This guide to effective briefing follows the principles of an industry guideline for marketing professionals, written and published by the Professional Charter and Codes of Conduct. It explains the principles of any effective briefing, the reasons why a written brief is important but not sufficient, the role of the briefing meeting, and provides guidance on written briefing forms.
Effective briefing leads to better work
Without a written brief the work can be creatively brilliant and extremely effective in working against the wrong objectives. Even if the aim has been verbally expressed, agreement in writing is essential to avoid any doubt or misunderstanding and to have shared clarity of purpose.
Effective briefing saves time and money
No-one wants to waste time and money, but often the local partners’ time is viewed as more expendable than yours. Efficiency all round is only achieved by clear aims and focus of effort. The view that not writing a brief is faster, assumes that faster to the first presentation of an idea is the aim, rather than faster to agreed work. We need to take into account that most ideas presented are not agreed the first time. So saving time in the short term is often a false economy.
Where time is saved this clearly saves money, not just the agency’s time but also your ability to get into the marketplace faster and therefore get a return on investment.
/ *The value-calculator will help you to quantify the commercial impact
Effective briefing makes remuneration fairer
Written briefs act as a form of contract between parties. They should lay out what the delivering party is expected to deliver in a clear and measurable way. Without mutually agreed measurable objectives, the local partner’s work can only be evaluated subjectively, leading to dissatisfaction with remuneration schemes based on performance.
Top tips for the brief writer
- Don’t just fill out a form, but use the form to record your thought process
- Be absolutely clear about the aim of the communications brief
- Separate the communications objectives from the business targets or broader marketing objectives
- Deciding what you leave out can be as important as what you put in
- Include only the relevant and critical information in the brief with the remainder in the attachments
- The proposition or message should be the consequence of the rest of the brief
- Understand your agency audience and what motivates them
- Think about how to make your brief stand out from the others
- If you do give a verbal brief it’s essential to confirm it in writing, even if only by email.
Working with us will save you from working against the wrong objectives.
/ *The value-calculator will help you to quantify the commercial impact.
The principles of effective briefing
What makes a good brief is founded on some basic principles which can be applied to almost any briefing situation. There are three basic principles:
- Be clear about what is needed and what indicates performance
- Provide the critical information necessary to complete the task
- Inspire or motivate people to do their best
These principles apply equally to briefing marketing communications as briefing many other things in life. Often with marketing communications, we make it over-complicated and forget the basic principles ending up with the agency being unclear on what is required. In other areas of life we do things more instinctively and use the most efficient means of briefing - for example, it’s sometimes faster and more accurate to brief a hairdresser by using a picture rather than a verbal description.
Clarity of objectives
It seems self-evident that the most important part of a brief is a clear description of what the aim of the brief is. Yet in the Professional Charter and Codes of Conduct industry review of briefing techniques, this is consistently the weakest area of written briefs. It is often confused with overall business, brand or marketing objectives, whereas the single most important content section is the communication objective itself. Some briefs simply describe the sales target without any thought as to the role of communications.
The effective briefing format
The format should reflect the company’s beliefs about how communications work and therefore what is important enough to be included in the brief.
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- What are we doing to get there?
- Who do we need to talk to?
- How will we know when we have arrived?
The background headers might include
- Background: Usually covers the business and marketing context and why the task is important Marketing or Sales Objectives: This sometimes includes the business case for the activity
- Brand: It might include brand identity/brand capsule/brand vision/brand architecture/brand status/brand values/brand personality
- Previous Learning: Again a section which is only used occasionally, but may have wider potential
The main communications brief section headers should include
- Communications objectives: Sometimes they might be expressed as communications imperatives/challenges/barriers
- Target audience: Usually this section asks for more than simple demographics and specifically prompts for attitudes or other motivators
- Consumer insights: Sometimes specifically linked to the objective
- Key message/proposition: Often phrased as the single-minded proposition/the one thing we want to say
The implementation and process headers should include
- Timings/key dates: May include project timelines as well as timing of response
- Budget: May specify if production is included or not
- Response mechanisms: On relevant types of brief
- Evaluation/success criteria/metrics: A critical element for most disciplines
- Mandatories/guidelines: May include what must be included and execution considerations
- Approvals: Signatures of both those issuing/approving the brief and the agency
The choice of ‘proposition/message’ or ‘strategic benefit’ is one which reflects the thinking of the organization and the relationship with their agencies. The use of a ‘proposition’ on the marcomms brief can be quite closely related to how many agencies use a ‘proposition’ in their own creative briefs. This could be seen positively as aligning thinking. An alternative view is that the role of the communications brief is to be clear about what the benefit is, and leave it up to the agency to think through how to best express that as a compelling proposition. This is largely a matter of style.