How tight are your briefs?

A guide to getting the best out of your creative agency

Welcome to the latest in a series of columns brought to you in association with CircleSquare. To introduce a note of positivity and hope in 2021, the experiential marketing, brand activation and consumer engagement specialist will use this column to share insights, ideas and tips to help the global travel retail industry get back on its feet and capitalise on the opportunities that present themselves. You’ll read advice on strategic planning, the successful incorporation of digital to the traveller journey, how to deliver experiences that will resonate with consumers more than ever before, and here, how to get the most out of a creative agency.

Rumour has it that designers, architects and creatives are partial to tight briefs; some say the tighter the better. As a Creative Director myself, I have to say that nothing excites me as much as having some extremely tight briefs to get stuck into first thing on a Monday morning. However, if the truth be known, it’s not actually the tight briefs that matter but rather what’s inside them.

Obviously I’m referring to creative briefs here, but then you knew that already. For the best part of a year now, myself and the rest of the creative services industry have been working to pretty much the same creative brief; the one written by a global pandemic. Despite the challenges presented by such a big step into the unknown, and one dictated by limitations of movement and restrictions of budget, the creative industry has stepped up and delivered, demonstrating resilience, agility and adaptiveness to meet the mood of the global population in their new normal.

CircleSquare Executive Creative Director Philip Handley

Almost overnight, creative output became noticeably empathetic, comforting and familiar and while it was all a bit ‘vanilla’ given the gentle, rather bland creative messaging, it was exactly what we all needed during such a period of turmoil.

But anyone with their finger on the pulse will tell you, it’s all starting to wear a bit thin. Those once insightful TV ads, you know the ones featuring post-apocalyptic isolated streets, people fumbling over the mute function on family Zoom calls and curious pets interrupting their owners in the middle of home yoga sessions, suddenly feel like they are holding us back.

Don’t get me wrong, they have served a vital purpose, but nobody will miss them. Inevitably, they’ll be consigned to history and future generations will look back on them fondly in just the same way we warmly view those classic posters of collective resilience from World War II.

In fact, if history has taught us anything, we can be certain that following any period of crisis, there is always a huge surge in creativity and positivity. Just as the Roaring ‘20s followed the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, so too will a similar period of dynamism follow the ‘Great Pandemic’, or whatever we end up calling this crazy period.

A single glance at any of those wonderful sepia-toned photographs from the 1920s reveals vibrant images of energised people with broad grins across their faces, arm-in-arm with their friends, wearing their most flamboyant outfits despite the fact they were only popping to the local grocery store. There is a growing belief among historians and economists that the global emergence from Covid-19 will be extremely similar to that of the Roaring ‘20s, so now is the time to throw out your old, comfortable briefs and get creative.

The winners will be those who take advantage of this opportunity by pushing the creative envelope to the extreme and break new creative ground. To help you maximise this opportunity, the team at CircleSquare have put together a useful guide for getting the best creative output from your agency and despite what you might think, it’s not all about tight briefs:

1. Involve creative early Finish all your planning and get your creative brief written before you even think about appointing a creative agency, right? Wrong. Creatives are, by their very nature, ‘problem solvers’ so bring them in as soon as you recognise you have a ‘problem’ and they will help you isolate the things which really need to be fixed and understand the array of possible solutions. Remember, if your brief to the creative team asks them wrong question, you will never get the right answer.

