Sunday, July 15, 2012


Time - he's waiting in the wings

He speaks of senseless things

His script is you and me, boys

(D. Bowie)

What is the optimum amount of time to give a creative team on a brief?
Well, first let’s look at what actually happens, before we get on to what ought to happen in a perfect world.
In the real world, creatives have been getting less and less time per brief. When I started in advertising, which admittedly was in the previous century, it was common for teams to get two weeks on a brief, before the client presentation.
Gradually, this went down to one week.
Now it has reduced to about four days. And once you factor in the need to schedule reviews with the account team, and the creative director, then the length of time that a creative team has before they need to show their ideas to somebody is probably about two days. And given that they will inevitably have other work on – another brief or two, plus bits of production - the actual thinking time that a creative team is able to put into any one brief is probably, in reality, just a few hours.
This seems bizarre, given that the marketer has probably spent weeks or months preparing the activity, and the agency planners have spent at least a week or two preparing the brief.
Do the client, the planners, and the account team really only want a few hours worth of thinking on the problem?

This short video, found via my friend Dustin’s blog Dingo’s Breakfast (worth a read, incidentally) makes a powerful case for giving creative people more time.
And for years, I stood in the same camp.
But recently, I’ve started going the other way.
And in fact I now believe that less time is better.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that time is precious. After all, it’s the only resource we have. (Other than the internet, obvs). But it’s precisely because time is so precious, that I think we should go to client earlier. As early as possible, in fact.
You see, any minute you spend working on something that isn’t what the client wants, is a waste of time. You can’t ‘make’ the client buy an idea, however great it may be, if it isn’t what they want. The first requirement if an idea is to ever see the light of day, is that it has to meet the client’s needs.
On numerous occasions, I’ve spent weeks working on something, or teams working in to me have spent weeks working on something, and we go to client, only to find that it isn’t exactly what they were looking for. Weeks of work, is eliminated in 20 minutes. And that isn’t very efficient.
Like it or not, a client often doesn’t know exactly what they want until they have seen some work. And I don’t blame them for that. Even the most tightly-written brief has nuances, and sometimes it takes actual work to flush those out.
When I was at BBH, the creative managers kept track of the percentage of briefs that were cracked first time, and it was considered important to get that score as high as possible, since having to start again is costly.

But maybe they were measuring the wrong thing. Maybe total number of days worked is more important. What does it matter if you go back three times, if they’re all in the same week? Isn’t that better than cracking something first time, if it takes you two weeks?

If we worked on stuff for less time, maybe each meeting would be lower pressure. Maybe we’d waste fewer hours polishing and crafting scripts that are going to be dead at the end of the three minutes it takes to read them out. And maybe we’d all be less upset when our work got blown out, because we would have put less emotional energy into it.
Anyway, it’s just a theory. What do
you think?


MK said...

Whenever my writer and I are up against the clock to crack an idea, we always say this: 'it only takes a fraction of a second to come up with an idea and we've got a lot of fractions of seconds left.'

More time is often a creative's worst enemy. We'll waste it sipping lattes and watching youtube.

Anonymous said...

prelims are dangerous and can lead to mashups of design by committee. It takes a good cd / creative to control what is also shown andwhat is going to work mixed together in order to make the calls of what to show and what not to a client. We used to lead them, now they lead us. That is why there is so much shite work being spewed out. It always helps to establish a really good brief, pivotal qns like evo or revo. What other brands do they like or campaigns that excite them. That always paves the way for the blueprint. I also believe the hands on creatives should be in all briefing meetings and hear what the client had to say first hand.

Anonymous said...

Give creatives more time by involving them in the front end of the briefing process. So often a strategy pops out that leads to dull work, and at least where I work, the creatives spend more time trying to get the brief right before they crack the idea.

I also agree less time can give better ideas, but the benefit of times being able to think things through. Couple that with time spent in meetings, interruptions and 'urgent' sidetracks throughout the day vs actual time working and it's hard. It really depends on the creative themselves.

Half an hour in a quiet pub with no internet or interruptions will yield much better results than 3 weeks in an office full of distractions.

Ben said...

About a decade ago I had a chat with Jeremy Carr on this very subject. I was telling him about the story of Terry Lovelock, who had been briefed to tackle the new Heineken campaign in the seventies. After a few weeks of no results, Frank Lowe packed him off to Marrakech , where he was told not to return until he'd cracked the brief. I believe he was diving into a swimming pool when the idea of Heineken Refreshes The Parts came to him – incontrovertible evidence that a good few weeks on a brief yields the greatest results.

Jeremy thought this was bollocks and said that after a few days you start to overthink it.

I thought that was a shame as it meant we wouldn't all be packed off to nice hot holiday destinations for a few weeks to solve tricky briefs.

Anonymous said...

I always think the first hour after you've had the brief and the last hour before you present are the most fertile times for cracking it.

If that makes sense?

Lubomir said...

The last 3 campaigns I worked on took me between 45 minutes to 3 hours each.

All were approved on first client meeting. Are they in my portfolio, will I show them to you – hell no!:)

john p woods said...

Does the same perception of time apply to any other areas of advertising? Are new business meetings timed? Do two hour bonding sessions herald better results than a one hour ones? If we are going to apply the notion that time or rather reduced time is a great master to have then I'm unsure as to why it isn't seemingly applied across the board.

Anonymous said...

I know you're labouring the point about everyone else, esp. planners, having time and creative teams getting the dog ends, but what planet are you on?

I'll get maybe 3 hrs to write a brief (from receiving a client brief/ing) just so I can get it into some jokers who won't even think about it for a couple of days ie just before first review.

We all get fecked on time constraints. No one person or function (and I mean planning) is loading the dice against teams doing great work.

Quality time, no matter how limited, then quick iterations are the best way to deliver quality work. Spot on on that score.

Leave off the cheap planning jibes, eh.

Scamp said...

Sorry, anonymous planner. You are right, I was being a bit unfair. We are all under time pressure. But I'm glad you agree with the main point I was making - iterations is definitely the way to go.

anonymouse said...

I think less time is ok. But only if you build in recovery time afterwards. Otherwise you'll burn people out.

George said...

Anonymouse has it right I think, but also, how would Walt and Tom have found time to hit the 'all good things come to those who wait' line without having time on their side?