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How Open Briefs Inspire More Creativity

March 08, 2021

by Lindsay King, Associate Creative Director


Need to Inspire More Creativity? Open Up Access to All


In the never-ending quest to invigorate creative departments and inspire collaboration, marketers are always on the lookout for cutting-edge approaches or innovative new processes. All the while, one very simple (yet brilliantly dynamic) solution — tried-and-true over the ages — is right there for the taking.


As industry professionals know, briefs are doled out to one or two creative teams for them to concept and create on their own. They’re closed off to a limited number of creative minds. I happen to be a firm believer in open briefs, which employ an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. Open to every creative, these briefs combine the entire department’s brainpower, gathering as many ideas as possible to find the best solution possible for a client.


The strengths of this particular approach are myriad. Because they’re open to anyone who wants to participate, open briefs maximize both the number of ideas and the diversity of thought. And because they typically ask for a “the more, the merrier” approach to ideation, they provide an opportunity to let slide some of the self-criticism in the early stages of concepting. They encourage the sharing of “idea nuggets” among different teams and bouncing ideas off one another in service of a common goal.


Because open briefs often have limited timelines — eventually, a creative director will need to peruse all the ideas and choose what moves forward — they encourage people to find an hour or two in their days to ideate in a rapid-fire style, rather than stretching it out and enabling procrastination (or forgetting about it altogether). In doing so, open briefs allow creatives to step out of their day-to-day clients and think bigger, faster, or more openly.


They also encourage people to team up in different combinations: Maybe it’s an unconventional team of four, or one that pairs two art directors, or a gathering of lone wolves who come together to give their individual ideas a boost. No matter the team construction, open briefs often present a fun challenge for creatives, letting them renew their energy and enthusiasm for the craft by thinking of big ideas that excite them. The fresh thinking and quick turnaround might even bust a creative or two out of a rut.


Open Your Eyes


Good opportunities for an open brief can be easy to spot when you know what to look for. Proactive work is often a good place to start. Because leaders will pitch this type of service to the client as an addition to a current campaign, the opportunity for variety in the ideas is wide open and up to the internal team (rather than the client) to define.


RAPP recently put forth an open brief for PayPal’s QR code payment system, asking teams to spend just two days coming up with ways to make using PayPal QRC more exciting — and to uplift the businesses that implement it in the process. Our team came up with dozens of incredible ideas; clearly, the creative juices were flowing. The open format deserves some credit for that.


Another good opportunity is when a client wants a big idea on a tight timeline. Open briefs are a great way to bring together the creative department to solve a problem — the old “two heads are better than one, and 10 heads are better than two” truism put to use.


A recent open brief for Grey Goose challenged creatives to develop ideas that use first-party data to improve the customer experience during a product launch. After a fast-and-furious day of concepting, the “winning” ideas were presented to the client and received positively. The open format spurred us to success.


Most importantly, to maximize participation, excitement, and energy around an open brief, the ask should be conceptual. Less something concrete like a banner or video script, more something ... well, open, with the opportunity for solutions across many media.


Open for Business


For teams or leaders who are implementing an open brief for the first time, here are a handful of recommendations:


1. Clue everyone in: Let the creative team know what you’re planning, especially if the agency doesn’t typically do open briefs. If you have a creative meeting or town hall, let everyone know that you’ll be trying an open brief — and to get excited! If you’re able to mention the client or tease a bit of what might be asked so that team members can do a little early research if desired, that can help things get to the idea stage faster.


2. Be upfront about expectations: If the timeline is tight, it’s good to make it crystal clear what a successful idea looks like. It doesn’t have to be an actual example, but share a few bullet points of what the ideal idea should contain. That helps people stay focused without neutralizing creative thinking.


3. Create the deck in advance: Build a skeleton of a presentation deck with your clear ideals, a one-pager summing up the brief, and an example of an idea slide with a description and key images. It should be easy to add ideas into and refer back to, and it should give the creative team the tools it needs in order to get thinking right away. This should be a space where creatives can “claim” their ideas and help speed up the editing and shortlisting process.


4. Stick to your deadline: Holding to a deadline gives the proceedings a sense of urgency and encourages creatives to put a little time into it whenever they can so they don’t miss out.


5. Follow up afterward: Let the team know which ideas you’ve shortlisted, how the client received them, and whether or when they are presented.


Ultimately, you want to encourage creatives to ideate however they feel they work best, be unafraid to put in their wildest ideas, and embrace it as a real opportunity rather than simply an exercise. When you open yourself to the benefits of this proven approach, you’ll free up more creative power than you ever thought possible.

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