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Sunday, August 1, 2010






A few weeks ago we began a four-part series of DISPATCHES articles titled “Developing a More Productive Creative Brief.” We are using the Deepwater Horizon ecological disaster as a metaphor for what goes wrong in the development of the Creative Brief. (And what can go wrong will go wrong!) Specifically, we contend that four broad areas are emerging as contributing to the Deepwater Horizon disaster: faulty engineering; errors in human behavior; lack of oversight; and dysfunctional corporate culture. These aforementioned four areas provide us fertile ground for investigation into the failure of many marketers, and their organizations, to develop Creative Briefs that provide strategically appropriate, single-minded direction for the development of leadership advertising, and its subsequent assessment.


Part 1 addressed engineering, the structure of the Essential Creative Brief. Part 2 addressed errors, or human behavior issues in developing the Creative Brief. This article, Part 3, deals with lack of meaningful oversight in supervising the development of more productive Creative Briefs.


o-ver-sight (noun) 1. Failure by omission; 2. Supervision.


The Deepwater Horizon disaster has lawmakers seeking new regulation over the oil industry and, in particular, offshore drilling. But, perhaps, it is not new, or more, regulation that is needed but, instead, ensuring that existing regulations are being followed. Atul Gawande, states in his book, Better, that patient infection rates in hospitals vary significantly. The medical staffs in hospitals are well aware of what needs to be done to minimize infections from developing and spreading but the fact of the matter is that proper procedures (substitute if you like: regulations, or best practices, or protocol) are not followed faithfully. It is not necessarily that the regulations are lacking but, instead, there is often an absence of oversight regarding enforcement of the regulations.


Oversight is about inspecting for that which you expect, both in behavior and resultant performance. There are two parts to oversight as noted in the definition provided above. One is being on top of the situation, as in not omitting or overlooking inspection (this is the failure by omission). The second is providing proper supervision to ensure that the matter is being handled according to a set of standards.


The lack of oversight in developing a technically sound and strategically appropriate, single-minded Creative Brief is no different than failing to provide oversight in the Deepwater Horizon or hospital setting. Either “best practices” have been identified and are being followed, or they are not. Either the work is being performed correctly, or it is not. Either the work is being inspected, or it is not. Either supervision is being provided in order to ensure appropriate behavior, or it is not. It’s really that simple. From our experience working with many, many companies throughout the world meaningful oversight, with regard to the development of the Creative Brief, is the exception, not the rule. Why? There are a number of contributing factors to this lack of oversight. These include:


1.     No organizational standard for the Creative Brief. Each brand and each agency serving a given organization has a different Creative Brief (as apparent from the number of disparate terms being used going from one brief to another). So managers have nothing to use as, at minimum, a guideline.


2.     Either a lack of training regarding how to address each element of a Creative Brief appropriately, or lack of reinforcement of expected performance. As a result, there is no, or little, oversight provided by senior managers, or if it is conducted it is not very instructive.


3.     Doing things the way they have always been done. It doesn’t matter that the process is not working for the organization, managers keep making the same mistakes out of ignorance (see the aforementioned two points), the desire to avoid making waves, or indifference.


4.     Search for the “silver bullet.” If it is not working managers will first seek a new approach, rather than thoughtfully and critically analyzing where the process is going wrong and fixing it. Hospitals don’t need a new protocol for medical practitioners to wash thoroughly before and after contact with patients, they just need to enforce the protocol they have in place. They don’t need another protocol that, like the former, is not going to be followed.


5.     Not enough time. We have heard this time and time again. C’mon there’s really no excuse for this one. We know that everyone in marketing is busy, extremely busy. We truly empathize with you. But the development of a technically sound and strategically appropriate, single-minded Creative Brief should be a priority, not something that is nice to do when you have time to get around to doing it. Remember, “garbage in, garbage out.” We spend millions of dollars in support of the advertising that is developed as a result of the Creative Brief. We need to ensure that we are providing appropriate direction for the development of leadership advertising to leverage our communication support funding.


6.     Lack of accountability. There’s blame, but marketers place it on the agency. There’s blame, but senior managers place it on the inexperience of junior marketers in developing the Creative Brief. It is rare in deed that senior management goes back to the Creative Brief to see where the creative development process went awry, or holds himself accountable for the poor work.


