Write Your Creative Briefs Like A Punk Rocker

Looking back on the interview process at BBDO, I don’t think it would’ve gone too well had I described myself as loud, edgy or rebellious. When bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols look back on their careers, I doubt they see data-inspired insights and media acumen as tools that would’ve pushed their music further.

My job and theirs may seem worlds apart on paper, but punk rock informs the way I approach my work as a planner, and more importantly, a storyteller. The genre thrives on clear messaging, inspiring energy, and a scrappy do-it-yourself ethos. Sound familiar? A great brief should ask the same of a planner. Consider these staples of punk when you lay the foundation of a campaign for creatives and clients:

Keep Your Message Simple and Straightforward

Spare the 10-minute guitar solo and multi-part verses; your brief should lean into a clear, concise rallying cry for your campaign. At the end of the day, this piece will drive the creative work and inform your client’s objectives, not the vast sea of data it took to land on your big idea. For example, Sandy Hook Promise’s “Evan” used multiple insights about the gun violence conversation to arrive at its simple mission statement: “Be a source of help, not provocation.”

Of course, you want to incorporate as many relevant findings into your thought process as possible. But overloading the document itself with background information or complicating your key insight will only make your rallying cry feel less actionable. Black Flag’s “Rise Above” would be a lot less inspiring had they opted for “the norms that society imposes on us restrict our liberty, so we should rebel” as their rallying cry instead of “Rise above! We’re gonna rise above!”

Inspire Others With Your Energy

Much like a punk rock album, a brief should give off senses of excitement, initiative and inspiration. The document inherently serves to spark creativity and set a campaign in motion, so each piece of it should reflect the energy of the broader narrative.

Opt for language that gives the reader agency, as to promote and guide proactive behavior. For example, if you’re describing a business opportunity for Brand XYZ, choose something along the lines of “let’s reach 20% more households this year” rather than “Brand XYZ can increase household penetration by 20% this year.” Consider this the “Blitzkrieg Bop” principle; when have you ever heard the famous Ramones song’s call to action (“hey ho, let’s go”), and not felt energized? Your briefs should leave readers feeling the same way.

If you’re presenting your brief in deck form, make sure your imagery is as thought-provoking as possible, so it properly complements your narrative. Harvard professor Richard E. Mayer has found that we absorb information more easily when we process both words and images, rather than words alone. This “multimedia theory” approach can give your brief’s rallying cry and insights greater context, thus doing more to get the creative juices flowing.

Think about Green Day’s “American Idiot.” The title alone sounds vaguely crass, but the provocative cover artwork re-contextualizes the concept album’s plot. The “heart like a hand grenade” imagery points us to the protagonist’s explosive emotional journey, tinged with rage, love and social commentary. Briefs should take the same thought-provoking visual approach, offering a distinct creative energy to a campaign’s storyline.

Be Resourceful. Do the Tough Work Yourself If You Have to

While we all hope for a smooth process of gathering data and crafting insights, rarely does it feel so seamless; sometimes we struggle to find metrics that answer our exact questions, or we only gather a piece of an insight from a given report. When we encounter these roadblocks, we must work like our mohawked counterparts, and employ a scrappy, even DIY ethos to nailing the job.

Think outside the box when you comb through research. Start off with the traditional market research sources and platforms you often use, but if they fail to paint a clear enough picture, look far and wide. Turn to books, newspapers and magazines; even music, movies, TV shows and stand up comedy can add color to an insight. Drawing on a breadth of sources, conventional and unconventional, can make your brief feel more holistic, and help to fill any data or narrative gaps. Consider this the Bad Brains principle. While the band is known for its breakneck, straightaway punk, they also drew on reggae, funk and metal influences, inspiring a generation of listeners to push musical boundaries.

If the Bad Brains approach to digging through research fails, go D.I.Y. to the best of your ability. Create your own surveys, reach out to media platforms, and interview stakeholders yourself. This is your last line of information, but sometimes it can provide the most direct path to the insights you want. Consider this the NOFX principle; when the band found themselves frustrated with major record labels, they took it upon themselves to self-release their music on Fat Wreck Chords, which ultimately grew to become a staple of the independent punk market.

Whether you love Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony like other Comms Planning team members, or you bump Minor Threat like me, thinking like a punk rocker can help to reshape the way you approach writing briefs. Your campaigns will resonate louder and more clearly, inspire clients and creatives, and withstand any data roadblocks. Now, let the stage diving commence!