2. Keep your brief tight Far too many creative briefs include absolutely everything and go on for page after page, presumably because the client fears missing out something which might be the seed of the creative idea. All this does is to hide the proverbial creative needle in an even bigger haystack of confusion. Instead focus on the single problem you are trying to solve and what is your desired outcome and then let the creative team ask you the questions they feel they need to ask. If you can’t write what you need the creative team to do in one or two lines, it’s not a creative brief. 3. Give creativity time Ideas can come in an instant, we all know that. However, coming up with robust creative concepts takes time and cannot be rushed. Throughout the creative process, multiple ideas will spark at any time but these all need to be expanded, propagated, explored, interrogated and stress-tested before they even make it onto the initial list of potential solutions. The more time you give creativity, the more robust the creative solutions will be. If time pressures mount, avoid trying to ‘throw more creatives at the problem’ to speed up the creative process. This is a bit like suggesting that by adding multiple cooks, you can make the egg boil quicker. 4. Set a clear budget Some clients are reluctant to provide creative agencies with the budget they have allocated for a particular project. This is not only counter-intuitive but actually pretty daft. Imagine walking into a car showroom and declaring, “I would like a car but I’m afraid I am not willing to share a budget with you at this stage”. Presenting the client with a mid-range family saloon is likely to be met with comments about how something more exciting was expected. A two-seater sports car might prompt comments about its lack of flexibility and so on. You end up developing a hybrid which has all the off-road capabilities of a Land Rover, the economy of a Tesla and the flatline speed of a Ferrari which costs the same as the GDP of a medium-sized country, only to then find out the budget would not have stretched beyond a bicycle. Now you are back at square one but with less time to deliver and less budget owing to the money you already spent developing a creative ‘unicorn’. 5. Immerse the creatives Bring the agency in, let them try your products first-hand, see how your products are made, meet the people who make them, experience the services you offer, see where they are sold and how people experience or consume them. Yes, they will see all the same things that you see but they will also see the things you don’t because they are trained creatives, and that’s where the magic happens.

6. Collaborate to make great Once you appoint a creative agency, it is essential you work together and not just leave them to get on with it by themselves. Think of it more like you have teamed up with another expert just like yourself, albeit with slightly different superpowers to your own. Together you can take the world by storm. Together you are Holmes & Watson, Mulder & Scully or maybe even Shaggy & Scooby; more powerful together than individually. 7. Appoint a single decision maker More brilliant creative ideas have been killed by committee than anyone would care to admit. The problem is that every stakeholder in a ‘deciding’ committee feels compelled to make a tiny tweak; just a tiny, weeny little tweak. It seems highly unlikely it will alter the creative concept too much and at the very least it will demonstrate to all the other committee members just how involved you are in the creative process. In fact, it is death by a thousand cuts; the arms and legs of any creative idea are cut off before it has even had the chance to flourish. It is no coincidence that the best creative work typically occurs when there is a single client-side decision maker. 8. Stick to your role You wouldn’t go into a renowned restaurant and tell the chef how to cook the food, would you? So surely you wouldn’t hire a creative agency and then tell them how to come up with their concepts, but you’d be surprised how often this happens. Ask yourself this question: Does your business employ a Creative Director who is expertly skilled at identifying which embryonic creative idea is likely to have the most potential, who has the experience to keep the creative concept on track throughout the development phase and, crucially, who knows exactly how to land it? No, we didn’t think you did either because if you did, you wouldn’t need an agency in the first place. So, let them do the job you are paying them to do and you’ll get the best creative work.

9. Embrace the wrinkles You don’t hire creatives to do what you can do yourself. You hire them to ‘break the mould’, to give you something ‘game-changing’ or to ‘ruffle feathers’. This means they need to find the wrinkles, the edges and all that awkward stuff that makes you different from your competition. These need to be exposed and amplified so prepare to be uncomfortable and pushed well outside your comfort zone. You will not like some of the ideas you are presented with but ask yourself if that matters if it achieves your goal. Creatives are not trying to win your approval but answer your brief. It’s going to be a bumpy ride but take comfort from the fact that it is almost unheard of for customers to stop buying your products or services because they don’t like your creative communication 10. Enjoy yourself It might be challenging and stressful at times but then so can anything you care deeply about. On the whole, however, creativity should be fun so embrace it with a smile on your face and it can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

*About Circle Square

If you want to start building for a better future, CircleSquare, with its global network of creative studios, is uniquely placed to help you develop evocative environments, connected omnichannel shopper strategies and boundless passenger experiences, seamlessly across both the digital and physical worlds.

CircleSquare’s in-depth understanding of global travel retail has earned it an impressive client list, including Diageo, Mondelez, Luxottica, Lacoste and L’Oréal Luxe, alongside retailers like DFS, Dufry and Heinemann.

CircleSquare has offices in nine global locations including London, Paris, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore, covering every phase of the retail journey process from strategy and creative to design and delivery. You’ll find its work in retail stores, pop-up spaces and airports all over the world.

Contact: Executive Creative Director Philip Handley at

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The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 291 | 9 February 2021

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 15 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

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