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How to get started on a creative brief

In 2018, Robyn Frost won herself a New Blood Awards Yellow Pencil. But before she found that winning idea, crafted it, entered it and won – she did the hardest part. She started. If you still have a blank page in front of you, or haven't even started to think about starting an entry, she has some wise words for you. And those are kind of her thing.  

The irony that I’m sitting down to write an article about ‘getting started’ and I’m not exactly sure how to start does not escape me. You know the feeling. So – right now – grab a bit of paper, write ‘D&AD’ in the middle, and scribble some thoughts. BOOM. You just got started with the D&AD New Blood Awards. Let’s crack on good and proper.

Before you start...

It’s a cliche, but you really do have to be in it to win it, and with the right mindset, you’ll be quick off the blocks. Set a goal. Mine was imagining my name being called out at the awards do and finding out I’d won a Yellow Pencil. As brilliant a feeling as it is to win, it’s equally as important to enjoy the ride. So tell yourself that you’re going to give it everything you’ve got, and blow your own damn mind.

Pick the right brief

“These briefs are mega, how do I pick?!”, you ask. First: Find a quiet corner and run through them solo, quickly and instinctively. If they get you salivating, get them on the shortlist. There’s no time for sitting on the fence so whichever you choose, stand for them fiercely. Second: go through all the briefs again with a fine-tooth comb. In my opinion, some of the most important and surprisingly overlooked words on the brief are bottom left, under ‘Related Disciplines’. I chose the copywriting brief, because I’m a Copywriter. Ultimately, it’s for you to suss out where you think your talents would really shine. Click for the brand, stay for the challenge.

Find a team

In my experience (I’m a D&AD award winner x1 and not-winner x2), the fewer partners you work with the better. Make sure everyone’s all-in for the same briefs. Pick a few to start with to preserve your sanity, but make sure you represent varying skillsets so it will be a rounded contribution.

Get to know your brief

It’s easy to be precious with the briefs, but don’t. Cut up, rearrange, and write all over them. I printed out a few copies and every day, I’d grab a fresh one and highlight different bits. It gave me multiple ways in. Great news if you and your partners do this differently – more than one perspective will inform your project further, and cool things happen when you don’t always agree.

Then, I took one of my kitchen walls hostage and mapped out the brief. I added post-its and references, and it looked a bit like a detective’s investigation wall, but it was bloody useful. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Get hands-on with paper and pens as they keep you working freely. And don’t forget a crucial feature of the wall – a timetable. Failing to plan is planning to fail, and you’re here to win, right?

 

Get inspired

Now, get out. Go for a walk, go to a museum, grab a pint, see a film, eat your way round a market. Fill your mind with inspiration so you’ll bring fresh influences to shape your work. And get good at talking to strangers: with awkwardness and suspicion both hallmarks of British culture, a large majority of us can’t make eye contact with someone on the tube without feeling distinctly unnerved. But don’t forget to challenge your own biases and prejudices so your work resonates. This starts by showing lots of people the brief and asking questions. You’ll nail your strategy and set yourself up for success if you feel all the feels of the audience. Never underestimate empathy.  

Once you’ve done this, head back to your wall and thrash out ideas with your teammates. Don’t get precious, get playful. Be outrageous, be daring, and push everything right to the edge – have at it.

Thought starters on starting

I’m going to leave you with three bits of advice I’d urge everyone to follow. Not in a big-headed way, but in a ‘this REALLY helped me’ way.

1. Thoroughly research your jury. It pays to know who you’re out to impress.

2. Be wary of asking too many mentors for opinions – you don’t want to potentially dilute your thoughts and lose sight of the core idea.

3. Do a factory visit. This could be anything from getting up close and personal with the product, to speaking to the agency who has the account (as long as they’re not on the panel).

Good luck! Enjoy it, remember why you started, and make it happen. Now click this link and do it.

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