Few things in advertising are as certain as this: You give a writer and an art director a pile of poop and you’ll get one back. With a logo and some supers on it.

From conference rooms to cubicles to corner offices throughout advertising land, well-meaning agency teams are short-sheeting their clients with short-sighted input documents. Needless to say the result is a tragic waste of money and talent.

As a former writer-for-hire, I get handed a lot of sow’s ears with the expectation for silk stockings in return. There are myriad reasons why stinky briefs are the norm. Mostly these have to do with the current state of the workforce: lack of mentoring, poor staffing, shrinking budgets and whiplash turnaround times. But those are topics for another day.

The purpose of this crafty post is to help inspire more powerful messaging and imagery– with a few insights from a writer who has lots of mileage on her keyboard and loads of experience receiving, and occasionally giving back, yes that’s right – crap. If you are an agency creative, please forward this to your favorite offender. If you are a newbie account type, take notes.
So, here we go: A very brief look at how to avoid writing a poopy brief.

Tell me the assignment
For the love of Leo, give your creative team a deliverable. Give the art director something better to do with her time than scouring BlueFly for new Dior shades. Create a campaign. Write a brochure. Design a website. These are assignments. If you have absolutely no idea what media to ask for, you’re not ready to start creative execution.

Get busy with the objective (aka the desired outcome)
Your objective should state an action or feeling, preferably the one that you want your customer to take on. Buy two rolls. Log on for reservations. Feel smart and sexy.

Please don’t tell me our objective is to Create a communications vehicle that increases sales. This is the grand canyon of goals. Send me in there and I’ll wander aimlessly in the wilderness for eons.

Increased sales is a marketing objective. Stating this as the purpose of an ad won’t get you any closer to breakthrough creativity than a pep talk from the folks in accounting. Zzzzzz. This doesn’t mean that selling isn’t important. Hell that’s the whole reason we’re in business. But if you want your brief to inspire effective communications, you have to get out of your head and into someone else’s. Hence, my next point…

Climb inside your customer’s head
Who is the target audience? Seems like a no-brainer, right? But what can you tell me about their physical or emotional state? Effective creative comes from an understanding of the customer’s attitudes, perceptions and past behavior, not from their marital status, age and income. Duh, we all know this. So why do we continually cheat ourselves out of a chance to be really relevant by avoiding the topic? Creative folks have to work mighty hard to hit a customer’s sweet spot if all they know is she’s a married women over 40.

Then there’s the matter of the Consumer Insight. This is where we drill down into Maslow territory and explore what your audience needs — and it isn’t merely the superficial stuff like whiter whites or faster fill ups. It’s their reality. “I feel like a bad mom when my kids aren’t dressed nicely” or “I feel small and vulnerable when I drive my little car.” That’s what they’re thinking about so that’s what you should be tapping into.

Trust me, if your brief reveals the right buttons to push, you’re going to make a sale — hopefully to the client and most certainly to the customer. What’s more, when your start-up document focuses on the audience and its relationship to your product, the creative team has fewer excuses for coming back to you with crap mounted on quarter-inch foam core.

Okay, so enough blathering for today.