How many brief types does an advertiser need to brief their agency?

Agency brief types

I have noticed recently there have been a number of consultants and industry commentators again talking about the perennial problem of briefing. Quite rightly too, because in the endless search for advertising effectiveness, the process starts with the brief.

Joe Talcott, ex-McDonald’s Marketing Chief and Creative Evangelist highlights nine big mistakes he notices marketers make when briefing. Meanwhile Casey Jones, CEO at BriefLogic shared advice on why marketing briefs should not be brief and the important difference between the marketing brief and the agency brief.

And Bruno Gralpois at Agency Mania Solutions provided advice on the importance of focus in the agency brief asking “Are your briefs tight enough?”

All of this is terrific advice garnered from years of experience on both sides of the client / agency relationship. But one of the biggest issues that I have not seen discussed is the wide range of briefing types, often within the same organisation.

In our work calculating and assessing agency remuneration based on the scope of work we have been exposed to a large number of companies globally and have seen many different types of briefing formats from marketers in a wide range of categories.

Here I want to share some of these formats with you, identified by the TrinityP3 consultants including Anita Zanesco, Kylie Riddler-Dutton and Nathan Hodges. Presented in no particular order, I think it would be valuable to try and understand and assess their purpose and efficacy.

The Template Brief

Very popular with agencies, the brief template allocates space for the advertiser to provide the information in the appropriate format and structure. Unfortunately the template has significant limitations, because in filtering the task at hand to fit the template, the advertiser will often miscommunicate their true intent and in the process the agency will be misdirected.

It does tick the boxes for ensuring the essential information like the brief date and the budget are requested. But many feel that template briefs lead to template creative solutions.

The Email Brief

My colleague in the US, Michael Farmer, shared an example of an email brief. This is the brief written by the time poor marketer on the run.

Subject line was “Brief” and the body of the email was “Have $200,000 approximately, need to do more of that digital stuff. Can you get back to me next Tuesday with plans?”

It certainly lives up to the concept of being brief, but I am not sure it is particularly informative or helpful in framing the task or the expected outcome.

The Missing Brief

This is the brief you have when you don’t get a brief. This could be a miscommunication or misaligned expectations, but it happens following a meeting to discuss the brand strategy or the communication strategy and then the agency waits to receive the advertiser’s brief and the advertiser expects that the agency has everything they need to write their own brief and get on with the tasks discussed at the meeting.

You may wonder why it takes so long to develop a campaign and deliver it to market, but it takes even longer if you never really kick off the process with a brief in writing.

The Data Dump Brief

In our data rich world it is becoming increasingly popular for the advertiser to collect the data and literally dump it on the agency with the request to make some sort of sense of it.

Of course this used to happen before the technology revolution, but the data was usually research projects and sales results up to six months old, now it is real time and raw and bountiful. Certainly not brief, but without context or purpose the question is weather it is worthwhile or productive.

The Task Brief

There is certainly the need for the advertiser to brief the agency on the challenge or the opportunity and then for the agency to work through the brief to develop and recommend the solution. But this is the type of brief that short-circuits that process and goes straight to the task at hand.

Typically it will clearly state what is required, when it is required and how much the budget it. E.g. I need six banner ads offering BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) by next Wednesday. Budget $6,000.

Not much wiggle room here, clear and brief and to the task.

The Collaborative Brief

Increasingly popular in an omni-channel marketing ecosystem, this is the brief where the advertiser gathers representatives for the various agencies across their roster into the room for a briefing. The briefing defines clearly the opportunity or challenge, the current circumstances, the desired future state and what success looks like for the advertiser.

The client then leaves the room with the parting command “You guys work it out”. Then the agencies work hard to make it look like they are working collaboratively to solve the problem at hand while quietly trying to work out how to ensure they get a bigger slice of the budget when it comes to execution.

The Directional Brief

This is the brief that often on paper looks like a terrific brief, but it is what is said rather then what is written in the brief that makes it unique in format.

