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Part 5 of 6: The Creative Agreement

Why use a Brief when you can forge an Agreement? Most agencies use a creative brief to define the rules designers and writers work against. At BS LLC, we use a Creative Agreement. A Creative Agreement describes the situation that creative deliverables are attempting to change, and it also defines the method to take to achieve the intended outcome.

Therefore, the Creative Agreement is a measurement device for both parties throughout the creative and evaluation period.

Don't let all this transactional language push you deep into the dark corners of your left brain. Because a Creative Agreement, despite all it’s specificity, is intended to be a very inspirational document.

This document should be so concise, accurate, and insightful that creative professionals, upon first reading it, should experience an “a-ha" moment.

Context for the Agreement

Before we look at the pieces and parts of a Creative Agreement, it's essential to understand a few critical components of how it's fashioned.

We’ve shown our Creative Agreement format here. Yours can be very different. But the brevity and “pointedness” should be the same in whatever approach you (or your agency) take.

It should tell a story

The Creative Agreement should work as a linear story, read from the first column on the left to the sixth (next to last) column on the right. 

The story it tells is “why are we here, and what will we do about it.”

Each component should stand alone

Each of the six columns asks a question. Your answer to each question should be solid enough to spark creative ideas on their own.

Remove any element and the structure should fall apart

Although each question and answer should be its own "mini-story," all six must hang together in tight harmony. There should be interplay. They should support each other.

One or 2 sentences per component. No more.

This might not be a “brief,” but it must be brief. Strip away any unnecessary language. Work hard to get to the point.

Let’s Break It Down

Our Creative Agreement has nine distinct sections. Let's take a quick look at each of them.

The objective

What is the business objective of this deliverable or set of deliverables? For example, “Create a new brand identity for Vera Reed’s Vegan Restaurant.” This is a functional objective.

The poke

The poke is the initial pain point or spark of ambition that sets the client in motion. For Vera’s restaurant, it may be “A desire to profitably share a life-long love of plant-based cooking.”

The problem

Situations usually give rise to problems or opportunities. In this second step, we always take the negative path: “What is the problem here? What do we need to solve? What's getting in our way?” Why not “go positive?” Because even with a great opportunity, effort must be expended in order to capitalize on it. Describe that effort briefly. Our restaurateur Vera is located in a place famous for steaks and barbecue: For her business, the problem sounds like, “Vegetarian food in this locality is perceived as “healthy but boring,” or even in an adverse political light.”

The perception

This element of the Agreement is probably the most tricky to figure out. This is the pivot point of your situation. You’re attempting to capture a behavior-based reality that you can flip to your brand’s advantage. What is it about the current situation and the problem that it poses that affects human behavior? What behavior do you wish to change? What strength or capability do you wish to exploit? In Vera’s case, its “Ardent meat-eaters often find Vera’s cuisine surprising, fulfilling, and delicious.”

The path

This is our “functional solution” for the problem. How can we take what we know from The Perception, and use it to achieve our goal? Here’s an example from Vera Reed’s Vegetarian Restaurant: “Vegetarian skeptics think they know all they need to know about vegetables. Vera’s will incorporate surprise and discovery in flavorful ways to make converts.” 

The plan

Now that you’ve described the problem and the functional approach, how are you going to render it? What’s the concept around it? Vera’s functional solve says they’ll introduce vegetarian food in a way that incorporates “surprise and discovery.” What does that look like? What does it sound like? Here’s a possible way to capture that: “Vera’s brand will utilize the darker, richer colors of nature, and a sense of sensuality, intrigue, and secrecy to convey the undiscovered nature of vegetarian cuisine to those who have rarely tried it.” 

Sum it up

The Creative Agreement is usually used as a kickoff or instructional document for creative team members. It’s their blueprint, along with strategy documents, used to create everything from brand materials to websites to social media content. The “Sum It Up” section pushes the ship out to sea, and it should do so in the right direction. This is your chance to set the flavor for the creative. The biggest challenge with this section is that clients often think it's recommended copy. It isn’t! It's only intended to capture the spirit of the creative output to come.

Tactics

This area provides space to list all of the tactical deliverables that should fall under this creative approach. If you are part of a team obligated to develop a new brand, and subsequently a new website and social media content, you'd want to list those here.

Positioning statement

Although a positioning statement is its own exercise, including an approved positioning here can be invaluable for copywriters and designers producing the work. It's also helpful for clients to refer to when evaluating work during presentations. So often, positioning statements and other strategic work gets completed but not utilized as the tools they were meant to be. Including a positioning statement here allows it to fulfill one of the reasons for which it was created.

The Fourth Row

Underneath of your succinct responses to the six areas, you have an opportunity to state or link to data, or other concrete information that helps to substantiate why you answered the way you did. It's also an opportunity to make commentary regarding stakeholders and calls to action that might arise as a result of the information in that column. 

Think of this as your "footnotes" area.

Feet to the Fire

Wow, that was a lot of right-brained exercises, wasn't it? Now, what do you do?

Now, you present this to your client and gain alignment. This is an agreement, after all; both of you need to be able to live up to it. This document is used to validate the work as well as question the work. When a client has a creative change request, the onus is on them to justify it against this document. Conversely, any rebuttals to changes will also need to be justified against this document.

An effective Creative Agreement is more than a set of instructions; it’s an enlightening, compelling, and creative document in its own right. It gets the creative team started, informs them well, and allows the client to feel confident that their agency has got the creative assignment under control. 

About the Author:Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to healthcare and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.