10 tips for crafting a great communications challenge – the heart of a great creative brief

At the heart of any great creative brief is a powerful communications challenge that anchors the strategy and is the springboard for a creative leap and hopefully a transformative idea.

All decent agencies around the world have caught on to the fact that modern marketing is about ‘doing, not saying’ and this is reflected in their creative briefing formats.

DDB have their new ‘behaviour change’ brief, Crispins brief is centred around the key ‘Question’ that needs to be answered, BBDO have their ‘get-who-to-by’ brief and Saatchi & Saatchi have their ‘Objective-issue-insight-challenge’ format.  I’m sure there are many other great formats.

No matter which way you cut it, at the heart of the brief there should always be a statement of transformation of consumer/brand behaviour. And compared to the old days, it must move beyond brand perception shift.

Here are 10 tips for what communication challenges on a brief should do:

  1. Have bigness and ambition, feel expandable
  2. Be inspiring  yet precise
  3. Have a juicy verb at its heart which is action oriented
  4. Contain a powerful truth
  5. Be provocative (or at least very interesting)
  6. Have some cultural tension embedded so it naturally gets people talking and excited about the brief
  7. Reframe a problem and ‘knock’ down the barrier or consumer issue
  8. Have the potential for a platform thought, not just a one off execution
  9. Stretch across media and time (Think being timely and timeless)
  10.  Be short, punchy, simple & single minded

When crafting a creative brief/strategy, many planners think they’ve got a juicy creative challenge but in reality they’ve reworded an objective with some marketing fluff – the result here is creatives saying ‘your brief is crap’.   So, if you’re starting your challenge with words like – To communicate, To say, To tell, To convince… you’re heading into messaging world.

Below are some thoughts on a Challenge vs an Objective.

The Communications Challenge An Objective
The most ambitious thing you can achieve What you hope to achieve
Inspirational Factual
Consumer/culture driven Product focused
Consumer language Agency suit talk
Overcomes a consumer issue Meets a business number/goal
Resolves a cultural or human tension Is straight up and doesn’t feel fresh
Drives behaviour change Communicates a proposition


A few examples of some cool challenges that led to great work:

 Jaguar ‘Gorgeous’

To get people to aspire to a life of ‘new fashioned luxury’

Playstation 3

To push every player to their next level


To make Hennessy irresistibly out of reach

Burger King ‘Whopper Sacrifice’

To proudly put their love of the Whopper before their friendships

Honda ‘Diesel’

To dramatise the fact that this is a diesel engine from the company that hated diesel engines. Honda used this hatred positively

Google Voice Search

To inspire Australians to ask more questions using their most natural searching tool…their voice.


To liberate country Aussies from the shackles of free to air TV

Sonic Hedgehog

To make Sonic digital playground currency again


How to win a Pitch

Was lucky enough to here there legendary planner Jon Steele present the other night. He spoke about his experience on global pitches and some key learnings he’s amassed over the years.  What I like about Jon, is like all good planners, he simplifies the complex and is a great storyteller.

Here’s the topline:

  • Pitch only what you want. Steve Jobs said focus is being able to say no
  • Be yourself- if your client buys into what you’re not, you’ll have to spend the whole time pretending. Client has to be right for agency’s culture and goals.
  • One pitch at a time (don’t split your A team)
  • Have a clear and strong opinion and POV and stick to them (don’t present more than one concept)
  • Core team should be small
  • Give total responsibility to the team- senior mgt, either you’re part of the pitch process all the way or stay out; pitches are lost bec of last minute changes and senior mgt “flights of fancy”
  • Involve the entire agency
  • One idea- one story, one ending not alternative endings (looks like you haven’t fully thought of the idea)
  • Agree idea early
  • Focus on timing should be a rule of 3rds (ie if you have 3 weeks- 1 week to commit to the idea, 1 week to blow out idea in every angle, 1 week on how best to present this- planning and rehearsing)
  • Don’t seek perfection- focus on winning vs getting it perfect. Anecdote shared: Potential client asked: Is this the best idea you could have presented, MD goes: Is your wife the best woman you could have married?
  • Want it more than others and engage those who want it
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
  • Have principles- not just what clients want. They don’t necessarily know what is the best solution
  • Finally, drink only good wine and enjoy.

Several of these themes were covered in his book ‘The Perfect Pitch’, but I thought I’d share what i took out of his speech. Great job Jon.