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Having worked in a corporate environment for 10 years, briefing and debriefing creative agencies and freelancers, and then making the leap over the fence to running a creative agency for the past 8 years, I’d like to think I’ve learned a little about how to brief and debrief creatives.


Lets start with briefing creative teams:


Crossing a river


Firstly, I had worked in a bank for many years, and while the creatives I was briefing had worked in marketing, advertising and design for many years, I was the one with the insights. They had the skills to turn those insights into beautiful stories aimed at engaging customers around our brand and propositions.


Agreed? Absolutely. Why then did I spend so much time trying to crack the creative idea, and then ask them to merely execute my genius? Honestly, because I thought I was ‘creative’ and even more honestly, because whereas I admired their skills I didn’t respect their expertise.


So how did my personal brand of creative direction go with my agency partners? It went down like a homesick mole. After most meetings I would be met by a sea of furrowed brows from the creatives, and fixed grins from the client service team mopping up the shattered dreams.


It was years later that someone shared a wonderful and life changing aphorism:


“Don’t ask a designer to build you a bridge,

ask them to help you cross the river”.


Bottomline: Give your creative partners the benefit of your insights and hopes, but resist giving them the answer. There are very few original briefs, but if you are lucky your agency will give you hundreds of uniquely surprising solutions.


Debriefing without disembowelling


I’m generalising here, but I have found that creatives can be sensitive and even insecure souls. Their job is to start each day with a blank sheet and to pour their hearts and souls onto it. Money is merely the wages they earn; their most valuable currency is acknowledgment and appreciation of this effort.


Even if you don’t like what has been produced, a little empathy and acknowledgement for the process will go a long way to ensuring that your creative partners will continue to bend over backwards while crawling over broken glass for you.

An agency presenting an idea is like a cat bringing you a fresh kill – even if it horrifies you, it’s polite to acknowledge the offering before voicing your distaste.


The creative idea didn’t pop out in an hour, so debriefing it in the first 5 minutes isn’t appropriate. Take a deep breath. Start

by mentioning your gratitude for the work they’ve dragged in, acknowledge the effort, the strategy and the craft on display. Follow that up with what you like – there’s always something, even if it’s only the choice of font - and how you can see what they have tried to do.


Now you can give a considered debrief of the work. Be specific, give examples, provide references of work that you have seen

that you like – do whatever it takes to give the team in front of you enough information and inspiration to go back and dig deep

all over again.


Finish with more effusive thanks for the effort so far.

Bottom-line: A few minutes of respectful acknowledgement will get you days or even weeks of revitalised creative.

In closing, some food for thought from Paul Rand – famous for designing the IBM logo among many other great pieces of

graphic design:

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design.

It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design,

because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”

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