Monday, November 8, 2010

From the lucrative world of publishing

(reprinted from this Month's issue of Brief magazine from Promax.)

I live with my wife, two teenage daughters, a retriever mix named Nellie and two goldfish, who for the purposes of this article, I will assume are also female. As the lone Y chromosome carrier in the household, it’s my job to take out the garbage. If I don’t take the cans down to the curb, the cans simply do not get down to the curb.

You may be asking what any of this has to do with TV, broadcasting, advertising or promos. But, I suspect those of you in creative roles can spot the stretched metaphor from a mile away. As a copywriter with more than 20 years experience, I’ve gotten quite accustomed to taking out the trash. And by that I mean the creative brief.

I still make my living writing for ad agencies, clients, cable networks, digital boutiques, etc., so I’ve got to tread lightly here. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me and keeps my fridge stocked with Blue Moon.

But the truth is, most creative briefs I see are neither creative nor brief.

An agency planner once told me, “You can’t expect the kind of creative strategic brilliance like the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign on every brief.”

Is that so? I’ll have to employ that method of managed expectations on my next creative presentation, “You can’t expect great creative on every assignment. Here’s my invoice.”

What about brevity?

Years ago, a dozen or so freelance teams were assembled to rebrand a major car manufacturer. It was, we were told, to be a milestone campaign. A clean break from the past. A blank slate on which we would be free to rewrite automotive and advertising history. What creative person would not be excited by that kind of opportunity?

“As soon as we receive your signed NDA,” said the agency creative administrator, “we’ll email you the 109-page briefing document.” She was not kidding. It looked like the blueprint for an Iranian nuclear facility. There was more clarity to the Pentagon’s plan for victory in Afghanistan.

The best brief I ever got wasn’t a brief at all. It was just a guttural insight from Lee Clow, who said, “People think of TV as a sanctuary.” From that, the ABC “Yellow” campaign was born.

I don’t know how to solve the garbage in/garbage out phenomena. But I do know if we want the work to get better, the briefs have to get better. They have to get simpler. Shorter. More visceral. And they have to stop rehashing the same ideas over and over and over again.

That reminds me, I have to take out the recyclables.

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