How to use a simple creative brief to build a business.

People in the advertising industry are very familiar with the creative brief. It is the input document that provides the instructions we need to create the advertising we have been hired to develop. It provides background and target audience information. It identifies what we are attempting to make, both generally and specifically. It provides a key idea to communicate, and support points to back that idea up (#BackThatThangUp.)

Let’s get cooking

The creative brief is quite literally the recipe for creating any piece of creative advertising or design. And you must refer back to it during concepting in order to re-ground yourself. Because during the creative process you often go off on tangents upon tangents upon tangents. Which makes it important to regularly revisit the original direction.

I have seen the light

Through the experience of launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found the creative brief and the process it guides you along don’t just work when you are trying to develop advertising and design elements. The creative brief also works when you are trying to build a creative business. Or any other business for that matter.

You need an input document, like a creative brief to identify what you are trying to make. But once you begin the process of building and growing a business you will often go off on tangents and wild goose chases. You will have new, random and crazy ideas you will want to pursue. Just ask Chris Gaines. In other words, it is common to get distracted from the original vision and mission.

Back to the brief

To overcome the distractions you encounter during the process of building a business, it is important to regularly revisit the original brief. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Remember what are you trying to accomplish. Revisit what the org chart is supposed to look like. Then ask yourself if you are anywhere close to that today. If not, course correct. Refocus. Get back to the plan. And start building momentum towards your original vision.

Key Takeaway

Every great accomplishment starts with a great plan. But the real value of a great plan, written down, isn’t just at the launch of an adventure. The great, ongoing value is in how that original plan can serve as a north star when we get lost, turned around, or distracted along the way. It is like the Ritalin for Business ADHD.

But you don’t have to be building a business to use the power of a creative brief. This simple document can help you chart a more satisfying life. Because it helps you identify the problem to be solved and create a vision for the future state. If you work in advertising, design or marketing and already use a creative brief regularly, consider using this Who-Where-When-What-Why-How formula to focus your ambitions outside of work. Including your side hustle. You’ll be amazed at all that little brief can do. And all that you can do with its help.

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How our agency overcame a Biggie Smalls experience.

It was the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who once penned that famous American quote: ‘Mo Money. Mo Problems.’ In 2018 I learned Biggie was right. Because as my young advertising and idea agency was growing at an exciting pace, we also faced mo money problems. Or was it less money problems? Maybe it depends on whether you’re more East Coast or more West Coast.

Go With The Cashflow

In 2018 The Weaponry, faced a cash flow problem. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been warned. My posse of entrepreneurial homies, including Dan Richards of Global Rescue and Jeff Hilimire of Dragon Army, warned me that as you work with larger and larger clients they will use their financial muscle to get longer and longer payment terms. So instead of our standard 30-day terms, new clients began requesting, pushing for or demanding 45, 60 and even 90-day terms. #WhatWouldSugeKnightDo?

The 60 and 90-day terms put growing businesses like mine in a conundrum. Obviously we want to work with the biggest and best companies in the world. The problem is that while we wait to get paid for the work we have completed, we still have to pay the Weapons, vendors and freelancers who work for us. Which means that like a leaky bucket, more money is leaving the system than coming in. #DearLizaDearLiza

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Big Poppa

By June of 2018 we had been in business for 2 years. We could clearly feel the momentum build. There was sharp rise in the demand for our work. But with all the new work, longer payment terms, and invoices that seemed to have taken the slow boat to PayMe Town, we started carrying between $500,000 and $700,000 in our monthly accounts receivable stack.

For a business that bootstrapped its way into being just 24 months earlier this was an interesting turn of events. It is nice to be owed that kind of money. But cash is the life blood of a business. And there were serious demands on our blood supply.

We were always able to pay our salaries and all of our bills. But the depleted cash on hand meant that we weren’t able to invest in our own growth. We had started looking at space for our Columbus office in June, then hit pause on our plans to sign a lease in order give ourselves some breathing room. We waited on transitioning some of our freelance help to full-fledged Weapons. And we postponed the company offsite meeting in Monaco.

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It Was All A Dream.

When I shared our mounting money challenge with our team, they once again stepped up to solve the problem. Simon Harper, one of our outstanding account directors, shared how we could adjust our invoice timing to make sure we were paid by our clients sooner. Other account leads also contacted their client contacts about the outstanding bills. Which helped get the money ball rolling.

