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    Peter Mountford: Three wishes for freelance agency briefs

    By Peter Mountford, freelance senior copywriter at AFFINITY Agency Group

    As a freelance copywriter, you get to see how lots of agencies work. They all have their quirks. Some are run with German precision; others are run with seemingly no processes at all – a blur of frantic energy and creativity. Some have beer fridges that would put your local to shame; others start Mondays with a group yoga session.

    One thing most have in common is that they struggle to consistently nail great propositions on their briefs. There’s no doubt a lot of valid reasons for that, but here’s what I’d love to see if I had three wishes:

    1. Keep it simple

    Oh so obvious, I hear you say. But why then is it so difficult to achieve in real-world briefs? Creatives are taught the power of a simple and single-minded brief right from the start of their careers. At Award School, we were given a series of mock briefs, usually with blissfully simple propositions, like:  

    Windex Glass cleaner – For the cleanest glass
    Vanish Napisan – Effective against all stains
    Banana Boat – Spend more time in the sun

    Then, when we start working in agencies ‘for real’, things become complicated. Propositions are rarely single-minded and are more often a shopping list of generic product features. The Vanish Napisan example from above becomes something like, ‘Brightens colours, removes stains, works in cold wash, is good for the environment and is great value.’

    Ummm, where to start?

    There’s every chance a creative will prioritise brightening colours over removing stains and the client might want the opposite. Instead, the creative work is used to figure out what the brief really is, and it’s back to the drawing board. The inefficiency and wasted creative thinking is bad for creative departments, bad for agency reputations and bad for effectiveness, which is all the client is ultimately interested in.

    Looking at some of the most successful campaigns of all time, we can see how effective a simple strategy can be. The examples below are the actual strategy lines that were used for these campaigns: 

    Canal+ The Bear – Convey a passion for cinema
    Dove Real Beauty – Let’s make real women feel more beautiful
    California Milk Processor Board Got milk? – People don’t care about milk until they don’t have it
    Sony Bravia Balls – Brings colour into your life

    2. Stick to the truth

    An insightful truth can be a springboard for a great campaign. The strategists behind the Dove campaign found that only 2% of women would call themselves beautiful. For Got Milk?, it was that interview subjects really struggled when they were told not to drink milk for a few days before meeting with the agency.  

    These truths can be about the product itself, like Snickers’ You’re not you when you’re hungry. What they can’t be is fabricated. Nobody quite believes that big mining is leading the charge towards green energy, that banking is about more than money, or that the big supermarkets want to help us spend less.

    The reality is, unless you’re prepared to challenge a client (and the brief) on their inherent biases, you’ll never get to work that punters will believe in.

    3. Use plain English

    This one is a personal gripe. The problem here is when briefs and propositions are written like taglines. So, instead of being asked to sell the ‘cleanest glass’ we are asked to sell ‘glass so clean, it’s like a dream’.

    Unfortunately, this limits creativity, rather than unlocking it. True creative freedom lies in tightly defined and plainly written creative briefs and creative tyranny is in the opposite. So less purple prose and more inspirational platforms please.

    And what if you don’t have three wishes? 

    In the extremely unlikely event that a genie doesn’t grant you three wishes, your best bet is for creatives and strategists to work as closely together as possible. In the same way strategists can improve creative work, creatives can often help get to a fruitful proposition. After all, most strategists are creative, and most creatives, strategic.

    Which neatly brings me round to where I’m working right now (and yes, I guess you could say they’re paying me to write this). But it has been a pleasant surprise to work in an agency that reduces the number of layers between the creatives and the client.

    And what works well here at AFFINITY, is that strategists own the relationship with the client – there’s no account service. Which means briefs are more insightful and single minded from the get-go. It also means we’re focused on solving the right problem and creating work that delivers measurable results. Which is good for business and good for us as well.

    Top image: Peter Mountford

    The post Peter Mountford: Three wishes for freelance agency briefs appeared first on Mediaweek.

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