Bang goes the brief: why it's time to ditch the dead trees
A view from Dave Henderson

Bang goes the brief: why it's time to ditch the dead trees

The paper brief was an invaluable document but it's time has come - there's a better way to do things, writes Atomic's creative partner.

It’s the single most important piece of paper in any ad agency. No, not that receipt we always seem to lose under a pile of unread contact reports.

I’m talking about the sheet of A4 without which no agency can operate.

The creative brief.

Every agency has its own way of putting these together. And every two or three years someone will tinker but basically they contain a simple distillation of all the information we will need to overcome a particular challenge. Good ones are short and snappy with lots of inspiration for the creative teams.

The very best one I ever read was for the Royal Marines while I was at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe Y&R (now Y&R London), back in the day. Written by either Neil Goodlad or Andy Nairn (sorry chaps) the proposition said simply "99.99% need not apply."

It became the end line for the campaign because no creative on the planet could have beaten it.

The worst I’ve ever seen was this disgraceful effort at an agency that shall remain secret. I’ve forgotten the product but the single-minded proposition was "Win a Cannes Gold Lion." We didn’t by the way.

However, despite the vital importance of the creative brief I think its time has finally come. Well, at least as a piece of paper.

The problem you see is that once it's written and printed out to be stared at by a rapidly blinking creative it’s already fossilised. A perfect record of the agencies thinking up to that point in time.

But after just a day or two the creatives will have brought more to the party.

Perhaps the young account executive will have found an ad that ran in Canada that we should be aware of.

The planner will have had even more time to refine his thinking in the shower. And the client may suddenly announce some other aspect for the agency to consider.

And the creative director – well, Jesus, he’s still debating the bloody thing with the head of strategy.

And after a week that piece of paper has already become a reflection of where we were seven whole days ago… an absolute age.

So when other creative teams are brought on board, or nick the brief from another team, they often hear the words: "Nice idea but the brief has moved on a bit."

So in the spirit of our mantra, never quiet, we’re ditching the paper brief.

That’s right: after 231 years we are the first agency in the world to bring the creative brief kicking and screaming to where it belongs, in an app.

While we develop our own platform, we’re using the Asana platform, which seems to have everything we need so far.

The brief is still a brief, but has now become a living, breathing, organic, up to the moment repository of everyone’s collective brain power.

So instead of answers to a brief set seven days ago we can now get answers based on the latest articulation of the brief seven minutes ago.

When there’s new bit of inspiration or an important thing to consider everyone is notified. Even if we’re on the train, thinking of ideas, there’s a little ping on our app. It keeps everyone informed, and guess what? People love being informed. They feel much more attached to what’s going on.

And it seems to have really helped generate more discussion and heat between different talents around the agency, helping with more joined up thinking beyond the usual 45-minute meeting we had three days ago. We’ve also allowed client access too, so everything’s a bit more collaborative.

Our latest work for the i newspaper was developed this way and we got to some fantastic and quite diverse answers on a pretty tight and specific brief. Mainly because we could update everyone as the goalposts began their inevitable move during the process. It all just felt healthier and more satisfying, for everyone.

We’ve only just switched to the new paperless brief, so we’ll keep developing it, and have enjoyed marking the occasion by blasting holes in our last paper briefs at the Marylebone Gun Club, filthy Harry-style.

We know that there’s still no substitute for a great articulation of a creative problem. And hats-off to planners everywhere… to do it well is one of the hardest jobs in an agency. But at least now there’s a bit more we can do to help those with the most important one.

Dave Henderson is creative partner at Atomic