Our accountant, slash bookkeeper, slash egg dealer, Sally Bretsch, recommended another adjustment to our billing process that would ensure that our invoices got into our clients’ accounts payable systems faster, with greater accountability. Which is either totally meta or just a nice word play (Did I mention I used to read Word UP! magazine?)

From Negative To Positive (And it’s all good.)

With these team-driven enhancements in place, suddenly we dramatically decreased the turnaround time between work performed and payments received. We had our own Black Friday moment, when suddenly, following months of increased billing, but decreased cashflow, we started seeing the fruits of our labor manifest in our bank account.

Key Takeaway

Business is a team sport. As an entrepreneur, leader or department head, it’s important to understand that your team will find ways to solve problems and improve performance faster, and in better ways than you would be able to unearth on your own. Share information with your team. Make them part of the solution. If you’re thinking about starting a business, surround yourself with a strong crew who knows more about their specialties than you do. Then give them a mic and let them flow. That’s how small teams make big things happen.

What do you do when you see a road closed ahead sign?

Yesterday morning my family and I piled into our car to make a 2-hour drive to a basketball tournament in the small town of Freedom, Wisconsin. Freedom is just north of Appleton. If Appleton means nothing to you, Freedom is 20 minutes south of Green Bay. If you are from New York City, or a non-American, Freedom is 4 hours north of Chicago.

The Sign

Fifteen minutes into the drive, as we made our way down a country road, we approached a large sign that said: Road Closed 1 Mile Ahead. Local traffic only. As we approached the sign there was one car ahead of us. Upon seeing the sign the driver pulled to the side of the road, then quickly turned around and headed back the way we came, presumably to find a different route.

I ignored the sign and continued down the road anyway. One mile later, I approached a small fleet of construction vehicles parked neatly on the side of the road. They had clearly been put away for the weekend. Despite the warning from the sign, the road was indeed open and passable, even for non-locals like me. I drove through the hibernating construction site, and within a mile I reached the interstate on-ramp, exactly as I had planned.

Don’t Turn Around, Bright Eyes.

As I pulled onto the freeway, and reached my cruising speed, I reflected on this seemingly small incident. Because it was symbolic of how we go through life. We all see signs that tell us we can’t go this way or that. We are told of rules and limitations and regulations that cause so many among us to stop and turn around. Because most good, rule following  people stop when they are told the road ahead is closed.

But if you want to do great things, hard things or never-done-before things, you can’t follow all the road signs. You can’t pull a u-turn every time you are told no.  You have to question, challenge and push ahead. And when you do, you will be surprised how often the closed path advertised ahead is wide open and waiting for you to take it.

Key Takeaway

If you want to start a business, create an innovative new product or service, or forge a new route, you can’t turn around every time you are told you should. The same holds true in our personal lives. You have to find your way forward. Challenge the rules and laws. Question the assumptions. Don’t just take no for an answer. Find out for yourself what is really possible. Because beyond the no, the stop sign and the dead-end are where all the really great things are found.

To share your goals or not share your goals? That is the question.

Everyone has a goal. If you are ambitious, young or greedy you probably have many. Your goals serve as the magnets on your internal navigational compass. (As opposed to your Jeep Compass). Goals are what feed your actions every day. Without goals you are in danger of drifting through life. With a goal you can paddle, set your sails, or fire up your 300 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and set a course across the stormy seas of life towards a meaningful destination.

Getting Personal

Goals are very personal. They represent our desires, dreams and ambitions. If your goals are large, gaudy or outlandish, like a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), they can make you seem delusional. But it is impossible to accomplish improbable feats without improbable goals.

2 Schools of Thought

One of the great questions in goalology, the study of goals (okay, maybe I just made that up), is whether it is better to share your goals with other people, or keep them to yourself.  There are two very different ways to think about this. My great friend Jeff Hilimire and I stand on different sides of the aisle. So we thought it would be worthwhile to share our opposing views.

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Adam, Jeff, some steak and a yellow pepper.

Analyzing the Analyzers

Adam Albrecht and Jeff Hilimire have interesting similarities. They were both college athletes. Jeff played tennis at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Adam was a discus and hammer thrower on the track and field team at the University of Wisconsin. Both of these cats are also entrepreneurs. Jeff’s businesses include digital agency, Spunlogic, mobile and digital agency, Dragon Army and the great web-building, good-slinging, non-profit 48in48. Adam’s businesses include the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry and t-shirt company Adam & Sleeve. Yet despite these similarities, they have very different takes on goal sharing. 

