Expert Perspective

Chris Barth

21 November 2022

Three tips for the next time you brief your agency 

Getting the brief right is essential to unlocking the creative potential of your agency, so here are the questions you should start with

Would you say that you’re good at briefing your agency? If the answer is yes, then according to research published by the IPA, you’re in sizeable company. Eighty percent of your industry peers would say the same of their own approach. However, there’s a catch. 

Only 10% of agency executives agree that marketers do this well. 

The chasm in perception is startling. But where to start on improving things? 

Perhaps you’re in the middle of writing a brief. Or will be doing so soon. Here are three checks you can add that could make all the difference, based on conversations we’ve had with agencies and marketers alike.

Be specific about the problem

Marketers need to have clarity about the specific business problem that they want agencies to help them solve. Andy Nairn is the founding partner of Lucky Generals. He has won more effectiveness awards than any other planner in the world. He knows a thing or two about briefs. His view is that:

‘The best clients will vividly describe the business challenge that they’re trying to solve’. 

This means having clarity before putting pen to paper, and being discerning about what goes into the brief. It’s important to remember that one brief can’t solve every issue.

Keep it brief

The clue is in the title of the document that you’re writing. Briefs should be brief. But all too often they can end up being lengthy tomes that confound rather than clarify.

Jane Wakely is the CMO at PepsiCo, and before this she headed up the marketing function for Mars Pet Nutrition. Her view is that:

‘Reductionist briefs get brilliant reductionist ideas.’

Boil everything down to only the most important elements. If you feel that might sacrifice too much of the useful information you’ve gathered, create a separate document or appendix for your agency partners to dive into if required (we all know planner who loves the research, after all).

Another check to make is that you’re using simple, colloquial language. Cut the jargon, especially your own corporate jargon that might jar with a reader from outside your own business. 

Use the right constraints

As Nick Worthington, ECD at Colenso BBDO says: 

‘The worst thing is when people give you a brief with an outcome they’ve already got in their head and they don’t want you to deviate off that path and become irritated if you do... They’re limiting the opportunity to do something extraordinary.’

Unnecessary constraints will only restrict creativity and frustrate your partners - the people you’ve hired to do the creative thinking! Instead seek to identify tensions and insights for creatives and strategists to explore together, and act as a springboard for their thinking. Including some parameters is of course vital: budget, timelines, legal restrictions, brand guidelines are all important mandatories, so make sure they are present.

These three tips will help you make a start on tidying up your briefs. If you’re looking for ways to train your teams or ways to elevate your briefs, we’d love to help.

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