Briefs matter OK?

One of the most undervalued but critical tools in the marketing and communication toolbox is a well-written brief.

Coming from journalism I struggled at first with the notion of giving people written instructions before they set out to do a piece of work.  I came from a fast-moving newsroom environment where the closest thing we got to a briefing session was a few words shouted down the phone as you ran to the car.

However, after years of observation and a few painful experiences along the way, I can attest to the great value of putting time and effort into the briefing process.

For those of you not familiar with the idea, a brief is commonly used in the communication process between a client assigning a piece of work to an advertising agency. 

The great value of the brief is that the very process of articulating precisely what is required forces everyone to focus and significantly increases the chances that what is created will actually align with the problem that needs to be solved.

I am not a big fan of briefs longer than two A4 pages.  If you want to provide additional background information by all means do so but as an addendum to the main document.

The most important element of the brief is the section describing precisely what needs to be achieved and how success will be measured.  Be specific.  Are we talking about attitudinal change or a influencing a specific behaviour?  I always like to spell out very clearly to the creative agency how success will be measured by the client.  For example: If sales inquiries increase by 10% then the campaign will be judged successful.  This leaves no room for doubt as to what you need the creative outcome to achieve.  

The nature of the briefing process will change as the relationship between the client and agency matures.  In the early days you will need to invest more time but that doesn’t mean briefs can be abandoned down the track. In fact, I have a theory that often the issues that develop between agencies and clients have their origins in the briefing process.  (That is an oversimplification but I think a tightly controlled briefing process can help avoid the misunderstandings and presumptions that turn into relationship breakers).

Many agencies have their own briefing documents, as do clients – and I am fine with that.  The most important thing about the briefing process is that maximum effort is applied in ensuring utter clarity and shared purpose between client and agency. Of course even the perfect brief doesn’t guarantee the best creative outcome…but it sizeably reduces the risk that client and agency will end up at loggerheads AND noticeably INCREASES the chances of a successful result.