No matter how efficient your organization's other processes may be, you're almost certainly experiencing endless rounds of revisions in the development of creative execution—ads, emails, packaging graphics, press releases, and the like.
The stakeholders may not have shown much interest in the project early on, but now that creative is ready to review, the opinions are likely coming in droves and impossible to fully accommodate. With luck, the loop of feedback and revisions occurs during the draft or mock-up phase; but, unfortunately, the review frequently happens after the photo shoot or launch of the website.
The team's lack of attention to the creative brief is understandable—carefully reviewing a strategic outline is challenging, whereas reacting to a creative execution is much easier. As Seth Godin notes in Linchpin, however, an organization can make changes either early in the process, when they're cheap (such as revisions to a wireframe proposal), or later, when they're expensive (such as revisions to a website).
Avoiding "design by committee" is obviously the best solution. When that's not an option, following these common-sense but rarely observed rules will stop the endless rounds of revisions. More important, they'll ensure the creative maintains the clarity your campaign deserves.
1. Determine the message you want to get across
This step couldn't be more obvious, but nailing down a compelling message is hard, whereas assuming that the creative team will somehow figure it out in the execution is easy to do. By the fourth or fifth round of revisions, however, the real issue becomes clear: Your team is requesting messages that overlap, compete, or simply contain more information than the execution can bear.
2. Provide only one message
No matter the complexity of your product, the creative brief should have one main message (and compacting multiple ideas into a single sentence doesn't count). If the brief can't express a single positioning or benefit, the execution likely won't be compelling or clear to consumers. "If I throw you one ball, you'll catch it. If I throw six, you won't catch any" is the metaphor often used by ad agencies.
Once you've managed to capture a single idea for the main message, resist the temptation to "sneak" additional messages into other parts of the brief, such as the business overview or target-audience description. Those sections are meant to provide the creative team with a helpful background of the business situation, but they shouldn't directly inform the actual communication.
3. Ensure the proof points support the message
Instead of information that directly supports the main idea, proof points (or "reasons to believe") tend to become a laundry list of features about the product. Regardless of how important or compelling those points may be on their own, they need to ladder back to the main message for the creative to deliver a clear story.
4. Get alignment on the message before initiating creative development
A brilliant insight and succinct message is worthless if during the creative review you realize your boss has a different approach in mind. Once you've provided your rationale for the messaging, ensure all stakeholders are aligned—and don't begin the creative process until they're on board. Resolving differences of opinion on the brief will be far less taxing than the debates over the press release's fourth draft.
Even if the creative brief needs to be multiple pages to convey the full scope of the assignment, you don't need approval on the entire document. The success of the execution is most dependent on the main message and support, so if time or bandwidth is limited, focus the team's attention on the main message.
5. Recap the message before sharing the creative
Few work-related tasks are as much fun as developing creative, so everyone's understandably eager to see the work. Before diving in, however, recap the agreed-upon message to set the framework for judging the creative. When executions are reviewed without a focus on the main idea, subjective elements, such as tonality, font sizes, or photography styles, tend to surface, and the range of opinions that follow will keep the project spinning.
If the project requires a multistep process (e.g., a video or website), review each previously agreed-upon step, including the script, wireframe, and 3D model, before getting to the next round. The last review was probably weeks ago, so reminding everyone of the decisions that led to the current creative is important.
6. Ask the stakeholders, 'Is the message conveyed in the creative?'
Before the stakeholders have a chance to hold forth on any number of executional issues, ask these them to determine whether the creative delivers the agreed-upon message. More important than your audience's preferences on layout, colors, or the size of the logo is their role in providing strategic guidance, ensuring the creative delivers on the consumer insight and message identified at the beginning of the process.