The brief - is yours worth the paper it's written on? - Factor 3

The brief – is yours worth the paper it’s written on?

Brief writing is one of those slightly peculiar disciplines that everyone on Planet Marketing does in the box ticking sense of the meaning, but that is rarely embraced. How many briefs will be written across Adland today alone? Agencies and marketing departments find solace in writing lots of briefs. We’re surrounded with them like comfort blankets. The larger and more ‘serious’ the organisation, the greater the proliferation of brief writing, but how many of those written briefs will actually be worth the paper they’re written on?

It’s a process we all seem vaguely embarrassed about and, I think, ultimately afraid of. People seem to willingly hide behind things like ‘it’s all had to be done in a bit of rush’ and ‘the information’s incomplete at this stage, but we need to get cracking’. And it’s not uncommon for the author of the brief, whether marketing or agency personnel, to apologise for the errors, unanswered questions and lack of insight therein, whilst concurrently handing it over to the agency or creative team to be worked on. Something’s not right here.

So, why is it so often undertaken and so rarely excelled in? I can only assume that people don’t believe it matters what brief they write – what’s in it and what’s not. The creative work is just predetermined, isn’t it? You’ll get the same concepts out no matter what brief goes in, right? Guess what – wrong.

Or, maybe it’s because we’re afraid of being wrong. How will we know if we’ve got the brief right? The fact is there is no absolute right. Give the task to different people and they’ll write different briefs. That’s why no two agencies will present the same work in a pitch. Sure, only one of them can work the best, but maybe they would all work to varying degrees of success. Surely having a go and really engaging with the brief, putting your heart and soul into it, thinking about and believing in what you write and presenting your best case is better than shying away from the process. You’re going to be more in control of your own destiny that way and you’ll probably enjoy the project more with a real sense of involvement, rather than just being a passive bystander and, dare I say it, bag carrier.

Of course, there are some incredible brief writers out there who enlighten, impassion and invaluably steer creative thinkers to an otherwise unachievable conclusion. I just think that, if we’re working to the 80:20 rule, then the 80% of people just going through the motions would be well advised to reconsider their approach.

Clients spend considerable sums of money with agencies like us and so it stands to reason that you’d want to make sure you’re getting the absolute best creative product out in terms of quality, accuracy, effectiveness and so on. But it doesn’t matter who the agency is or how good they are, it’s impossible for them to work in a vacuum. Clients are at least half responsible for the work that eventually ends up running in however many weeks’ time and so it’s crucial to recognise and take responsibility for the power that you yield.

Whether you work in a marketing department or an agency, I don’t know at the moment how responsible you feel for the creative output that actually ends up running in the real world, whether it be press, outdoor, TV, in-store, etc. How close a link can you establish between that work and your initial brief? Unless something fundamental changes, then it should be very clear to see how the creative work derives from the initial brief, and that’s not always the case – maybe even rarely the case.

My plan is to write a series of blog posts that help to inform the process, to provide some insight as to how creative agencies tackle brief writing, what information we use and how we use it so that clients will know how best to write and issue a brief. The idea being that if you understand the process you should be well-equipped to initiate it in the most relevant way possible with the brief you write. I’m also hoping that agency people out there currently shirking their responsibilities will feel compelled to do more than just play pass the parcel.

I’m sure there’ll be lots of comments about what I say, how I say it, what I include and what I omit, but surely having a go is better than shying away from it, right?!

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