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?