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Frustrations About the Creative Development Process
Whether you work on the client-side in brand management or in an agency environment, you’ve probably run into some frustrating experiences when it comes to developing new advertising campaigns. There can be frustration on both sides of the fence when it comes to the creative process.
There can be lost time and rework—when you feel like you’re not getting what you want as a brand leader. This goes for the agency, too. If you’re an agency partner you can feel like your team has to do unnecessary rework.
There’s also a lot of frustration involved, feeling like you’re up against deadlines. Teams may feel like they run out of time and are pressured to approve work that isn’t their best. These common, big issues if you work on a brand team or at an agency.
I’m going to cover the typical creative development process and some of its flaws, and then provide some tips to help improve things.
Typical Creative Development Process
A typical creative development process for new campaigns typically looks something like this.
Write a Brief
This can be the brand team on the client-side writing a creative brief and simply sending it to an agency. Or, it could be a request to the agency for the agency to draft a brief. In many cases, the client will write a brief first and deliver it to the agency as a starting point. This brief may contain a lot of information that may or may not be useful to agency teams.
Agency Rewrites the Brief
Once the brief is received by the agency, it often gets rewritten. Many clients are not aware of this. The agency frequently takes the creative brief, decides what’s important, and rewrites it into an internal agency brief. In most cases, this is not delivered back to a client for alignment. It is simply a translation on the agency’s part that the client may not know about.
Creative Briefing (Agency)
Then the internal creative teams at the agency are usually briefed using the agency brief, not the client’s brief. This can create some lost-in-translation issues once creative work comes back later in the process. A fundamental flaw is that client teams rarely interact with the actual creatives who will do the work. At least not until later when the agency presents creative work back to the client.
The agency’s creative team will develop ideas based on the agency brief.
The agency now translates the ideas into storyboards or scripts for delivery back to the client. Besides the obvious flaw that creative teams develop ideas based on a brief the client never sees, the agency’s ideas are often translated into storyboards or scripts without client review as well. So, the agency team is fleshing out a detailed creative output that takes more work and time before the conceptual ideas have been aligned with the client.
This is often where a lot of rework and lost time happens. All of the flaws leading up to this moment culminate in a frustrating meeting. Now the client reviews detailed ideas that took considerable work to create. A client may reject any or all of the ideas and then the agency may need to go back and start at the beginning.
These are many of the issues that cause time-loss and rework that we want to avoid.
How to Fix the Creative Development Process
Here are some ways to make things go more smoothly, efficiently, and help you get to better work.
This is really on the shoulders of the client/brand team that sets the process in motion. Homework includes research you’ve done, such as discussions with consumers that led to real insights. Build this into your creative brief and creative product.
Homework also includes leveraging brand foundational tools, brand positioning, and other strategic documents. Marketing plans count, too. You should do this kind of homework before you start writing a creative brief.
Draft Communication Strategies
This is the strategy behind the brief and communication. Draft this before you write a creative brief that will go to a creative team.
If you need tips on what a communication strategy is and how to draft one, watch this video on How to Write a Desired Behavior. Draft your strategic options for your creative brief. Use the drafted options to have an internal discussion with your key stakeholders about which is the right strategy. Once that happens, then you can write a creative brief.
Collaborate with Agency on Single Brief
Ideally, you have a single brief and it doesn’t get rewritten into a second brief. If the agency isn’t getting what they need from your briefs, then you should have a discussion about what they do need and how you can evolve the format of your creative brief to deliver what’s needed. They should not have to rewrite it.
Once you actually write the brief, get senior-level approval on the brief itself so that the strategy is aligned up the chain of command in your organization. As a general rule of thumb, you want the creative brief approved up to the same level that the final creative product will be reviewed and approved. There’s often a mismatch here that causes conflicts and rework at the end of the creative process.
Ideas First (Not Storyboards)
This applies when you’re creating new campaigns and new big ideas. If you have an existing campaign and you’re simply creating an extension or add-on to that campaign, then this may not be necessary. But if you’re developing something new, you should review and discuss ideas with your agency first. That way, the details of scripts and storyboards don’t get in the way of the core ideas. Focus your efforts on aligning to the big ideas that have potential before the agency puts more work into the details.
Those are some key tips that will help overall with your creative development process. Hopefully, if you have experienced some of these frustrations, you can use these tips and think about how you might improve your process. You’ll get better work that everyone is happy with.
Even if you write a great creative brief, there’s so much more to creating a great campaign—and it can be a difficult process to navigate. Check out our course on How to Present Big Campaign Ideas and Provide Creative Feedback for more in-depth training.
If you’re looking for a more efficient strategic and creative process, check out our course on How to Write a Powerful Creative Brief. In this hands-on workshop course you’ll master the skills needed to write each and every component of an inspirational creative brief based on sound strategy.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.