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What makes for effective briefing?

Author's avatar By Mark Kelly 08 Apr, 2019
Essential Essential topic

A good brief helps to ensure that the finished project is what you envisioned, meaning it is more likely to be an effective part of your marketing campaign

"Great projects start with a great brief. This isn’t one."

"Garbage in, garbage out."

Those are phrases I have heard a lot over the years. Often (whisper it) from the agency team, berating a client contact amongst themselves.

But agencies have a big part to play in the quality of briefing. People in glass houses and all that. Over the last few years, I have seen some great briefs from clients that really helped an agency hit the mark. And I have seen some excellent briefs written (for themselves) by agencies, where the client couldn't articulate what they really wanted. But in amongst that have been some very lame briefs, on both sides, so I wanted to tackle that lack of consistency in the latest Agency growth guide.

The guide was primarily written with agency account handlers in mind, they are generally the guys who brief in the specialist teams in the agency. They are also usually the people who brief any external specialist partners. Of course, they work with (or should be working with) clients to pull a really effective brief together.

There are of course elements to briefs that are specific to particular types of campaigns or projects: website build, PPC campaign, video asset creative and production etc. Each will have specifics that need to be captured in the brief, around technology, techniques used and terminology. But there are common elements and ‘behaviours’ to all that I talk about in the guide, that make for an effective brief.

The guide came about from my own experience seeing both agency and client teams frustrated by poor briefing but this isn’t my observation alone: for example, The Institute of Practitioners In Advertising (IPA UK) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) ran a ‘Good Brief Week’ back in 2015 to focus on the subject of great (or not!) briefing.

Why focus on better briefing?

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA - USA) published a whitepaper based on better creative briefs. They detailed what they saw as the benefits of working hard at creating a great brief:

“.. getting the [creative] brief right will result in better work, less churn in the creative process, an improved client/agency relationship, and better business results.”

Writing a great brief results in great work. That’s the first thing many people would think of as a benefit of investing time in crafting a great brief. But as the ANA and Gavin Llewelyn (echoing the IPA and writing for Smart Insights) say, there are other great reasons to work at getting the brief spot-on:

You will get better work produced

(e.g. more effective work, as judged against an agreed goal.)Whether the client writes the brief alone or works with the agency (or the agency writes the brief, as sometimes happens) the fact is that a good brief sets clear goals and objectives for the campaign or project. Having a clear goal lets the agency hone in on creative ideas and production approaches that will ‘move the needle’ for that objective.

Clear briefing saves time and money

Without a clear brief, the agency enters that protracted dance of “is this what you meant? No?” .. back to the drawing board.. “is this more what you had in mind?” The agency will get to the solution, that great campaign creative idea or effective UX solution or social campaign when the brief is tight. As Gavin says “Efficiencies can be made by helping agencies to get to the right ideas more quickly first time round, rather than changing the goalposts several times during the process” - all of which costs time and money for the agency and the client.

Better briefs make for fairer remuneration

Both agency and client should be clear from the start what exactly is expected of the work that the agency will create and how success will be objectively (rather than subjectively) measured. The agency can price against that rather than a vaguely-written or possibly verbal instruction.

What makes for ‘a better brief’?

I look in the guide at a checklist for better written, more effective briefs. The first thing to say is that as well as the ‘functional’ sections of a brief to be completed, the writer (be that agency or client) should also ‘paint a picture’ up front.

To quote Gavin again: "To help inspire the agency (or agencies if this is a joint agency briefing), spend some time setting the scene, perhaps with some interesting consumer stories or a similar situation from a different industry or sector to trigger interest and understanding."

The areas to attend to in the checklist are more detailed in the guide and cover:

  1. Overall scope and ambition for the brief.
  2. Budget.
  3. Timescale, milestones.
  4. Target audience – who are we talking to?
  5. Objectives for this engagement – where are we aiming for?
  6. Single-minded proposition.
  7. Mandatory deliverables.
  8. Background to this engagement – what’s the story?
  9. Competitor set.
  10. Marketing considerations – what’s required?
  11.  Creative/style guidance.

As well as this overarching briefing structure, I talk in the guide about ‘ideal behaviours’ that should support the brief, to aid the success of your creative or technical response. The guide gives more detail but the theme here is one of allowing time for a brief to be created and ‘critiqued’ before the final version is published. And of involving more than one person (client and/or agency side) in the process. That team approach should be employed at a face-to-face briefing session and then on then at the project kick-off itself.

Brief template resources

Finally, I reference a couple of sources for great brief templates within this guide but I have expanded on that in this post. There are quite a few (free) briefing templates available on the web, looking at different project types. Here are a few for you to investigate:

  • Casual: A range of briefing resources (including example brief templates) from Casual, project management and process visualizing platform.
  • Function Point: Creative brief templates for different types of projects from Function point – a project management platform.
  • Vertical Leap: SEO briefing structure. Not a template as such but a great breakdown of an SEO briefing approach.
  • Ad Cracker:  A sample creative brief part of a (paid for) suite from Creative Director training resource, AdCracker.
  • CoSchedule: an article and FOC briefing templates from a collaborative marketing campaign scheduling platform, CoSchedule
  • Digital Agency Quba:  a nice short and sweet Content Marketing brief template available for download.
Author's avatar

By Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly is a digital marketing and agency growth consultant working with agencies and their client brands. He can be found at Mark Kelly Consultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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