It all comes down to needing standards (established through best principles and practices) and enforcing them. We have provided you with standards (based upon best principles and practices) that we refer to as the Essential Creative Brief. We have also provided you, in Part 2, with instruction regarding how to address each element of the Essential Creative Brief (for a refresher, click here). Now we are going to provide you with a productivity tool to provide guidance and direction for the development of the Essential Creative Brief, and to enable all marketers to conduct appropriate oversight. This tool is the Creative Brief Scorecard. We have benchmarked it against Creative Briefs that were developed with the aid of this tool and have found that the Creative Brief Scorecard helps users of the tool identify what needs to be done to make the brief significantly more productive.


The Creative Brief Scorecard enables the user to objectify her subjective judgment against standards (based upon best principles and practices). Importantly, it helps to direct the user to what needs to be done to achieve the gold standard of marketing excellence. It is a thorough checklist that works like this: for each Creative Brief element (such as the Customer Insight or Key Thought) you determine, based upon the performance hurdles presented, the performance of the work. You will score the element either a “0,” “3” or “5,” depending where it fits (based upon the performance hurdle it meets). There are no other ratings. Either an element meets the criteria to be scored a “3” or not. If it does not achieve a “3” then you must give it a “0.” (Not a rating of “1,” or “2,” or “1.5!”) But it doesn’t end here with a rating, because it will enable you to identify what needs to be done for the performance to achieve a rating of “5.” Additionally, each element is weighted for impact as it relates to achieving leadership advertising. For example discovering a “legitimate” and “productive” customer insight receives more weight than crafting a technically correct “assignment.” The max score you can receive is 103. Everyone should work to achieve 103 points. No one should settle for less. (Either the doctor scrubbed for the allotted time before examining the patient, or not. Either the landing gear was down and the aircraft ready for landing, or it was not. If it is “not,” then the probability for a less than successful outcome goes up significantly.)


Click here to review and download the Creative Brief Scorecard.


The Creative Brief Scorecard should be utilized on two levels. Level one is with the team that is developing the Essential Creative Brief. Use the Creative Brief Scorecard to guide its development and check the work. Level two is with the appropriate supervisor to ensure that the work has been done correctly prior to acknowledging agreement, with her signature, to begin creative development work.


The Essential Creative Brief establishes the “expectations” for the work. The Creative Brief Scorecard provides a tool to facilitate oversight in “inspecting” the work. However, the Creative Brief Scorecard is not, and should not be used, as a report card, but is tool that will enable you to iterate your way to a technically correct and strategically appropriate, single-minded Essential Creative Brief.




  1. If you haven’t done so already, adopt the Essential Creative Brief – What are you waiting for? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. What are you going to do, conduct a 6-month “quasi” study to determine the essential elements for a technically sound Creative Brief? We’ve already done the work for you. If you have a compelling argument for making it more clear, or using nomenclature your organization is familiar with, then go-ahead and adapt it. Don’t waste time that you don’t have to make changes that don’t add value or worse yet diminish the organization’s ability to provide clear, strategically appropriate, single-minded direction.
  1. Use the Creative Brief Scorecard to help guide and assess the work - It will reveal what you need to do to develop a technically sound and strategically appropriate Creative Brief. It will not tell you how to think, but it will guide your thinking to achieve standards of true marketing excellence.
  1. Get training in the development of the Essential Creative Brief and the Creative Brief Scorecard - Participate in ALPS II or the High Impact Ad College programs we offer. This applies to senior managers, too, who are responsible for approving the direction provided to the agency inherent in the Creative Brief, and the brand’s advertising campaign. It is the job of the senior managers not just to provide oversight, but to also provide coaching that adds value to the work consistent with their experience and insights, and help develop their marketers. These programs will help you accomplish all of these critically important management functions.
  1. Institutionalize the practice, and process, of using the Essential Creative Brief and Creative Brief Scorecard - The ensuing review process and dialogue will be richer, leading to more thoughtful creative strategies and improving the likelihood of receiving meaningful creative work from your agency. It will serve to enhance the client-agency relationship, making it more productive.
  1. Apply the Creative Brief Scorecard – What are you waiting for? Put it to the test! Take one of your, or another brand’s (within your company), Creative Brief and apply the Creative Brief Scorecard to it. See what you discover. Importantly, use it to determine what needs to be done to make the Creative Brief technically sound, strategically appropriate and single-minded.

With the proper oversight you can snatch victory from the jaws of disaster.

Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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