The Art of Briefing – The Law of the Purple Elephant

Author: Rowena Horne

When it comes to delivering work for clients, it all starts with a brief.

If you ask for a purple, skateboarding elephant, we’ll give you a purple, skateboarding elephant (ish) but if what you want is actually an eye grabbing stunt – that demonstrates your agility and colourful brand personality – then you’re probably better off asking for that.

After receiving – and working – on hundreds of briefs in my career, there are a few things I’ve learned that make a good one.

What they shouldn’t be:

  • Vague
  • Prescriptive
  • Or too broad – if you find yourself in this territory, maybe break it down into 2 or 3 separate briefs.

What they should be:

  • Specific yet stretchy
  • Detailed (who, why, where, when etc) but not run more than 5 or so pages (it’s called a brief after all)
  • Open and transparent
  • And hopefully, a little bit challenging and inspirational

Keeping wants, likes and objectives secret is really a little counterproductive. I do appreciate it’s a fine line between being too prescriptive (2 tonne purple elephant) vs. not zeroing in on the most important aspects of what you’re asking for, but in almost every case, the clearer the brief, the better the result. I recently said to a client ‘we are always more likely to hit a target we know about’. It was an a-ha moment for them and possibly a useful question to have up your sleeve.

Here are a few other useful phrases to ensure everyone’s on the same bus:

  • What does success look like?
  • What do you want people to know/feel/think afterwards?
  • And also (and this strangely makes all clients a bit nervous) a budget ballpark is crucial: after all, are we building you a bicycle, a family sedan, a sports car or a pair of rollerskates?

Some of the best projects I’ve worked on stemmed from briefs that initially made me think ‘eek how are we going to do that’ (purple skateboarding elephant anyone?) but through solid client co-creation, creative problem solving and a never-say-die attitude, agile eye grabbing stunts were brought to life.

Ready to demonstrate you’ve got the briefing knack? Send it on through…

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