The five principles of a good brief

Getting the best out of a marketing programme begins with being clear about what you want to achieve. Mark Rollinson explains why the success or failure of a marketing project begins with the brief

The most common reason for a project failing in this business is the lack of a clear creative brief. The process of developing, discussing and agreeing a clear brief with your colleagues and your agency will focus your thinking on what it is you are expecting from your marketing activity and what you expect your agency to contribute/come back with. Finally, a written brief acts as the benchmark for evaluating any resulting creative work so avoiding purely subjective reactions.

So here are suggestions on how to brief an agency:

Write it down

The first tip seems simple enough. Make sure you write the brief down. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of prose - but the act of writing it down will focus your thinking on what you need to achieve from any given piece of marketing activity.

A written brief is vital in ensuring the ‘buy-in’ of other key people in your organisation. This buy-in is essential in order to avoid the wasting time and resources when senior executives – often outside the marketing department – challenge key assumptions in the brief, leading to belated changes in direction. Written briefs should have the approval of all key decision makers before they are sent to your chosen agency.

Clear and simple

Briefs are called briefs because they are meant to be brief. Make sure they are a summary of your thinking and requirements and don’t overload them with information. It is better to add any details or research as appendices.

Too much information can fog the process. Relevance and context are more important than loads of stats and data.

Clearly define your objectives

Define your objectives and what you want to achieve. Use concrete business objectives and avoid vague terms such as “improve our brand image”. Every objective should start with “to..."

Lastly make sure your objectives are focused and measurable otherwise you can’t create 'success criteria' for your project and consequently measure the success of your agency in meeting those objectives.

Give a budget

There is nothing more frustrating than coming up with a great creative campaign and then finding out it costs five times more than the client’s available budget. At the very least set a ballpark figure to inform your agencies thinking. Mind games that go something like “if we tell them what we’ve got to spend they will spend it” are not helpful. A written brief that includes ‘objectives’ and ‘success criteria’ is vital for accountability and creates the ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of your advertising, media, branding, PR, direct marketing, sales promotion and indeed all forms of commercial communications.

If you can demonstrate the effectiveness of your marketing spend and your agencies you will find it much easier to secure your marketing and communications budgets.

Set a deadline

Be clear about the delivery deadlines and give your agency as much time as possible. Remember, there will already be other work when you brief them, so don’t expect them to be able to drop everything and start right away.

Of course, there are going to be times when you need your agency to respond swiftly to a tactical opportunity. On those occasions, it is not unreasonable for a communications company to drop everything and accelerate the delivery of a project. But this should be the exception not the norm. You should normally allow time for the agency to absorb the brief, discuss it with their creative teams and come back for a question and answer session if needed.

After that, unless the project has an exceptionally quick turnaround, they should supply you with a schedule highlighting the key stages and deliverables of the project. This schedule should provide for an initial concept presentation, time for you to digest the concept thoroughly, and for a second or even third concept presentation if you are not excited by the initial ideas. Once the creative concept has been selected and approved your agency can provide detailed production schedules.

Remember the old adage - you can have it good, you can have it fast, and you can have it cheap. But you can’t have any more than two of the above at the same time!

If you practice these five principles you will demonstrate that you know how to treat an agency and that you respect their work. If you give them the best possible opportunity – as co-custodians of your brand – to blow you away with their creativity will be the winner. Nothing motivates creative people more than producing great work. You will find that you will establish an upward spiral of creative excellence that will drive your brand and consequently your business forward faster than you ever thought possible.

Mark Rollinson is All About Brands’ creative director.

For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit

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