers.

And he's also the author of two best selling books about creative briefs, How to write an inspired creative brief, How to write a single-minded proposition.

Hello howard, thanks for joining us today.

Howard Ibach: Arek it's a great pleasure. Thank you for having me. I look forward to our conversation.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you so much. So basically you are an expert when it comes to writing creative briefs. Right. And, you know, as creatives, you know, I'm sure this is super valuable for my audience because, you know, that's where everything starts, right? With the right creative brief. And I know from my own experience that it is not really easy because we have so much information and we don't wanna miss out on anything.

Arek Dvornechuck: But as you argue, you know, you teach us like how to distill this information , how to write what are some of the best practices and so on.

Why do you need a good creative brief?

Arek Dvornechuck: So can we start with something simple , why do we need a good creative brief and, how does it work? How does it inspire us.

Arek Dvornechuck: Create. Better work.

Howard Ibach: Well, a great place to start, Arek. I get that question, you know, often, and my podcast co-host Henry Gomez and I have actually talked about that. , you know, why do we need a brief? Do we need a brief? I think the answer is pretty simple. , anyone out there who has ever heard of something called the telephone game would understand why.

Now, the telephone game is a childhood game where five or six of your friends sit around and someone leans over it and whispers something into the ear of the person sitting next to you, and that friend then whispers what he or she thought they heard to the next person and so on and so on and so on, until you get back to the person sitting on your other.

And they open their mouth and say what they thought they heard, and then we compare it to what the original thought was. And that's what happens sometimes when we don't have a brief, there's no agreement on what the assignment was. So in a sense, it's like a contract. The best definition I've ever come across for a creative brief.

I heard just recently a colleague said that he thought the creative brief was the emotional or visceral translation of the. Meaning you gotta have a strategy first. And it's surprising how often marketers used the creative process to figure out the strategy, and that's got it backwards. So you have to begin with your plan.

And the creative brief is the tactical expression of that plan. So that's why we need a brief creatives, and I'm a former. I was a copywriter and a creative director for 26 years, and I worked with whatever someone handed me without really knowing what a good one was. But you want the best work out of me.

Howard Ibach: Give me a good, clear brief.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right. , that's definitely true. And so basically some of my key takeaways also, so as you already mentioned, is gonna steer us into the right direction. It's like a roadmap, right? Or you use this analogy good creative brief. Provides a focused roadmap that keeps the creative train on the track all the way to the destination, right?

So, there is certain science , to writing a good creative brief, right? And you talk about that, but before we, actually dive into, you know, what are some of the best practices? Let's start with the mistakes because you know, as you already mentioned you.

Worked with all kind of briefs and you read all kind of briefs and you know.

Most common mistakes brief writers make

Arek Dvornechuck: what are some of the most mistakes that, you know people make when inviting creative briefs?

Howard Ibach: I think the biggest mistake that people make, and this is especially true with in-house ad agencies that do not have account planners or strategists because that's the category of a position within an agency that's been trained to write briefs. So most in-house agencies that do not have account planners or strategists make , the mistake of trying to write the brief alone , as a singular siloed effort.

And I ask the question when I do my training, well, who here collaborates? And many people raise their hand. And say, oh, yes, I collaborate, I collaborate with my colleagues. And I say, well, could you define what you mean by collaboration? And their explanation is, well, I write a draft and then I send it out for comments from to my colleagues.

And I say that's not collaboration. That's an exercise in masochism. Because what happens is you send the document out, and I'm sure at least one of the people who looks at it is your boss. And then it becomes an exercise in pleasing the boss. Audience for the creative brief is the creative department, but when you write the document by yourself and you send it out for feedback, and your boss is one of the people who reads that document, you're writing the document for the boss, not for the creative department.

And you go through a process of dealing with multiple people contributing their thoughts to your draft by, right? They write things on the on the margins, or they'll send you an email and then your job, because you wrote it by yourself, is to try to figure. . Well, which of these comments mean the most?

Which ones carry the most weight? Which ones should I listen to? Which ones can I ignore? That's why I call an exercise in, in masochism. Whereas if you collaborate with a colleague, a fellow marketer, a fellow creative, you put two heads together and your document is gonna be more inclusive. This is how the creatives work back in the forties and fifties.

A guy like, Bill Bernbach invented something that didn't exist at the time. It's called the creative team, but an art director and a copywriter together, and they partnered. We must do the same thing when we're writing a creative brief because most agencies don't have planners. You must collaborate with someone this way.

You're not writing a document in isolation. So that's the first mistake. The second mistake, I think, is they believe I have to include as much information as possible in this document. And that's the exact opposite. There's an old line from Mark Twain who said, I apologized for writing such a long letter.

If I had more time, I would've made it shorter. The best creative briefs are brief a page, maybe a page and a half, but we're afraid that we're not gonna give the creatives everything they need. So marketers tend to pile.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right!

Howard Ibach: And they just don't have a sense of understanding of what is it that I need to include and what can I not include?

And this is another example of failure to collaborate. If you loop in a creative and say, do you need this information? Grad will tell you whether , she does or doesn't. So the two big mistakes are riding alone and trying to include too much information because , the creative brief is actually an example of strategic reduction.

Arek Dvornechuck: Mm-hmm.

Howard Ibach: There are a lot of other mistakes that they make, but those are the two biggies.

Arek Dvornechuck: Those are the two, biggest mistakes. So putting too much information, not filtering the right information, that's bad. It's a chaos. , it's too much. So it's an art to it, right? We need to distill the right information. We need to know what to keep, what to remove. And then the second one is just writing , by yourself, not collaborating.

Howard Ibach: Yes, big mistake.

