The Brief

5th April 2015

Amid the 2015 Oscars hullabaloo of a couple of months back, one sound bite from a Hollywood hack has stuck with me. It is this.

A film is written four times. Once by the screenwriter. Once in its casting. Once as it is shot. And for the last time in editing. 

It is rather difficult to assure that the intent of the original writer – toiling away, alone at her writerly desk – is reflected in the final movie that you or I end up seeing. It is equally difficult to decide whether her vision was more important than the director, or the actor, or that all-seeing master manipulator, the movie’s editor.

This is also the core challenge of ‘the brief’.

The brief – the one page instrument all of Marketing uses to lay down creative intent – is then interpreted, dissected and excerpted by multiple other parties, generally labelled ‘the agencies’.

Let’s imagine an example where the brief is for new packaging.

This document goes to the packaging agency. It becomes the subject of scrutiny as five to ten other experts – in strategy planning, in client management, in design – get to grips with its meaning.

I have seen briefs which have been ignored, tampered with, loosely interpreted or linearly expressed. I have seen agencies wring their hands in despair at the lack of clarity in a brief. In its lack of insight. Or its willingness to force a pre-determined answer with the number of ‘mandatories’ it demands.

My packaging can be any colour it wants, as long as it’s black.

And I have seen briefs that inspire a response so inspirational that the client is moved to tears, to wonder or (on one memorable occasion when I worked in London) to spontaneously rising to their feet and applauding.

The dreams of many are anchored in the brief.

The brief. This little, important, flimsy, irrepressible document which serves as a reminder that marketing lies at the juncture of science and art.

The brief cautions that there is never just one right answer.

And, within its brevity, it knows that it is a baton in a relay requiring the creative and strategic collaboration of many.

The brief becomes the organising idea around which talented people gather to evolve a beautiful, logical work of art.

Which is why, when the envelope is opened and the Oscar winner steps up to the podium, the thanking of people unknown goes on, and on, and on…


Brian McIntyre. 2015.

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