Keeping it Brief

How one simple document can streamline your creative process

Pippa Johnstone

. 4 min read

How one simple document can streamline your creative process

I just got back from Adobe MAX, The Creativity Conference, where designers and artists of many industries gathered in LA for a few days of inspiration. Back home now, I am reflecting on the conference and my mind keeps returning to a session run by Prudential’s Bridget Esposito called “Creative Strategy That Delivers: Fewer Tasks, More Action.” Bridget, along with the Prudential Creative House team, delivers 8,000+ projects a year, by their count.

How do they do it? By communicating really, really efficiently.

And the first part of that is the Creative Brief.

creative brief [noun]

kri(ː)ˈeɪtɪv briːf

a document that outlines the scope of a design or advertising project.

In most cases, a creative brief is a document provided by a client, outlining the project’s goals, its target audience, and what problem it is trying to solve. This is a common part of the design or advertising processes, but it’s not usually a part of the podcasting process.

I wanted to learn what Bridget and her team get out of a brief that we could borrow for our work.

Bridget’s team, the Prudential Creative House, is a new in-house agency. So they work with tons of different teams within their org. Her priority was making sure the creative people take back control of their creative brief. Having a single source of truth between the creatives, the IT team, and their client departments makes their job easier.

It occurred to me, listening to this talk, that we at Pacific Content already have a practice kind of like a creative brief. But in our case, we brief ourselves.

After initial calls, kickoffs, and many development chats with our clients, we build out what we call a “Show Playbook.” (It’s the equivalent of a slimmed-down “Show Bible” in the world of TV, but without the religious connotations.)

In our case, the playbook serves a few purposes:

  • It gets everyone on our team and our client team aligned on what we agreed to make, the production timeline, and the podcast’s goals.
  • We lay out the show’s “values” — ‘the characteristics that define the show’s point of view and it’s personality — what we want it to sound like.
  • We setup criteria for how we will select stories and guests
  • And finally, it outlines who makes up the show’s team, and what roles we each play

I’ve always taken this practice for granted and to be totally honest, sometimes phoned it in. It felt like make-work. I felt like: “We were all just on the same call, why am I documenting what we just said? I know what I’m supposed to do, why don’t I just go do it?”

But hearing Bridget’s talk gave me a new reverence for the playbook. There’s a beautiful intentionality and respect that comes with taking the time to articulate a project at the outset and make sure you’re on the same page.

It’s like the deepest form of listening and responding. Like, “when we want to make our show ‘playful,’ this is exactly what I mean. Here are examples, samples of what that means to me.”

It also future-proofs the project — if a team member leaves or joins, if someone is out sick, it’s so much easier to bring people up to speed in one cohesive doc.

Speaking about collaborating with other teams more broadly, Bridget said “you need to learn the other team’s love languages.” I think creating a thoughtful brief is that — it’s an ‘act of service.’

I brought this topic up to a teammate of mine, sound designer Robyn Edgar. She mentioned that the team of FOGO: Fear of Going Outside, a podcast she works on outside of Pacific Content, wrote up an excellent creative brief for their show’s composer. In that brief, they detailed exactly what they want it to sound like, what cultural references they were drawing from, and included examples of songs or music cues they were inspired by. Rather than saying, I want the show to sound like a reality show, the brief explains exactly which reality show, which sounds from that show they’re into, and the spirit of the choice. It’s not only fun to read, but it also brings you into the voice of the show. And, it’s a useful tool for bringing other members of the team into a shared mission.

So sure, a good creative brief is practical, but it’s also really clear. And clarity does more than fulfill a contract. As Brené Brown says, clarity is kind. It demonstrates respect and consideration. An understanding that different words mean different things to different creative minds. And most of all, it keeps you on the same track in getting that work out the door.

Does your podcast have a playbook? Here’s a template to get you started.

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