5 Steps for More Effective Agency Briefs (A Client’s Guide)

We hope that you will find the following article to be helpful. If, after reading, you would like to explore our thought leadership on a deeper level, please contact Kerry Kielb at kkielb@bedfordgroupconsulting.com.  The ANA recently shared a disturbing statistic that is impacting the effectiveness of client/agency relationships:

0% of agencies strongly agree that clients provide clear assignment briefings.”1 

Equally unsettling is the fact that 18% of clients feel the same way. On both sides of the table, there is agreement that the briefing inputs or protocols are not optimal. So, where have the marketing professionals lost their way? At The Bedford Group, the ANA finding is one of the most commonly mentioned issues we uncover during relationship assessments (which we field 1.5 per year per client, on average). What we have discovered is that ineffective briefing is usually the result of a lack of time, lack of skill development, lack of process or some combination of all of these factors. Here are easy steps for avoiding some of the most common mistakes that clients make when developing briefs for their agency:

1. Refrain from prescribing the solution

The creative process is anything but linear. In fact, it is pretty chaotic. And, the creative brief is the beginning of a process, not the end of one. Unfortunately, many creative briefs try to minimize the chaos by prescribing the answer. Instead, there should be a clear definition of the problem and an outline of the “goal hierarchy” that both agency and client agree on – the business objective, the marketing objective and the role of communication. The objective is not, for example, to develop a:30 TV spot; it is, instead, to increase purchase intent for the brand. And that is where the brief should end, and the creative process should begin.

2. Translate data into actionable insights

All of the data in the world is useless to a creative team unless translated into meaningful facts that provide a better understanding of the target, category and competition. Making this translation is part of the science and art of effective brief writing. Creating consensus around these insights is just as critical.  A good rule of thumb, for any brand manager, before providing data to the agency is to always be able to answer “Why is this important?” “What does it mean?” and “How will this information create new thinking around our brand?”

3. Clearly outline roles and responsibilities

One of the most important aspects of writing the brief is exactly WHO is responsible for writing the brief. Too often, there will be a “Corporate Brief” and an “Agency Brief” which both somewhat say the same thing. Not only is this a colossal waste of time but it also has the potential to cause problems down the road when the creative work is “On Brief” for one but not the other. As Robert Woodruff famously said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  Brief writing should not be territorial: Agencies and clients must come together and compose a document (which should be brief!) that will work for both teams. If you bought into the agency philosophy and creative firepower, you bought their template.  Embrace it and collaborate on developing the brief together within that construct.

4. Avoid creating separate briefs for separate disciplines

In a marketing and media environment so dependent on integration, the only way to unify your brand communications is to start from the beginning. Assuming you are not prescribing a solution, there is no reason to have separate briefs for each media channel or advertising discipline. One “Master” brief should be developed and adapted for each channel. When working with a team of agency partners, the client must serve as the “integrator” to ensure the brief works and is understood across all partnerships.

5. Ensure that you have executive endorsement

The brief is somewhat useless if not approved by the person who has the power to veto the resulting output. Wherever that responsibility lies, time must be set aside in the process to ensure that those whose heads will be on the line for failure understand and endorse the brief before work begins. Sometimes it is difficult to interpret “words on paper” because a busy executive may not have the time to read a brief without visual cues that only an agency can provide. In that case, we like to recommend a pre-brief with attendant “tissue sessions” to help all stakeholders understand where this brief might take them. An extra step you say? Yes, but it saves valuable time in the end with costly do-overs and pressure on the relationship.

It all seems so simple doesn’t it? But unfortunately, reality tells a different story and from our vantage point, we have found that “measuring twice and cutting once” really pays off. Yes, it will mean that you will have to go back to tutorials on brief writing, adding time to the process and investing human capital beyond what you might have had the agency spec. But once you revamp your approach and dedication to creating marketing excellence, you will find that you no longer look yearningly at how the Masters are creating lift in the marketplace for their brands. You will no longer begrudge the time it takes to create that meaningful differentiation that keeps you happy in your job. You will be the speaker at that conference where the discussion is around “What makes your brand special.”

About The Bedford Group

The Bedford Group is an Atlanta based Marketing Management Consulting firm that has been in operation since 1986. It has built its reputation on marketing organization support, agency search and relationship management and strategic marketing consulting.  Unlike traditional advertising consultants, The Bedford Group looks beyond traditional marketing disciplines to solve complex, enterprise-wide issues for efficient resource management and improving marketing ROI.

Jane Bedford
(404) 237-4565