Creating inspiring briefs - a note to clients

This is a short paper I wrote for Clients to help them create better briefs for their agencies and therefore get more effective work out of them.

Lets start with a clear definition of roles – for the people and documents involved in briefing.

Clients are marketing professionals and brand guardians. You understand what performance the business needs from its portfolio of brands, the problems that those brands face in delivering this and the way marketing communications can be applied (alongside the other weapons in the mix) to get the results you need.

Client briefs should reflect this role and should act as a contract between client and agency to deliver communications solutions that meet that brief.

Agencies are creative problem solvers that understand the way to engage people with brands both strategically and executionally.

Agency creative briefs are internal documents we use to get the solution you need from the various creative disciplines in the agency. That’s the fundamental way in which they differ.

As a point of principle I don’t believe that Clients should sign off Agency briefs but maybe Agencies should be signing off Client briefs – by which I mean an agency signature on the client brief would represent a commitment to deliver against it.

The quality of client briefs is an enduring issue for all agencies and it’s a situation that appears to be getting worse

That’s if we get a written brief at all. So the starting point must be write a brief, always write a brief, no matter what the project is. They discipline your thinking forcing you to articulate exactly what is needed and they act as a reference point to go back to when evaluating work.

And don’t start by trying to write a brief, start by thinking about what you need and how communications can deliver against this, this latter point is absolutely critical. Then sit down and write a brief. The famous sculptor Eric Gill once said “first I think my think, then I draw my think”, we should all think our think first and only then write our think.

Use a briefing format if you like (it tends not to matter to agencies whether or not you do) but make sure that you are still writing a brief and not filling in boxes. They are not creative requisition forms.

Don’t write briefs by committee, we can spot it when the edges are knocked of good client briefs by multiple stakeholders all pursuing their own agenda. Sure it’s important to hear everyone’s voice in the process but one person should be responsible for delivering the final brief.

All briefs should be both inspirational and directional. Inspire and direct.

Inspiration is far more about the ambition of the task than it is about flowery language.

The most inspiring part of the brief for an agency is the objective, the problem that you are seeking to use communications to solve.

Advertising agencies are problem solving companies, albeit that they solve commercial problems by applying creativity to the task. Nothing gets an agency’s rocks off more than a juicy problem.

T-Mobile – take the lion’s share of the £30+ monthly contract market

Teenage binge drinking – reduce the harm that comes to young people when they drink too much

Police recruitment – attract quality recruits to the Metropolitan Police by making 999 out of 1000 people realise they could never be a Police Officer

Raising awareness doesn’t count as a credible objective.

Then tell us how you believe communications can be used to crack that problem and exactly who needs to be affected by the work.

Poorly articulated or ambiguous target audiences are the bug-bear of the agency particularly the use of primary and secondary audiences. And we are far more interested in a factual definition of the audience than fabricated pen portraits or quirky segment descriptions.

Tell us what they need to do – buy for the first time, start buying again or increase their weight of purchase. We are here to change behaviour not simply to change attitudes.

Tell us how you would like people to feel following the communication. No simply how you would like them to feel about the brand but specifically as a result of the work.

Briefs should give us every piece of information that we need to find a solution to the task at hand and nothing else. They are not the place to parade your prejudices or invent mandatories that are not absolutely mandatory. Creativity comes from clearly defined parameters but also from space to play, you can always rein things in later on.

Use the agency to help frame the brief. They will probably have been working with you on the strategy anyway and they will be clear on what is going to be helpful. The planner is probably a good person to bounce stuff off anyway and it avoids push back from the agency when the brief is issued.

Try and brief in person – certainly if its a project that is important to you. It makes the Agency feel the project is regarded as important by the Organisation and it allows for instant clarification.

Take pride in your briefs. They aren’t the end product of what we all do together but they are an important stepping-stone and the critical moment when responsibility for solving the problem moves from client to agency. You should love the brief that you have written.

Remember that we are in this together.


The last sentence frames it perfectly. And I wish "Raising awareness doesn’t count as a credible objective." was written into everyone's DNA, agencies are just as guilty of the wielding awareness stick in my very brief experience.

Excellent stuff. Should be required reading for all, agency and client alike.

Posted by: Sam Ismail at May 10, 2010 10:52 AM

Agreed. Good stuff

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at May 10, 2010 01:46 PM

Not only should this be read by agency and client people as Sam points out, but by every single one of my fellow international business/marketing students.

Posted by: Thomas Wagner at May 10, 2010 09:21 PM

Great post - spot on. I love the quote "Advertising agencies are problem solving companies", very important for both agency and clients to understand. Well done.

Posted by: Nathan Bush at May 11, 2010 08:33 AM