When do we get to the creative part?

It’s Sunday; let’s check in.

To put a timestamp on this specific day:

I woke this morning to news of a shooting at a car show in Arkansas. (It’s the guns.) Russian forces bombed an art school where 400 people were taking shelter. Sea creatures are living in plastic waste at the bottom of the ocean. The deadly Texas wildfires rage on and may worsen because of extreme drought.


It’s an exquisite spring day in Memphis — clear, temperate, and teeming with tender, green shoots everywhere. My children are back safely where they’re supposed to be, after each traveling for a week of spring break merriment. Having slept until I was ready to rise, I started the day with a short walk with the dogs, who then played their daily play at my feet while I drank hot coffee, ate granola, and read the news. At the two year mark of the neverending pandemic, we are housed and healthy, for which I remain grateful.

The tension between these two stark realities is ever present as I write. Thinking about my world, and my work, in the context of the greater world often helps me find purpose and avoid paralysis.

And so, onward we go with today’s segment of the creative brief, a tool for collaborative problem solving.

For anyone just jumping into this series today (or new here, in general), a little background and orientation to the work:

The creative brief, used in advertising/creative agencies to frame a campaign, promotion, etc., drives the creative process to address a specific, defined problem. The written brief is a framework of commonly accepted pieces of information that can bridge divergent, subjective opinions and perspectives, ultimately leading to better work.

If a team can get to agreement on the strategy document – the creative brief – then they will be more successful in reflecting, evaluating, and coming to a meaningful decision when it’s time to select from the work that is created from that strategy document. Personal tastes and preferences will take a back seat to the foundational agreements — the principles of greater good — that are spelled out in the brief.

This tool can be applied to countless other situations, outside of ad agency confines, which is why I believe it’s worth time to learn the skill. In my experience teaching this particular approach, I’ve observed that anyone can learn the technique.

I’ve spent 30 years framing problems in this way, using this basic outline. The basic approach of using a creative brief is so familiar to me, in fact, that I use it without conscious thought.

The guide we’re using for developing this skill is a curriculum I wrote when I taught creative strategy workshops for trade show and event managers from around the world. That was 20 years ago, but I find that the general idea is just as timely and relevant today.

The enthusiasm and excitement when someone masters use of this tool? Just as wonderful now as ever; I’ve seen it in my office, at Kindred Place, recently. Learning to frame, and solve, problems in a collaborative environment, using the creative brief template, separates the work from individual emotions or personalities. The process is not without conflict and debate, but using this approach gives structure and purpose to the debate.

What I now remember, re-sharing a lightly updated version of the lesson plans I developed decades ago, is that there’s an element of disappointment when it seems that there’s not really much creativity in preparing a creative brief.

We’re at that point, today.

So maybe you’re reading and working along here and starting to wonder, “when do we get to the creative part?”

Soon. I promise. Just stick with it a little longer, and through these next three segments in particular. And all of the remaining segments are short.

Today’s segment is “Support” (also often labeled, “Permission to Believe,” which is the label I prefer.)

Permission to Believe is the section that backs up your Key Message/Claim. It’s the facts and figures section, the proof behind the pudding, as one might say. These are logical points and differentiators that enable your target audience to believe the message, which then leads them to take the desired action.

Back to my weekly dinner example (which seems a stretch for this work, I know, but I’m going to tie it up in the end), the Key Message is: “The time you spend at the table eating dinner as a family, one night a week, will help everyone in the house know what you need and want in the week ahead, and the dinner will include food you like, prepared and served the way you like it.”

Permission to Believe, for my personal example, might be something like this:

  • We all drive, we all keep separate calendars, and we’re all busy in our individual lives without much time to get in sync. When we’re not in sync, we argue.
  • In the past, when we’ve compared calendars and talked about the week ahead during a Sunday night dinner, we were on time for more of our appointments and less stressed overall.
  • We have been eating dinner as a family together for 20 years have a history of food likes/dislikes that will guide choices to make sure there’s always something enjoy eating.
  • You’re going to eat anyway, so you might as well do it at the table, at least one night a week.
  • Our kitchen table is big enough to hold plates, food served family style, and our calendars or computers, all at the same time.
  • I have a track record of cooking and serving edible food.
  • Also, I know how to order takeout.

If that example is too far fetched or abstract, then let’s take the other one I used yesterday, from my work at Kindred Place:

Key Message/Claim: Our four-hour co-parenting seminar will help you ensure your children’s well-being during a stressful time while also giving you proven approaches to manage your own well-being during the challenge of divorce.

Permission to Believe:

  • Though there is no specific training required by the state for co-parenting seminar leaders, our offering is taught by a licensed counselor who has experience working with parents, partners, children, and families.
  • Our seminar uses additional material that expands on the court-approved curriculum and goes beyond the basics to address children’s well-being from a mental health standpoint.
  • Our seminar includes self-care strategies and resources that are outside of the standard program materials.

OK, if you made it this far and are still thinking that this seems very un-creative indeed, then I get it. I really do. The creative brief is pre-work to actual creative output. And the term “creative” in the sense of doing this particular pre-work means building (creating), not inventing (being “creative,” or imaginative, in that traditional sense).

By doing this work, even though it might seem less than creative (or less creative that you were expecting), you’ll ultimately find more freedom to imagine, invent, and innovate when it comes time to put forth your ideas for the solution. I promise it works. I promise.

On deck for tomorrow is the Frame of Reference section, in which you’ll be thinking about your competition and the overall environment. Will it seem more creative than today’s episode? Well, no. Not yet. But some back anyway, or you’ll be missing out.

So, tomorrow it is. See you then.

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