Do copywriters still need briefs?

Do copywriters still need briefs?

Gustave Flaubert said that, in order to be original in your work, you should be orderly in your life. It’s an interesting quote and one that I think of when I consider the creative process. As copywriters, designers and art directors (and beyond that, an agency of people who put creativity at the core of all we do) we aim for creative excellence with every project we work on.

But how does that creative excellence actually come about? To go back to Flaubert’s comment, it all starts with the brief.

If the witty, clever, insightful, thought-provoking, funny, intriguing, impactful campaign is the result, then the creative brief is the thing which lights the spark. The brief is the ‘order’ that collates all the essential information and facts and then allows the creative mind to fly – and come up with content that moves, informs, engages, amuses or delights the audience. But as I navigate my way through my third decade as a conceptual copywriter, I find myself asking two important questions: 1. Do people still write briefs? And 2. Do we even need briefs anymore at all?

Perhaps there really was more time 20 years ago (or perhaps I’m simply looking at things through rose-tinted spectacles) but it seems as if, these days, everything is needed yesterday. Time (and timings) has never been so crucial. When a client briefs an agency, invariably they want the work fast. Obviously they also want it to be good… great ideas, eye-catching design, well-crafted copy, etc. But speed is key. And so, perhaps understandably, the time to write a clear and cohesive brief can disappear.

Is this okay? For me, it comes down to three simple things: is what’s required straightforward, is it simple… and is it clear? If the answer is yes, yes and yes again, then the lack of a detailed, written creative brief needn’t be too much of a problem. It’s when the answer is ‘no’ however, that potential issues can arise.

For example, are we talking to multiple audiences? Is the messaging different for different target markets? Are there mandatory inclusions that must be taken into consideration?

At the end of the day, it surely comes down to communication, making sure there is clear and consistent dialogue between the person asking for the work and the person (or people) who will be doing the work. That’s the way to make sure that the response to even a simple brief achieves the right result: excellent work, completed within timeframes and on budget that achieves the desired audience response.

But does it just come down to simply a lack of time? Is there actually still the inclination to write briefs anymore – and, even if there is, is there the knowledge to know what they should contain?

Having worked on many different iterations of copy brief templates in the past, I always knew how important it was for me to show the account handlers (i.e. those who were doing the briefing) what the essential content of a brief should be (based on my experience of both marketing and working across a wide variety of clients straddling a broad range of sectors). I also knew it was important to keep things simple – after all, a clear, easy-to-follow template would (hopefully) have more chance of being a) understood and b) filled in.

Fast-forward a few years to today and, for me, nothing much has changed. A good brief should, in my opinion, always contain the following:

1. The basics – who’s the client, what’s the deadline
2. The background – what’s the reason for the project, what has gone before, what’s the context
3. The proposition – what’s the single-minded thing we are trying to say
4. The audience – who are we talking to
5. The desired response – what do we want the audience to actually do

Of course, no two projects are ever necessarily the same and any briefing template should be flexible enough to be able to adapt to specific requirements. But, as a rule, the five points above are a pretty good place to start when it comes to setting out that ‘order’ which Flaubert spoke about.

Ultimately, agencies will be judged on two things: work and results. I believe that clearly defined, well-written briefs still have a big part to play in achieving those things… but do account handlers and / or clients agree? Only time will tell.

Whatever your brief, our skill is to get to the nub of the issue fast, and then deliver a creative response that is on brand and on strategy. To find out more, contact or