AD FIRST, BRIEF SECOND

When I first met Graham Bednash he was a young account man.
He’d just left Lowe Howard Spinks to work at GGT.
He came into my office and asked me to read a brief he’d written.
I said “I’m the creative director, why would I want to read your brief?”
He said “Because it’s about to go into the creative department.”
I said “Okay, put it into the department and I’ll see the work when it comes out.”
Je said “But you won’t know if my brief’s any good.”
I said “Yes I will, by the work that comes out.”
He said “But what if the work’s not right?”
I said “Well then I’ll look at the brief.”

 


He said “But I’d like you to read it before they start work.”
I said “Graham, son, I think we differ on what your job is.
I think it’s everyone’s job to be part of producing great ads.
You think your job stops at producing a great brief.
It’s all our jobs to make sure the best work comes out.
Because that’s what we’ll be judged on: the work.
Not the brief.”
Graham said “I understand that, but why can’t you look at my brief before you look at the work?”
I said “Because that’s exactly the wrong way round.
Once I look at your brief I’ll know what you think the problem is.
Then I’ll be judging whether the advertising answers the brief.
My mind will no longer be where the consumer’s mind is.
The absolutely overriding job of an advert is to stand out.
To get space in the consumer’s mind.
As a creative director that’s my main job.
Not to make sure it’s ticked the ‘correctness’ box on the brief.
So I’ll look at the ad from a position of ignorance, just like the consumer.
Then I’ll decide if it stands out and what message it delivers.
Then I’ll look at the brief.
To see if the message it delivers is the one the brief asks for.
If the ad stands out and delivers the same message as the brief, job done.
If the ad doesn’t stand out, well they need to keep going until they do one that does.
If the ad stands out but doesn’t deliver the message on the brief, then I need to have a discussion with the account group.
We may decide we need to start again.
Or we may decide the ad is so good that it overrides the brief.
But we can’t have that discussion if I always read the brief first.
Because that presumes that the most important job is answering the brief.
Not doing a good ad.
Not standing out.
It presumes an on-brief ad that no one notices is preferable to an off-brief ad that everyone notices.
And that may not be true.
So that’s a discussion we need to have.
And we can only have that discussion if I’m judging the ad as an ad.
Not judging the ad as an answer to the brief.”
I doubt if Graham even remembers that discussion.
Especially after all these years.
He went on to help found HHCL, then to found his own agency: Michaelides and Bednash.
Both were really successful, exciting places.
Now Graham is leader of Mindshare’s global creative arm, a massive media conglomerate.

I bet he makes everyone read his briefs before they look at the work.

  • James Slattery

    Sometimes, Mr Trott, you just nail it. Brilliant, and completely true. It doesn’t even matter if your recollection of that conversation years ago is accurate (which I doubt), it just sums up how you should create anything. The only aim should be – is this the very best that I can do? Is this great? Whether it’s in music, writing, product design or whatever, you have to deliver more than what’s expected, particularly from someone else’s brief. And that’s particularly the case with ads. 
    Great stuff.

  • Dave Trott

    Thanks James, my thoughts entirely.

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