Un-Gatekeeping a Creative Industry Secret.

Using Handles to Create Better Ideas

Josh Rose
6 min readAug 13, 2023

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“Ready to Sail,” Image by Josh S. Rose, MidJourney, 2023.

Handles are the undiscussed, maybe even gate-kept, tool that creative teams use at bigger ad agencies. It was a specialty of mine for over twenty years and I wrote them for some of the biggest campaign concepts in the country: Volkswagen, Dr Pepper, Playstation, Coors, Fisher-Price and many others.

I’m going to walk you through it and I guarantee that if you can learn this process, it will make you better at anything: writing, photography, design, songwriting, you name it. If it’s a creative endeavor where good ideas help you succeed, a handle is something that can help you.

What Is A Handle?

At an ad agency, strategy teams brief creative teams. They offer a background and pertinent information to help inspire ideas and ensure they are on strategy when they do. Then those creative teams have to present a whole lot of ideas, internally and then to the client. To do that, at big agencies, they don’t just start pitching script ideas. First, they read a handle, which describes their idea succinctly and tells you how they got to it, then they read the scripts.

The Handle Structure

Every agency does this a bit differently, I’ve seen a lot of variations on it. The one I use looks like this:

You can recreate this in any application: Word, Pages, Docs, PowerPoint, Slides, Excel, Photoshop, InDesign… it’s designed to be simple. I’ve been using the same basic format for over twenty years. I’ll provide a link to a template you can download at the bottom of this article. But it’s really simple.

A handle consists of a single line, usually between 2 and 10 words, to describe the concept, and then two short paragraphs that follow. But, really, the headline of it is the summary of the idea, not a traditional headline.

The first paragraph discusses some kind of observation within the subject matter that the campaign is meant to address. It can be a cultural truth, an audience truth or even just a truth about the…

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Josh Rose

Filmmaker, photographer, artist and writer. Writing about creator life and observations on culture. Tips very very much appreciated: https://ko-fi.com/joshsrose