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Over the past year, we’ve noticed a growing trend in clients approaching us with newly minted five-year strategic plans. There’s a huge sigh of relief, if not pure joy, that the job is done. At least a year in the making filled with committee meetings, back and forth between board and staff, revised brand statements, lofty yet achievable goals, dollars spent on external consultants. Questions, you say? We have a plan for that.
It might seem obvious that after all the blood, sweat and tears you’ve spent on zoom calls and in the conference room, you’ve earned the right to dive into creative development. But a well crafted five-year plan is still just that – a plan. And there’s one critically important question left unanswered: how will this creative help you move from the here and now to that beautiful paradise you’ve imagined five years from now? How will what we create today actually get us where we want to be in the next 6 months, year, five years and beyond?
I don’t want to dismiss the effort that goes into crafting a five-year strategic plan – the wrangling of visions and stakeholder needs is no easy feat. As both an agency principal and a board member who is in the midst of spearheading a five-year nonprofit strategic plan, I can speak to both sides of the table. But to be truly effective, and much to the chagrin of our clients, you need to dive deeper than the 30,000’ view of your brand and be willing to take your strategy one step further. Think about how a campaign, film, experience, visual identity, or piece of branded content is going to directly and effectively move the needle on specific goals outlined in your strategic plan. What is the relationship between creative output and your strategic vision?
Ask More Questions
To answer this question, you need to be open to some good old fashioned poking and prodding from your agency back at your perfectly crafted plan. This is another way of saying you need a creative campaign brief. A simple document that answers the difficult questions around the who, what, and why behind your brand and the creative you’re looking to put out into the world:
- What is our objective? What are we trying to accomplish and why is this a problem worth solving?
- Who are we reaching? Who do we want to engage with and what really matters to them? What ties them back to this brand?
- Why now? Why are we here, and what is the current environment that makes this situation and opportunity unique?
- What is the ideal response? What’s the one thing we want people to think or feel? What specific actions do we want people to take, and what might stop someone from acting?
- What’s the big idea? What is our core value proposition? What is the true north star and driving belief behind this brand and particular assignment?
- Who cares? What is our reason to believe? Why should people believe in, be aware of, or care about this brand?
- What does success look like? How will this be measured? How will we know that we’ve developed creative that works?
How Does It Feel?
So what happens if you don’t make that investment? If you leap off the cliff without the creative brief to guide you? It is certainly possible that you’ll hit some of those goals you outlined in your plan, that you’ll stay within budget, that you’ll be proud of the outcome. But here’s the catch. Will you know if it worked? Without asking why you created the work in the first place, how will you gauge its success or failure? Five years from now, will you know whether or not you should continue making the investment outside of throwing a dart at the wall and hoping for the best? What did you learn about what worked, and let’s be honest, some of it may not work, and if that’s the case, you’ll want to know why.
Nothing is more satisfying than producing creative with a client who has their strategic ducks in a row. Life would certainly be easier without having to plan it all out first or cultivate stakeholder buy-in or the need to prove the ROI on a “good idea.” But producing quality creative that does justice to your five-year plan boils down to creative integrity, seeing eye to eye, and trust between agency and client. Strategy is not an excuse to water down the big ideas or tack on more billable hours. Strategy exists to align the goals of creative work with the goals of the brand as a whole.
You’ve drawn the blueprint with your five-year plan. The creative brief is essential to making sure that what you’re building is water-tight.