Arek Dvornechuck: And some, there are some other mistakes as you already like using jargon, right? And stuff like that. And you explain on those mistakes. But

Howard Ibach: Submitting a first draft, submitting a first. Some people think they've got 20 minutes to write the brief and it's done. The best briefs that I use to teach are clearly writerly documents. They've been sweated over. They are not first drafts, but we don't treat the document with that kind of respect.

Howard Ibach: We must treat it as a writer's document. thinking document, so that's another big mistake.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right? Because as you say in your books and in your teachings that, you know, Brief needs to be tight. A tight brief translates into a, into better work and fewer rounds of revisions. Right. I'm talking about creative work. Okay, so we've covered that. So, and then you also talk about like the cornerstone of every good brief is a single-minded proposition.

How to write a single-minded proposition

Arek Dvornechuck: So can we talk about that? How to write this single-minded proposition? Articulate that brand promise.

Howard Ibach: Yeah. How much time we got Arek

Howard Ibach: I'm kidding.

Arek Dvornechuck: You can talk a lot. I know. So let's just

Howard Ibach: The joke, is that it took me 99 pages to write a book about one sentence, because that's really what it comes down to. And, in, in a lot of cases, the single mind of proposition. Is not even a full sentence. It can be a phrase. A couple of words. And, and to be clear, let's make sure that our audience understands.

There are lots of ways to describe this. I think the most common is the single minor proposition. Others call it the single most persuasive idea, the one key thing, the unique selling proposition, whatever term you use to describe it. I think the biggest problem that most people who write briefs face is they put way too much pressure on themselves to write this. And, you know, in doing my own podcast with my buddy Henry, who is, a strategist and writes creative briefs for a living, unlike me who teaches, he says, I try to write an inspirational line every time I sit down to write a brief, but if I can't write something truly inspirational, I want to be clear.

That's my minimum standard. Make sure the line is clear because creatives can work with something that's.

Arek Dvornechuck: Mm-hmm.

Howard Ibach: The goal I think, is to write something kind of like a headline, something really headlining, clever, but you know, a lot of people are not writers who write creative briefs, and that can be intimidating.

Howard Ibach: So the idea is, and I have, one I think, very powerful visual example that will help people understand what a good single-minded proposition is. And I call it the Times Square analogy. Imagine that you're standing in Times Square in the heart of new.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah.

Howard Ibach: At 11 o'clock at night on a Saturday night, you know it's gonna be packed with people. , the shows have just let out. Well, imagine you're standing on one side of Times Square and someone representing your target audience is standing on the other side of Times Square. You can't call them on the phone. You can't text them. You can't use a microphone, right? You can't use a carrier pigeon.

You can't write a message down and send it by one of your friends. You've gotta use your. Can you say it out loud? Probably not. You're gonna have to yell it. So, in that environment, maddening, crazy, chaotic, how many words do you think you can speak out loud across that distance?

Probably no more than four or five, and you're gonna have to yell at the top of your voice. So thinking of that analogy, that's what your single mind of proposition has to. Four to five words, something that you can be easily understood by your target audience, because that's the idea of a single mind proposition, is to give the creatives inspiration to come up with an idea that your target audience will get,

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah.

Howard Ibach: They'll understand what's the one thing, what's in it for me?

Howard Ibach: And that single mind proposition kind of captures that line. Now as an example of how powerful this, the single-minded proposition can. Very few have actually gone on to become public facing language, what we call our advertising taglines, right? So for example, maybe you've heard of this line, the milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah.

Howard Ibach: For m and ms that started its life as a single amount of proposition on a creative brief.

It's pretty rare. It's a very rare thing, but it was a very clever line, but it also was very.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right?

Howard Ibach: Birthed a major campaign. So I say, if you think you've got the chops, write a linny, kind of a single minor proposition, and think of that times Square analogy.

That's the environment that you're working in. The line is for the creative department. It's not for the public, but sometimes if it's really well done, it can become a public facing line. Now that's a lot of information to absorb in just a minute. It's a very powerful line, but it's a very difficult line and people get very intimidated by.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, it is definitely a challenge to write something, you know, like to concise all this information into a very few words, as you mentioned. And , I love this analogy. So you obviously when you're screaming you cannot scream out a lot of, you know, long sentences.

Arek Dvornechuck: So you need to

Howard Ibach: No paragraphs,

Arek Dvornechuck: No paragraphs. And it's a great example, by the way, m and ms okay, so awesome. So, you teach people how to write creative briefs, you dive into details. You have, workshops on your website, right? Your website is You also co-host a weekly podcast about creative briefs as well The Brief B ros that you already mentioned.

So, I encourage you guys who are, listen, To check out the website, to check out this podcast to learn more. And if you want to check out the workshop encourage you to do that. And of course you have two books, right? We're gonna link to the books as well. And where do we connect with you?

What's the best way? Do you active on LinkedIn, social media,

Howard Ibach: Yeah, LinkedIn is probably my most used social media. Well, I do have a YouTube page where we host, our episodes. Of the Brief Brothers the website, If you work for a company that is a member of the ANA, the Association of National Advertisers, you know, I'm on the faculty with the ANA and I can do workshops for your company.

If you are a member, if you work for a company, then you're not a member of the ANA, then you can reach me through my website. We can do very, very small groups. Workshops through the website, which I do on Zoom. So there are lots of ways. Plus I do, I have a blog I write a weekly essay. So there are lots of ways for you to connect with me.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, there is a lot of great information on your website, so, thanks for your time. I really appreciate that.

Howard Ibach: My pleasure, Arek. It's been great fun for me to talk to you about the brief.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you.

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