The beginnings

Briefs have been around for ages. Strategically, you could probably say that the most useful form of briefs and briefings started when mankind or Kingdoms and empires started using military force to maintain or conquer new lands.
Beyond soldiers and weaponry, a need for efficiency, planning, insights and commanding attacks with hundreds of thousands of men, needed more than just yelling out: « Charge! »

From the top of the chain of command, generals, and their commanders used « briefing » sessions when planning where and how to attack was being discussed (brainstormed) and action decided upon. Getting the troops to obey orders was often conducted through the simple means of sending out messengers on the battlefield to get the information to the battalion’s commander. This was conducted through a written manuscript. During the Roman Empire, it was called the cursus publicus or cursus vehicularis (the public way) where signalers were sent out with written messages.

They were used in battle but also official government documents and tax revenue perceptions between provinces.

As centuries passed, armies and governments evolved, technology advanced and so did the brief and briefing sessions. In the middle of the 20th-century radio dominated the field but “comms” evolved into more complex tools from the Soviet radio set R-147, the German Enigma machine, encrypted telegraphs and today’s algorithms and “one time pads”.

“Enigma 1”, used during the late 1930s

If you research a lot of the things we use in our everyday lives today, you’ll notice that a lot of it evolved out military practice. Simply because governments had the funds, the people, and the technology to develop groundbreaking weapons, tools, etc. and eventually the technology and some of the know-how was passed on to us, the business world.

Stanley B. Resor, JWT

So, I’d say that this approach to systemizing, analyzing and planning things is something that’s part of our core DNA as a race. It’s in everything we do, especially in business. In marketing, it’s a crucial part of the mix and without digging too far back (this isn’t a blog about history) I found that one individual stood out in all the great ad agency people back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Stanley B. Resor, past president and chairman of JWT (1908–1961).

Back then and even today you could say that Mr. Resor was a visionary. He was convinced that advertising was a science and he set out to develop sets of tools and practices, not only to prove his point but, to better understand the dynamics between brands and their consumers.

His mission was to raise the stature of advertising to professional status. In doing so, he re-shaped the business practice back then by hiring college-educated employees. He also started commissioning research studies in the retail business in the U.S. It’s said that over 2,300 companies used his research back then. These were cutting edge practices.

His search to find the connection between his client’s products and services with the way consumers would purchase those goods pushed him to develop what can still be considered today as the modern brief. Influenced by behavioral psychology, he developed a business evaluation formula called the « Thompson T-Square ».

J.Walter Thompson Blue Book

Designed to prompt everyone working on a piece of business (client account) Thompson T-Square helped envision the desired final effect on the target audience. Hence, the modern advertising brief was born. Back then T-Square consisted of five central questions. What are we selling? To whom? Where? When and how are we selling? The idea being to develop a standardized practice by finding out the facts about a product in relation to a consumer’s wants and needs before starting the process of advertising development or what we’d call today the creative idea.

As a marketing tool, it was brilliant and it actually did a whole lot more for J Walter Thompson back then. It helped forge the distinctive ‘house style’ of the JWT brand and that is a priceless tour de force. Not only did this practice help clients and their business it actually built J Walter Thompson’s brand awareness and equity to a world class advertising brand.

If there a good lesson to take out of this blog today, I’d have to put my bottom dollar on the brief. Whatever form of briefs you may be using in your organization in this day and age, even if you feel it’s a bit « outdated » as long as you’ve disciplined yourselves into going through the process with rigor and professionalism, there’s a very good chance that just like J Walter Thompson back then, you have or are on your way to building a reputable brand with your target audiences and your stakeholders.

So there you have it, a bit of history on the beginnings of briefs and briefings. In our next brief blog, we’ll look at the evolution of the brief in the past decade and a few tips on how you can tweak your actually brief template to make your brand (i.e. products — services) stand out.

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Posted in Briefs on Jan 28, 2017