How to Get More from the Creative Brief Process

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Early in the creative process, details matter.

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Creative briefs that lack rigor and clear objectives are the earliest warning sign of a doomed client-agency relationship. Without explicit client guidance, PR teams enter a working relationship likely to make false assumptions, misinterpret instructions, and potentially miss the mark entirely.

A successful brief serves as an essential tool for productive discussion, outlining the mission, aim, purpose and goals of a PR program or campaign.

Clients have many concerns in addition to managing their agency partners, so it’s no wonder that the creative brief process can take a back seat to just getting work done.

Clients often lack the consistency necessary to provide streamlined briefs to their agencies. They fail to use standard templates, get internal approval from important stakeholders and provide valuable context to the broader business objectives.

Here are four steps to ensure the briefing process is a thoughtful exchange of information that sets the agency up for delivering the desired results:

1. Develop collaboratively.

Don’t treat the creative brief as an email update or a checkbox on a client to-do list. The brief is not meant to be a static document but a collaborative exchange. It’s meant to encourage dialog from the offset. Being open to working together on a brief requires trust and mutual respect. Talk about your strategies with your agency, exchange ideas and develop a stronger brief together.

2. State a challenge, not a solution.

The brief must invite the agency to solve the stated program or business challenge through the campaign. All stated objectives should be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. As a result, the brief will inspire the agency to build on ideas, challenge perceptions of the audience or media and think creatively about the course of action for sharing a message.

3. Invest time for feedback.

Always seek input from your internal marketing, product, sales teams and other decision makers or stakeholders before finalizing a creative brief. Additionally, build in time upfront for a question-and-answer session.

A good agency knows that time is of the essence, but don’t make them spin their wheels and misinterpret messages because the creative brief process was rushed. Always allow time to revisit the creative brief and course correct if there is a strategic change in direction.

4. Standardize and streamline the approval process.

Establish clear ownership of the approval process. Assign one individual the job of gathering insight from internal stakeholders, applying updates and managing version control. Also, allow plenty of time to hold the necessary review cycles and seek approvals multiple times from all levels (from the various roles on the marketing team up to the CMO, or CEO in smaller organizations) throughout the process. Finally, one person should take the lead, own the message and present the final brief to your PR agency.

Bad briefs are a lose-lose proposition, frustrating both the agency and client while wasting time and money—including agency rework, unnecessary meetings, conflicting strategic direction and pointless complications. Every project should start with a great brief. Exceptional work never happens without one.

Bruno Gralpois is co-founder and principal of Agency Mania Solutions, a platform designed to help clients and their agencies work better.

By Bruno Gralpois | March 21, 2018