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Jeff’s Views on Goals:

I’m a big believer in not only creating focused, tight, and specific goals (both short- and long-term), but also that you should consider sharing those goals in order to create accountability – for yourself and through others.

Many people have goals, but very few spend the time to write them down. When you force yourself to write something down, you’re creating a new connection in your brain with that “thing”. There have been studies that show this, but I’m not going to share them here, mostly because you have Google*.

But I have found the real power of accountability comes when you share your goals with others. If you’re the only person holding yourself to your commitments, it becomes easy to slack off or move the goalposts. Even if it’s just with a buddy, asking him or her to check in on you periodically dramatically increases the chances of you holding yourself accountable.

Personally, I like to share my goals on my blog, which is as public as it gets. And it works! One of my goals is to read 53 books this year (one more than last year,) and people I know ask me when we get together, “So, how many books are you at so far this year?” At the very least it’s a reminder that I committed to something and need to stick with it. 

Not everyone needs this kind of accountability, but I’d guess 99% of people do. Let’s be real, while everyone has goals, very few people actually accomplish them. Not because they don’t have the skills, but because they don’t keep at it. They don’t stay focused, they find excuses, and sometimes they even forget. Writing your goals down and sharing them with others is at least one way to give yourself a better chance of success. 

* also because I only kinda think I’ve heard that, so I might have made it up.

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Adam’s Views on Goals

I used to subscribe to the theory that it was good to share your goals with others. But not anymore. There is a very basic problem with goal sharing. If you tell people you are going to start a business, run a marathon or donate 10 gallons of blood, you start feeling like it is true. Afterall, it has been stated aloud, and those words have floated from your mouth, through the ether, into someone else’s ear hole. That makes it true, right?

Wrong. Talk is cheap. You could say talk is worthless. (Unless of course you host a talk show, or are a police negotiator. In which case talk is your most valuable asset.)

The problem is that talking about your goals makes you feel as if you are making progress towards your goals. And the more you talk about them with others, the more you feel like they are real and true. Even though there has been no real progress. It is that false sense of progress that undermines many a good, worthy goal.

Goal sharing can also cause you to lose confidence in your ability to achieve those goals. If you want to lose a lot of weight, earn a lot of money or find a really hot spouse, and you tell someone this, you are likely to get negativity, doubt or laughter in return. You don’t need that. You need to believe you can do what you set out to do. Like Gwen Stefani, you need to have no doubt. And big goals produce doubt in others.

To avoid that false sense of progress, and to avoid the doubters, I like to keep my goals to myself. I have many goals, hopes and dreams that never get shared. Because I tell myself that my talk does not achieve anything. I find great motivation in showing people what I have done, rather than talking about what I will do.

Key Takeaway:

Goals are personal. And we are all motivated in different ways. You need to find out which approach works better for you. So if keeping your goals a secret isn’t working, try sharing. And if talking about your goals isn’t helping, shut up and get moving.

Despite our differences, we both want to hear what you think. Leave a comment and tell us if you think it’s better to shout your goals to the world like a Mexican soccer announcer, or keep them quiet, like Marcel Marceau.

Tom Brady shares why winning is so important in 6 words.

Last night the New England Patriots did it again. They won the Super Bowl, and were crowned as the best football team on the planet. It was Tom Brady’s 6th Championship in 18 years. Which means that every 3 years he lifts a Lombardi Trophy. And many Non-Patriotics hate him for it.

Why is the win still important?

In the middle of the Cray Cray Camera Crush at center field following the game, Tracy Wolfson of CBS asked Tom Brady why the win was so important to him.

He responded immediately with a 6-word answer:

We’ve been this far and lost. -Tom Brady

With those 6 words, we can all relate to one of the greatest champions in the history of sports. Because despite the six Super Bowl wins, he has also known loss on the biggest stage. Three times, in fact. Twice to the New York Giants, and just last year to the Philadelphia Eagles. He has lost a Super Bowl in a season when the Patriots went undefeated until the championship game. Ouch. #DavidTyree

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This David Tyree against-the-helmet Super Bowl catch was as improbable as it was heart breaking.

Key Takeaway

This is a great reminder that there is tremendous value in our losses. They drive up the value of each subsequent win.

