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Branding Insights for Business Success

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What's In Mick Jagger's Briefs Is The Key To Successful Brand Development

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By Ken Peters

Want to save tons of time and money on your branding while improving ROI? Success begins in your briefs – creative briefs, that is. As the maxim goes, a well-defined problem is half solved. Briefs lay the foundation for problem solving by providing common ground for communication and collaboration.

Doing either poorly with your agency hurts your bottom line. Briefs communicate; they outline objectives, establish goals (yes, those are two distinctly different things), and create common ground for collaboration by providing parameters that promote innovative thinking while establishing a shared definition of what will be considered a successful outcome.

T.S. Eliot put it this way, “When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost, and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” Briefs minimize costly sprawl, and help you get to the heart of the matter.

At their heart, most marketing matters address four fundamental questions: What do we need to communicate? To whom do we need to communicate? What is the desired outcome? How do we most effectively communicate our message, to that audience, to achieve that outcome? Reams of data and detail can go into those answers. Keep it simple.

The perfect brief has never been written, and you don’t need to try to write it. Your goal is to get everybody on the same page at the start. Addressing those first three questions in a brief helps ensure that the answer to number four drives ROI. Crafting an opus to do it isn’t necessary.

Conversely, mere phrases like, “We want a big WOW-factor,” or “We want to be unique, like (insert brand name here – usually Apple),” do not constitute a brief. Additionally, your creative partners can’t read your mind. Simply saying, “I’ll know what I want when I see it,” means you have absolutely no idea what you want – or need.

Marketing isn’t about what you want, anyway. It’s about what your customers want. Start from their perspective then work outward to find connections with your brand. Those are the sweet spots. Figure out how to leverage them. To paraphrase a song; you can’t always get what you want, but write a smart brief and you just might find you get what you need. All of which brings us to Mick Jagger.

More specifically, it brings us to Jagger’s fabled creative brief to Andy Warhol, for the album artwork of the Rolling Stones 1970 Greatest Hits release. More of a letter, really, Jagger’s brief was, well, brief – but it was also brilliant:


Dear Andy,

I’m really pleased you can do the art-work for our new hits album. Here are 2 boxes of material which you can use, and the record.

In my short sweet experience, the more complicated the format of the album, e.g. more complex than just pages or fold-out, the more fucked-up the reproduction and agonizing the delays. But, having said that, I leave it in your capable hands to do whatever you want… and please write back saying how much money you would like.

Doubtless a Mr. Al Steckler will contact you in New York, with any further information. He will probably look nervous and say “Hurry up” but take little notice.


Mick Jagger

Clearly, Mick understood that less is more. After providing data, establishing parameters, and offering suggestions, he was smart enough to know what he didn’t know, and to get out of the way. Rather than micro-manage, and try to solve the problem himself he wisely left it to Warhol, and let the artist do what he did best.

Considering the ego necessary to be the lead singer in the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band, that’s an impressive acquiescence. But then, Mick has always been known for his considerable business savvy, as well as his musical chops. When he needed to be, Mick knew how to be a good client.

Bruno Gralpois, former director of global agency management at Microsoft, and author of the book Agency Mania, would certainly approve. According to Gralpois, it’s a mistake to “pressure our agency partners as though their output was a casual commodity.” The key to success, he claims, is to be found in, “more careful management of our responsibilities as clients.”

Verizon Wireless – the nation’s second largest ad spender at $3 billion annually, according to Ad Age – is taking those responsibilities, and better briefs, seriously. Recently, more than 100 executives in the company’s marketing communications division were informed that their job performance will now be evaluated on more than strategic thinking, leadership and contributions to the business success of a brand. It will also be judged on demonstrating excellence in providing Verizon’s cadre of creative partners with clearly defined briefs from which to execute marketing communications and campaigns.

Savvy and chops are essential, but you need a plan. Make better briefs a priority – but don’t make them a chore. Next time you’re considering a branding initiative, take a cue from Mick; lay the groundwork for your team, then get out of their way. Creative carte blanche and a blank check don’t hurt, either.


Ken Peters is Co-founding Partner and Creative Director of Nocturnal Branding Studio, a full-service branding and design agency located in Phoenix, AZ. He's been known to design for everyone from Silicon Valley giants to start-up cat toy manufacturers. His work has garnered him everything from a host of awards to a grateful kiss on the cheek. He also makes a mean teriyaki chicken dish, but it hasn't earned any awards. To talk to Ken email him at:


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