Top tips to get the best from your agency - part 2

This stage of your project has the biggest influence on your campaign’s future success.

Written by
Gill McLellan
May 18, 2012

Tip two: brief your agency well

Getting your brief right is one of the most important parts of your project. Take time to lay the best foundations and you’ll help stop your whole project going askew.

So be warned that cutting corners here is a false economy that is certain to create problems later.

If you are unsure about your project, then by all means discuss it with your agency to clarify your options before you start writing the brief.

Create a successful foundation

Imagine your brief as a humble foundation stone. It is not interesting or glamorous in itself. But everything that follows is built entirely upon it. If you get it right, it can be the foundation for something like the Eiffel Tower. But, if you rush and get it wrong, you may well end up with a leaning tower of Pisa.

What your brief should cover

Briefs take different formats but essentially they need to cover three things.

  1. Where you are now.
  2. Where you want to be.
  3. How you will judge success.

Don’t confuse this with ‘how we should get there’. Your brief outlines the business problem the project should address. Do not define your view of the specific solution. Allow your agency freedom to advise how best to meet your objectives.

Success vs. solution

Let’s use a famous Victorian engineering family to explain this distinction.

If you asked the Brunels (Marc and his son Isambard) to design a bridge, you got a bridge. It could be a suspension bridge, a tied arch bridge, a brick arch bridge, or even a bow and string bridge. All meet your brief, but all of them provide a solution in much the same way.

A bridge too far?

However, if you had briefed that:

– You were on one side of a stretch of water.

– You wanted to be on the other side.

– You would be successful if you got there safely.

– Then you might be presented with a bridge.

Alternatively, you might get an innovative boat of some sort – like the first purpose-built boat to cross the Atlantic, or a revolutionary iron-hulled, screw-propeller-driven boat.

You might even get something that you never imagined possible – a tunnel (the first underneath a navigable river and still in use today).

Dream the impossible dream

If you write your brief carefully, the agency may come up with a solution that you never could have imagined. I’m not promising this will happen every time – or even most times. But you shouldn’t preclude the brief or you risk limiting creativity.

Format of a brief

It is best if you provide a written brief. Ask your agency for their standard client brief template.

Brief encounter

Meet with your agency to run through the brief face to face. Anything else leaves your intentions open to misinterpretation. If the brief is simple and it’s not the first job with them, a telephone conversation could do at a push.

Give them the heads up

I’d recommend sending the brief through for your agency to review before your meeting. You’ll have a much more productive discussion if they’ve had some thinking time.

How long?

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. (Blaise Pascal).

Let’s not forget the document is called a ‘brief’. It’s your responsibility to keep it focused and succinct. However many pages you lovingly craft, it will be boiled down to something like a four-page creative brief. Common sense says the longer your brief is, the less likely that relevant nuggets will stand out. But your brief needs to be long enough to contain all the relevant information for the challenge under consideration. Once you’ve built up a good understanding with your agency, you might be able to skip some of the detailed background information.

No dumping

Even if you’re extremely busy, avoid swamping your agency with stacks of information because you don’t want to spend time reviewing what’s needed in the brief. Don’t convince yourself this is delegation. It is your responsibility to select the most relevant information to pass on.

No cut’n’pasting’n’pasting’n’pasting

Never cut and paste wholesale from previous briefs. If you won’t devote the time and thought needed to write the brief properly, how can the agency get excited and produce great work?

It’s all or nothing

Don’t pass on information in a piecemeal fashion. It’s almost impossible to start writing a creative brief without all the necessary information to hand. What seems like an additional minor detail to you may in fact change the whole campaign proposition. Your account handler or planner could have to start her creative brief all over again because of one late detail.

Attachment abuse

If attachments are necessary (because the details can’t sensibly be included in the brief itself) then they must be sent with the brief. But don’t use attachments as a way to slip in loads of data that you want to avoid sifting. Fair enough, include a 100-page research report if you must, but tell them that page 21 contains the useful summary of customer perceptions.

It’s not a work of art

Don’t spend hours agonising over the exact wording of your brief. Just ensure it is clearly written and packed full of relevant information.

And a final checklist

Tell your agency:

– Where you are now.

– Where you want to be.

– How you will judge success.

Remember to:

– Keep it succinct but include all the relevant information.

– Don’t feed things through in dribs and drabs.

– Use a standard format and send it through before you meet

So make sure you allow enough time to prepare a well-thought out and complete brief for your agency. You also need to deliver it in a motivating way but that’s another article in itself.

Next: tip three – lead the project

Part 1

This article was originally posted on Gill’s blog

About the author: Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan is a senior planner with Tangible, an integrated marketing agency. Previously she has worked for some of the UK’s biggest charities and has worked as an account handler and planner on the agency-side. She also spent four months volunteering for Raleigh International in Borneo.

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