Michael Lee; the secrets of writing a great brief

The Association of National Advertisers just released a study on agency/client relationships they undertook in the first quarter 2015.

It contained some very encouraging news for both clients and agencies: 87 per cent of clients and 86 per cent of agencies agree their relationships are strong, 89 per cent of clients and 97 per cent of agencies agree that a long-term relationship is important.

The survey stated that both clients and agencies trust the other, 78 per cent of clients agree that they trust their agency and 79 per cent of agencies agree that they trust their client.

Seems like everyone is playing nicely in the sandbox. All good news,

But one piece of data struck me as surprising; the lack of agreement between agency and client on the quality of client assignment briefings.

Only 27 per cent of agencies believe clients do a good job of briefing them on assignments, (and zero per cent strongly agree). Meanwhile, 58 per cent of clients think they perform well on briefs.

A tad odd, when you consider that briefings have been around since the dawn of advertising. And how fundamental they are to the relationship and the work that is produced.

But why the discrepancy between clients and agencies on how they are briefed? Yes, briefing is more complicated than ever, as the ANA report states: “Media is hyper-fragmented, clients are working with multiple agencies, there is more project work, the pace of change is faster than ever.”

But poor briefing will always lead to agencies being disappointed in their work and clients being disappointed with the agencies.

So, how do we sidestep the poor brief; more importantly, how do we get from a good brief to a great one? One that drives a client’s business and gets a great agency working at their best?

A great brief gets you the best talent

Inform and inspire. Start there. It’s not a dumping ground for data. A great brief needs to inspire the agency and draw the best out of them, to have the best people in the agency wanting to work on it. A number of agencies have a ‘wall of briefs’ where all briefs are pinned and people can work on any one they want. You want your brief to be the one everyone wants to do their best on.

A great brief is one brief

Nothing is more frustrating and time wasting than being in a presentation where there is more than one brief.

The client brief – and the agency creative brief.

No one’s working off the same page and it’s counter productive to getting to great work. So before any presentation get focused and agreed on one brief.

Personally, I would encourage brands to let the agency write the final brief with their input, let the people who know the agency best write it.

A great brief talks business

Give the agency the business issue. Not the marketing issue. What business problem does the brand face, what business opportunity does the brand see?

A marketing brief tends to be a box ticking exercise leading to the same old solutions. A business brief allows the agency to think differently and allow all of its media, creative, digital, social, experiential skills come to bear. Business briefs encourage an agency to big thinking and big ideas.

A great brief challenges the agency

For years, creative agencies ducked assignments in men’s toiletries, years of talk about sweat, longer-lasting coverage and a dash of cologne was the order of the day. Then came W&K with Old Spice and BBH with Axe. I think we all know what happened next.

Nothing gets an agency fired up more than a fight. An enemy to conquer, to compete in an ultra- competitive category, to do work in a category that has seen little good work. If your brand is in that space, use it.

It’s called a brief. Not a long

Keep it simple and short and even, (why not), entertaining.

A great brief is a brief of the heart

Tell a story.

We all know the value of storytelling in giving resonance to a brand when talking to our consumers. Then let’s start that way of thinking with the brief. If the brief can’t tell a story, and a great, intriguing, challenging one, then you’ll get the predictable work you’re trying (and paying a lot of money) to avoid.

Some of the best briefs are more narrative in format. They tell a story. They’re not just a series of bullet points answering a pointed question.

Why not write a film script, cut a short video. Whatever is needed to inform and inspire.

Overall, my advice to clients on briefing an agency would be to inspire and inform, keep it about business and tell a story.

One other point of contrast in the ANA report was the client approval process. A prickly thorn indeed. Here’s how the ANA put it:

“Clients and agencies are not in agreement that the client approval process works well. Only 36 per cent of agencies are in agreement (and only two per cent strongly agree) versus 54 per cent of clients.”

But that’s another article.

Watch this space.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

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