Why the brief to your agency is more important than ever.

Weak client briefings are a source of immense frustration to both agencies and the clients who issue them. Agencies that aren’t briefed properly spend a huge amount of time trying decipher or guess at what their clients really want, while clients end up disappointed, underwhelmed and frustrated by the agency’s seeming lack of insight and creativity.

And now, with teams working remotely and online communication being our new normal, crystal clear briefing has never been more critical.

Even before the advent of Covid, agencies had their challenges with client briefs. One said to us:

“Clients need to engage their audience – the agency – with the same effort, focus, and interest that they expect the agency to engage their consumers.”

Weak briefings are typically rooted in one or more of the following

Chuck in everything including the kitchen sink

The exact opposite of what a ‘brief’ should be – a hefty package or laundry list containing every conceivable nuance and factory specification, leaving the agency to decipher what’s really important without any direction.

Be too busy to write it

Either a phone call or couple of lines in an email to inform the agency something needs to be done. Whether it’s a lower interest rate, sale or perhaps a new flavour of something or other – the client provides a couple of lines and expects the agency to get on with it.

Start work and write the brief later

Time’s an issue (isn’t it always…) and the client says ‘let’s worry about the brief later – let’s just get going…’ The thinking here is the agency knows the brand well enough – so better to get on with it than delay things while we write a brief.

Cut and paste

In some cases, marketers recycle previous briefs to save time, just filling in the blanks with the new product or service name or offering – leaving the agency to figure out how to turn something old into something new.

Expect a miracle

The brief gets issued with completely unrealistic expectations – either through lack of time to execute, lack of budget to deliver or unrealistic expectations around performance. Even if the brief is well articulated, miracles aren’t generally the purview of agency executives.

Briefs that lack thought, rigour and discipline in development are doomed to failure and almost certainly set both you and your agency up for failure. So if you want to avoid disappointment, wasting time and having your agency do things over and over – better briefs need to be created. As one agency told us:

“You are what you brief. A lazy, soulless, or unfocused briefing undermines client credibility, will not motivate the agency and all too often is reflected in the work.”

With remote communication making briefings more important than ever, here are some simple steps to help create a stronger brief and avoid false starts:

1. Prepare

Before writing the brief, talk to the right stakeholders – at your factories, in marketing, in sales or wherever else is relevant – to understand your product, service, challenges and nuances better than anyone. This will serve to brief yourself before you brief your agency and perhaps uncover insights into your own business that your agency could otherwise never uncover.

2. Prioritize

A brief that reads like a brochure or technical manual, isn’t going to help your agencies decipher what’s really important. Take time to marshal the facts and prioritize what you want to include, and be a ruthless editor of facts and information that aren’t relevant

3. Write to inspire

Yes, inspire! Briefings should be an opportunity to inspire agencies to do their very best work. Inspired agencies are far more likely to create solutions that will ultimately inspire the customers who will eventually buy whatever it is you’re selling.

4. Be direct

A brief doesn’t have to provide a specific answer to problem, but it does have to be able to direct the reader in the direction you want to go. This means a clear articulation of the opportunity or challenge and vision for what you want to see once those challenges have been addressed.

5. Anticipate questions – even the tough ones

No matter how tight your briefing documents may be, there will always be questions. Anticipating questions – or expanding on new or complex areas – can proactively help inspire agency insights or even expedite output.

6. Remember now

Now isn’t where we all were four months ago and yes, your brief needs to be sensitive to the new reality your audience is having to deal with. But it also needs to be sensitive to how and when you’ll review the work, your evaluation and approval processes, together with the logistics of being able to get your work produced.

Yes, briefs take time, thought and preparation in order to prioritize what to include and what to exclude. But only when a brief is thoughtfully executed can agencies be expected to uncover insights and do their best work. The alternative is a confusing process that frustrates both agencies and clients, wasting time, money and effort on both sides.

Want to avoid the beef with briefs? Ask about our Brief Smart process, and helping your teams create (or decipher) better briefs. Because briefing has never been more important than it is today.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: emreterok

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