The Power of the Creative Brief

statue and eiffel tower

Think of it as a one-page interpretive plan.

Writing a plan is tough work, and writing an interpretation plan is one of the more daunting tasks many of us in the nature-heritage sector face. So daunting, in fact, that many of us would rather chew off an arm than set aside time in our busy weeks to work on any kind of long-term strategy.

Recently, I’ve started using a tool that takes away a whole lot of the pain. It’s a mini-plan, a one-page strategy, that is scalable for initiatives ranging from tiny one-off projects (a new touch table at a community event, say) to large-scale exhibits and programs.

It’s called the creative brief, and it’s not my invention. The advertising and communications worlds have been using them for years, and it’s easy to understand why. These are businesses that are competitive enough to know that you can’t afford not to plan (a lesson many in our industry still have trouble accepting) and fast-moving enough to realize that nobody has three months to draft a forty page document.

Here’s the breakdown of a creative brief:

  1. What are we trying to accomplish?
  2. Who are the people we need to connect with to accomplish it?
  3. What is the single most important thing to say or show?
  4. Why should they care?
  5. What are our logistical and organizational constraints?
  6. (The creative part) What experience can we create that will tie all of the above together?

Within those six questions, we cover the principles of good interpretive planning. Most importantly, it’s a goal-based process. Nothing proceeds until you know what you’re trying to accomplish. If you can’t articulate what changes you want to see in your world, you’re not ready to make a plan.

Secondly, it takes an audience focus. An interpretive plan is a kind of communications strategy, and you can’t communicate until you know who the receiver of your message is.

Thirdly, if you can answer the question, “What’s the single most important thing to say or show,” you’ll be taking a thematic approach to your project. And that spells good interpretation.

And lastly, “Why should they care?” forces us to make our product relevant, personal and timely. It ushers us nicely along the “provoke, reveal and inspire” path. Freeman Tilden would be proud.

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