At some point during the briefing the advertiser will share with the agency or agencies in the room that they, or their boss or someone of importance likes a particular creative idea or concept they had seen and that it would be ideal if the agency could come up with something like that.

Of course it is not a command to simply rip off another advertisers idea, but it is clear indication that the direction described would be more highly favoured than anything original the agency may devise.

The Powerpoint Brief

We love this one. Super strategic, super organised clients who deliver a structured brief using Powerpoint at its best with concise slides summarising the key areas of the brief and important background information.

The proposition is less than 6 words and the support points back it up entirely. Only key research/data documents are attached for further information. These clients like to deliver it face to face sometimes in a creative space to help bring it to life further. Awesome.

The Tiered Brief – is it a gold, silver or bronze?

So this is a system of briefing more than a brief and is becoming increasingly popular to distinguish briefs that have more time to be developed creatively vs those that are just FDI.

It doesn’t have to be Gold, Silver, Bronze, some clients have a colour coded system so briefs on green paper have the luxury of time (always interesting to define how long that “time” is), blue are 72 hour turnaround and red are same day for example.

This is a clever system that can be aligned with rate cards as well and does manage expectations from the get-go.

The Emergency Brief

Forget tiered briefing systems, powerpoint documents and cleverly worded propositions, this is the “we need something and we need it now” brief and often exists in the world of retail, banking and other fast turnaround categories.

There’s generally a good understanding between clients and agencies that these briefs are going to happen, and they can be done on an agreed template, via email or over the phone but both parties know what information is needed to respond to these briefs and get on with it without drama.

The Viral Brief

Very popular with advertisers with little or no budget and a desire to be famous. The brief is literally to make something to go viral. They will usually be inspired by something they recently saw on social media that may or may not include cats or babies and want to achieve the same kind of reach and cut through without the expense of media.

The problem for the agency is that invariably the brief will also include the need for suitable branding and the requirement that it meet the brand guidelines in tone and manner too. Otherwise the agency is free to let their creative juices flow to deliver their best work.

The Phone Call Brief

Also known as the no-brief this is delivered to the agency by phone as the advertiser rushes from meeting to meeting and realises they should have briefed the agency more than a month ago.

While the advertiser provides a flow of consciousness of the task at hand and the opportunity of challenge to be addressed, the account manager who took the call is busy taking notes to type into the agency briefing form so they can present it to the creative team soon after they hang up.

After all, the fine piece of information is that concepts are required by yesterday. The beauty is that because none of it was written down the advertiser can clearly put the blame on the account team if the work does not meet the brief.

What other brief types have you seen?

I know I have just scratched the surface here and would love to hear from you on any formats I have overlooked. There may even be many variations on the themes. But I would encourage you to share these with us on social media including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter using the hashtag #anotherbriefformat

When we have a comprehensive list of brief types then perhaps we can then start discussing and voting on which ones work best and which formats and approaches are best in what situations.

In the meantime the best we can do is take the advice of the brief masters I mentioned at the start and look for ways to improve the brief because this is surely the best way to improve the efficacy and outcomes of the advertising process.

Just in from Jon Bradshaw

The Reverse Brief

Written by the agency. It basically says, “we read your brief, but couldn’t see a Cannes winning idea in it, so we rewrote it to fit one of our ECD’s pre existing ideas”.

The Cake and Eat It Brief

Consisting mainly of objectives this brief outlines how the client would like to launch a new flavour, communicate the brand proposition, overcome the issue they have with under 18 year olds, drive sales by 150% in the month whilst increasing awareness scores and awareness to P4W consumption ratios. And if they could have a different one for Coles and one for Woolworths that would be great.

How well do your agencies work together? Do you have a robust and agile marketing process? Do your agencies engage and collaborate to deliver high performance outcomes? Do you wish your go-to-market process was faster and more agile?

We find that most advertisers do not have a consistent and defined process or a detailed set of performance expectations for their agencies. If this is you, learn how TrinityP3 can help here