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How to tackle tricky briefs

Turn a challenging brief into an opportunity to stand out from the crowd

Illustration by Roseanna Courtney

Every now and then a creative brief comes along that asks you to go that bit further. Maybe it requires you to deal with a controversial or sensitive subject matter, or perhaps it’s asking a lot.  Read on to find out how to turn a daunting creative brief into an opportunity to stand out from the crowd with our tips on simplifying complex briefs.

We asked to Lucky Generals - the pencil-winning creative agency behind Amazon Alexa, Alexa’s Body - and Laura Jordan-Bambach, Chief Creative Officer at creative agency Grey London and former D&AD President, how to approach sensitive topics with creativity and why challenging briefs give you a chance to create impactful work.

What makes a tricky brief tricky?

Lucky Generals: A challenging brand or brief is one that is average, bland and has nothing unique to say. The challenge comes from trying to find a fresh way to talk about the brand and make it interesting and stand out in the marketplace. Your brand and message should be something the public will notice and care about.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: A challenging brand has a curly business problem or problems that needs a lot of careful and collaborative unpicking. There are often structural or internal brand issues pulling in different directions – alongside an audience or growth issue. The product may no longer be relevant, or the business is unsure which way to go or how to deliver value across a very disjointed and constantly changing brand landscape.

They’re my favourite kind of brief, because there’s a real need for clarity, and a desire and energy to change. They’re hard briefs to answer, but you can create the biggest impact for your client's business and their customers by getting it right.

How would you approach something more demanding or even controversial?

Lucky Generals: There's more than one way to skin a cat. The same is with every opportunity that comes your way. If it's demanding or controversial, or both, you must find a way to turn any negative into a positive. You need to find a way to make things work for you and your brand. Turn problems into solutions, think differently about it, think laterally, this is where you'll find your answers a lot of the time.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: With a great deal of respect and care.

What's the most challenging creative brief you've worked on?

Lucky Generals: There was an interesting challenge that led to a fun piece of work we created with Paddy Power for The Euros 2016. It involved us poking fun at Scotland for being the only home nation not to qualify for The Euros 2016. The challenge was how do we have a laugh about this without being mean to the Scots for not qualifying? How can we create something so they would feel included in the buzz of the tournament and find it funny to laugh at themselves and not be offended? Getting this tone right was key to creating something where we all laugh together at ourselves and each other.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: I’ve had many challenging briefs over the years – from very sensitive subject matter to ones where the interesting creative way in is hard to find, where it's too prescriptive. As long as you can get to the business problem and make a difference there, then they’re worthwhile.

How do you tackle sensitive subject matter?

Lucky Generals: It depends on the subject matter and why it may be sensitive. You need to be well-informed on a subject if it is sensitive and use your common sense and creativity to deal with it in the best way possible. If there is sensitivity there, then often there's an opportunity too.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: With sensitivity, creativity and collaboration. For example finding a new and more playful (or bold, or challenging) way in might have more impact than playing it straight.

What's the upside to a demanding creative conundrum?

Lucky Generals: It depends on what you mean by demanding. Is the budget tight? Is the brief vague or uninteresting? Is there too much information to communicate in too little time? Every demanding challenge is a creative opportunity. We are in the business of solving problems, so a challenge is a problem creativity relishes in solving. Great problems can often lead to great solutions. 

Laura Jordan-Bambach: With restriction, discomfort or lack of understanding comes massive opportunities, if you use these boundaries to focus yourself. By getting informed, doing the really hard work, and working with the client as closely as possible, you can make wonderful and extraordinarily unique work.

​It’s easy to imagine a great ad for Nike, much harder and more worthwhile to push yourself to work on something that seems difficult or uninteresting and make it extraordinary. The biggest benefit is pushing yourself and toning those creative muscles in ways that will set you ahead of other creatives, and on other projects. The hard work is always worth the effort!

Want to know more about New Blood Awards? Keep your creativity inspired with bi-weekly tips and tricks to help you craft your New Blood Awards entry, as well as career insights, thought leadership, and the latest news and events. Sign up for New Blood news.

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