Lumens: Strategic Briefing

Lumen’s is going to be an on-going series articles on the technicalities of brand activation for the activation magazine that my company is going to publish.  


Trying to unearth the mysteries of a strategic planner at an advertising/activation agency is no simple task, from the role of a creative director in some cases to a focus group moderator, a strategic planner probably sees the most myriad of agency functions. But probably the most horrifying, yet important role of a strategic planner is to formulate the creative brief. I say horrifying because it takes a strategic planner at the core to come up with the creative brief, no one else in the organization is geared to do just that. At the head of the creative process, the responsibility of a great idea rests squarely on the head of the strategic planner, “garbage in, garbage out, genius in, genius out”.  The reason this role has become so important lies in advertising’s historical background. The client’s brief has historically been a one line objective which has to be translated into the most successful piece of advertising ever! Even when the brief goes beyond the one line objective, words like out-of-the-box, clutter breaking, wow and exciting don’t really get you anywhere. So the role of the strategic planner, having a fair idea of the industry, an expert on the brand and its consumer and knowing the long term marketing objectives of the brand, is to decode the clients brief into a creative brief that communicates well with the creative guys back at work and inspire them to come up with good ideas. Often, the strategic planner would have to meet the client in person to truly understand what they want and how it all fits into the bigger scheme of things.  But probably the most difficult tasks in writing a brief is to understand how to communicate with the creative team who would be working on the idea. So suddenly, apart from his expertise in consumer understanding and knowledge of the category; communication, interpersonal and leadership skills of the strategic planner becomes all the more important. What counts here for the planner is to know each of the creative guys personally and the diverse ways that each of them need to be briefed and inspired. So, you can get by with a one line brief to an experienced creative director who has previously worked on the same brand but the same brief to a creative guy just passed out of art school wouldn’t do. Also, within creatives having the same experience levels, the cultural backgrounds, skills and motivations in life have to be kept in mind to make them click. The bottom line is that every individual has a unique set of chords that make them dance to the tune you want to play in front of the client on the day you present your ideas. Having worked with creatives across the industry, I have come to realize that there is no set formula or template for writing a good creative brief. The variations in the brands, their goals and ideas, the mindset of the brand manager, coupled with the myriad of creative guys from diverse backgrounds makes sure that every time the brief is a unique set of attributes whose closest analogy is probably creating life itself. Some of the wackiest briefs that I have ever created have included a full audio visual showcase with movie clips, sound bytes from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Lindsay Lohan to a Bug’s life and a visit to Sadequians art gallery. Another similar one saw me and my creative guys get a haircut from a salon which specialized in women’s hairdo’s and then move on to the hottest coffee café in town. Being a strategic planner you need to have your hand on the pulse of popular culture and having to communicate it to your creative guys can sometimes create problems both in terms of making yourself understood and also having to keep your own personal agenda’s and beliefs in the closet. That is probably true for the marketing communications domain as a whole more so for a strategic planner. You are going out there to talk to a bunch of people who may not be like you, may not have the same cultural influences as yours, have a different definition of ethics than you and you would still end up not just creating adverting for them, but also connecting with their dreams, aspirations and motivations.  Back to briefing, a lot of times the written brief still would not be able to cut through on what you want to achieve. Backed by research and thorough brand understanding, the objective may be printed at the back of your retina, but being able to translate that idea into a single written brief isn’t always enough. It is just an inherent flaw in the communication process that makes the written word inadequate for the purpose at hand. I have spent nights debating with my creatives why a pagri would work for my rural tea brand consumer even though the cool-dudeIndus valley graduate thinks that a baseball cap would look really funky on him. A lot of times you end  up bringing them just at par with how much you know about the brand, showing them previous communications, market research stats, clips of movies where they captured the mood of the visual that you want to depict, sights and sounds of places that the consumer lives in. I have laughed and cried with my creative guys listening to songs, watching movies and stick figure animations and eating out at the road side bun kabab wala’s. At worst all this motivates them to put their hearts and souls into whatever they do. For me it’s all part of the briefing process and I have come to believe wholeheartedly, that the magic that follows, can readily be attributed to your very own proprietery way of writing the creative brief.


~ by illuxon on July 27, 2006.

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