Chris is the CMO of FlexMR, a hybrid research agency & tech firm that empowers brands with agile insight. He also hosts the MRX Lab podcast.
Work long enough in marketing, communications or the creative industries and you’ll soon learn two truths about the creative brief: It is simultaneously the most influential document on your project’s success and the least often reviewed.
The concept of the creative—or marketing—brief is simple enough: a short but comprehensive summary of a project introduced early in the process that acts as a blueprint for what your team hopes to achieve. In my experience, a rock-solid brief always includes:
• A simple, measurable objective.
• Background to the project or campaign.
• Detailed target audience descriptions.
• Distribution or media plans.
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• Budgetary expectations.
Whether you are working with an in-house team or agency partners, the fundamentals of a strong brief remain the same. But it’s rarely what is included that makes the difference. To create effective and impactful campaigns, how you approach the briefing process is just as important. Here are three tenants we use that can help take your advertising, creative and marketing briefs to the next level.
Treat Communication As A Two-Way Street
It’s easy to treat briefings as simple, linear communication. Whether you’re emailing a one-page summary to your creative agency or delivering it in the form of a presentation, questions frequently come as an afterthought. Worse still is the templated brief—a one-size-fits-all approach designed to enforce consistency throughout the process. There is a reason behind this approach for sure. However, stability and uniform processes regularly stifle creativity. And that, as a marketer, is the last thing you want to do.
So, how can you make the briefing process more bilateral? It starts with a simple question. Ask your in-house team or third-party partner: “What would you like from this brief?” That’s it. It doesn’t even have to be that exact question.
The point, really, is to demonstrate that you are thinking about not just what your team wants to communicate, but what those receiving your brief will find helpful too. As with any presentation or written document, it’s important to write for your audience. And in this case, your audience is the team of creatives and account planners who will turn your brief into concrete deliverables.
Be Open And Honest With Data
Another surprising revelation that has dawned on me across 10-plus years of reviewing advertising and marketing briefs is the lack of evidence and data that is included. While there may be no checklist item for market research and consumer insight, it is absolutely vital that data informs your briefing. Whether that’s in the messaging, the distribution channel choices or the target audience selection, it’s quite likely that you’ll be sitting on a goldmine of valuable context not available to your agency.
And there can be a reticence to share that data. I’ve heard marketers express concerns about overloading creative teams, sharing information that isn’t relevant to the task at hand or even that data might be used on other projects. While there might be some validity to these concerns, the truth is that the benefit greatly outweighs the risk.
The purpose of a creative brief is to put guardrails in place; to develop boundaries within which a very fluid, dynamic and subjective process will take place. And sometimes that requires compromise. By withholding the data that has informed the brief, not only do you risk providing limited context to the project, but you also restrict the ability of your creative partners to fully contribute and help make decisions on where limitations can be pushed or where they must remain firm.
Hold Regular Reviews
The final tenant relates to how the brief is used throughout the delivery, testing and review stages of a campaign. It’s a common mistake to use the brief only at the outset and allow the project to grow naturally from there. This contributes to the perception that briefs are early-stage work that are only important for setting initial expectations.
Let me be clear. That is not the case. If you want to avoid scope creep, delayed deliverables and campaigns that fall short of their initial objectives, it is absolutely vital to return regularly to the brief and review progress against it.
The information contained within those one or two pages should be immutable. If based on robust, reliable data, the objectives, audience, distribution channels and messages that will ensure your success can be identified before any deliverable is created. But often, as the process takes its course and the brief is left at the start, it’s not uncommon for these data-backed points to be forgotten or swept aside as ideas grow legs of their own.
That’s why, at every stage, it’s important to have the original brief on hand and to review progress in light of its original objective. That’s not to say a project can’t or shouldn’t change over time. But if it does, it should be reflected by a change in the brief. It should be recorded and weighed carefully against what came before it. Only through this level of rigor—through testing, review and sign-off—can marketers be truly confident that the connective thread from initial data to end results remain intact.
The Brief As A Living Document
Ultimately, writing (or presenting) a quality brief is a skill set to be honed over time. But the next time you see a creative briefing template, or advice on what essential elements to include, remember that your success isn’t just governed by what you write. Your approach to the process matters too.
The brief is a living document. It’s a simple instrument to guide, shape and anchor the creative process. And like any instrument, how you use it matters just as much as the construction itself.
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Author: Chris Martin, Forbes Councils Member