  • The loss of a game makes you value a win.
  • The loss of a job makes you value your employment.
  • The loss of a new business pitch makes you value winning a new client.
  • The loss of a loved one makes you value your loved ones.
  • The loss of time makes you value the time you still have.
  • The loss of revenue makes you value revenue.
  • The loss of a friend makes you value new friendships.
  • The loss of oxygen makes you value oxygen.
  • The loss of 50 degrees makes you value finding 50 degrees. #PolarVortex
  • The loss of Breaking Bad makes you value Game of Thrones.
  • The loss of your swimsuit makes you value your swimsuit.

The key to the Patriots’ success that most people never notice.

The New England Patriots are my favorite professional team, in any sport, hands down. Heck, I love the Patriots regardless of hand position. I have been a Pats fan since I was a boy growing up in Vermont, which for the international crowd, and the geographically challenged Americans, is one of the six states that make up New England.

In my youth, the highlight of my Patriots fandom was the kickoff of Super Bowl XX (that’s 20 for those of you who don’t speak Roman). I was so excited and full of hope, until my Pats got refrigerated and Super Bowl Shuffled off like the Buffalo Bills by the historically impressive 1985 Chicago Bears. If that game didn’t completely break my heart, Billy Buckner finished the job just a few months later.

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My Patriots took it in the worst way from the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. 

A Whole New World

Oh, but this is a new millennium. It has been unbelievable for Patriot fans. But completely annoying for many non-Patriotic Americans. I get that too. Because I can’t stand the New York Yankees.

Since 2001, no team in any sport has been more dominant than the Patriots. Love them or hate them, their record has been spectacular this millennium. Since 2001 they’ve played in the Super Bowl 9 times, winning 5 championships, with a chance to add another W in Super Bowl LIII.

It’s Gets Harder And Harder.

Each return trip becomes less and less likely. Because following a Super Bowl appearance, both teams are rewarded for their efforts with one of the two worst draft positions, and one of the two hardest schedules the following year. Yet here the Patriots are, once again playing for the Lombardi Trophy.

Which Begs The Question…

Just why have the Patriots been able to remain so dominant for so long in the era of the salary cap and free agency? This is an era in which it should be the hardest of all to maintain a Joan Collins-caliber dynasty.

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Patriot great Tedy Bruschi checking Mike Vrabel for lice.

The Harder The Problem, The Harder You Look For Solutions.

Budget limitations often encourage us to approach our challenges differently. If you really study the NFL data like Bill Belichick has, it may lead you to create an entirely new formula for success.

Belichick and Brady

In Michael Holley’s New York Times bestseller, Belichick and Brady, there is an eye-opening analysis of the economics of football. While we are often distracted by the conspicuous performances on the field, we may be missing something far more important. There is far too much emphasis put on the traditional statistics. And Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli were just the people to unearth this non-intuitive truth.

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The following passage from the book offers one of the great aha’s of how the Patriots have accomplished so much despite the NFL’s systematically promoted parody.

We slowly accumulated winning stat guys as opposed to the high-sack, high-interception guys,” former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham says. “Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel. Those guys are way more valuable if they get eight sacks rather than sixteen. Dominating the edge, getting on the tight end, blowing up wide receivers and never letting them get into the pattern. That’s way more valuable than sixteen sacks.

“I think that the world thinks that the sixteen-sack guy is more valuable, but the Patriots don’t think that, and you can get into the economics of this: The sixteen-sack guy costs twice as much as the other guy. And once you get to a certain point, it’s saturation. It’s just sixteen plays and when you play five hundred snaps, it’s not that important. It just isn’t. Who are the best rerouters among outside linebackers? Who are the best edge setter? Does anyone in the media know that?”

-From Belichick and Brady by Michael Holley

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Matt Chatham: Revealer of truth. And guy who got stuck trying to shove his arms through a little kid’s bike inner tubes. 

Key Takeaway:

Know your winning stats. The winning formula isn’t always obvious. But understanding what really factors into your success gives you an edge in every endeavor. Analyze your own organization, or your own personal success. Know what works and which part of the performance may be distracting you from the things that matter most.

I hope the Patriots win the Super Bowl again this year. But even if they don’t, it sure is fun being a Pats fan. Because win or lose (and it is mostly win) they have found the winning formula to be in the mix every year.

Go Pats!