February 14, 2017

How to Successfully Brief Your Ad Agency

“Clients get the work they deserve.”

It’s an old saying on this side of the aisle. Accurate? Unfortunately, it usually is.

We look at successful marketing as a collaborative effort. It’s a partnership between client and agency, and both sides must shoulder an equal burden for the partnership to work. For an agency to produce great work, the client has to put in as much as they hope to get out.

Brief creatively

The creative brief is the beating heart of any work your agency produces. These vital documents go by many names. Brand dashboard. Creative blueprint. Marketing input form. Whatever it’s called, the creative brief is necessary for any great work. It’s a roadmap, a blueprint, a treasure map where “X” marks the spot for inspired, innovative and effective results. It’s a benchmark to evaluate whether any and all work – from concepts to executions –hits the mark. The brief is a living creature that will be referenced many times throughout the life of the partnership.

While a good, thorough brief is essential, a bad or incomplete brief can be disastrous. It can lead to a lot of wasted effort, money and – most importantly – time. A poorly executed brief is the rotten gift that keeps on giving; it sends you the wrong direction, forcing you to continually stop and evaluate what went wrong and why. And that’s if you realize that things were going south before it’s too late.

But what makes a good creative brief?

Good briefs start with good client input. And this is where the client has to put in the work. When discussing your hopes, dreams and history with your agency, it’s essential to go beyond “checking the boxes.” Yes, there are the basics (although critical) that must be defined. Every agency will ask every client every question on this list:

  • What is the reason for the communication? (Objective or purpose)
  • With whom are we talking? (Target audience)
  • What does audience currently think? (The “insight”)
  • What do we want them to think? (Desired response)
  • What’s the single most important message we want to communicate? (The “meat”)
  • What are the top three support messages? (What are the top three reasons to believe?)
  • What are the key insights that should help us engage?
  • Do we have sufficient reference sources?

This list is essential and takes thoughtful, honest responses from the client. Many of the questions seem complex but are deceptively simple. A good agency will help a willing client navigate this list to get directly to the desired end-point, but the client must have thought long and hard about each answer. It’s not easy, but it is vital. That said, answering the questions to the best of your ability is only half of the success equation.

Painting a portrait of the bigger picture

As we said earlier, this is a partnership. We collaborate, conspire, laugh and cry together. It’s an ongoing process and it doesn’t end at the creative brief, but when completing our creative brief, there are some “bigger picture” considerations to keep in mind for your agency to begin doing good work for the long term. They’re not always easy, but they are vital.

  • Be open and honest. Include us in your internal circle of trust.
  • Don’t hold anything back.
  • Be thoughtful. Dig deep to provide more than “yes and no” answers.
  • Think inspirational. If you’re pumped up, we’ll be pumped up. You’ll see better work.
  • Allow us to challenge you (respectfully). Have a thick skin. You pay us for our insights and (often strong) opinions. You might not always like what we have to say, but listen; it might keep you (and us) from making mistakes.
  • Be sure to let us know what’s non-negotiable and what is mandatory. We need to know this up front. We’ll all save a lot of time in the long run.
  • Don’t waffle. Have conviction in your beliefs. If you feel that strongly about a direction, we’ll listen.
  • Provide realistic timelines. Be patient. We need quality “think time” (yes, we always like to throw in more time whenever we can).
  • Hold the briefing in person. Letting us get to know you, see your face, watch your body language, etc., helps more than you know. Nonverbal cues are useful to feel our way through this courting period.
  • Provide us with sufficient resources, including access to others within your organization beyond you and your marketing team. Sales, research, product development, distribution, etc., all have insight and POVs that provide useful perspective.

We have to go deeper

When prepping for your agency briefing, you have to dig beneath the surface in a number of ways. When talking audience profiles and insights, go beyond target audience basics. Provide us with more than basic designation, demos, psychographics. Look into personal habits, purchase behaviors, etc. The more information you can give us, the more accurately we can tailor your messages. These profiles shouldn’t be conjecture; they should be research based. Whether the data and research are your own or someone else’s, everything moving forward should be based on proven key audience insights. Have none? It would be wise to do some research. Survey an audience. Do some social listening. Otherwise, we’re all just shooting in the dark.

Let us do the work

It’s important to let us focus on one thing at a time. One thing is just that … one thing, not “one thing plus a few other things.” Yes, your “one thing” can have multiple support points, but it should always be one clear unique selling proposition. Focusing lets us get right into our process, which lets us get right to the point. It’s important to not interfere with that process. Yes, circumstances could dictate a change of direction; it happens, and we roll with those punches. Let us do our thing, and it’ll all make sense in the end.

And finally, never underestimate the value of a casual debriefing meeting at the local watering hole.