Bad briefs go two ways. Most clients say they aren’t prepared to nail a brief, and most agencies clearly aren’t good at giving constructive feedback. Atomic212°’s Asier Carazo says there are some obvious solutions and advice marketers – and agencies – need to know about.

It’s hard to overemphasize just how important a brief is in our industry. It’s the first step on the journey, so if you take that step in the wrong direction, where are you going to end up?

The effect of bad briefs has been all the buzz in the creative space over the last few months, but I would argue media briefs are more important than in the creative space. They can be worth millions and millions of dollars.

And we’re not magicians – if garbage comes in, garbage will go out.

Let’s cut to the chase

At Alchemy the Atomic 212° Change Making Summit in Darwin, I conducted a live experiment by asking our clients how comfortable they felt writing briefs.

In a display of honesty – which, it should be noted, aligned with global averages – 70 per cent of marketers there admitted they didn’t feel prepared to really nail a brief.

While I applaud our clients for making this admission, it’s still quite shocking. First contact is a brief. It’s how everything starts. If the first piece of the puzzle is not solid, the quality of outcome won’t be great.

Yet so many briefs lack a point of view, strategic direction or objective prioritisation. They instead look like a shopping list: “I want to be known, I want to be considered, I want to be purchased…”

An agency can end up getting seven, 10, even 15 pages that ultimately don’t tell us anything, because when outlining how you want to be everything to everyonel, you end up saying that you’re nothing to no one.

With so much data now available for campaigns, why complicate things with a bunch of words? Let’s cut to the chase.

Writing a brief is not easy

The hint is in the name – a brief should be brief.

I know that is easier said than done though. Too often in this context, people confuse ‘brief’ with ‘quick’.

A brief needs a lot of love and time, both so the client can truly evaluate the quality of the agency’s output but also so the agency really hits the nail on the head.

A brief needs to be inspiring, needs to have direction, needs to align everyone.

If it has too much detail, it will only confuse people as there will be different interpretations of what is being asked.

I don’t expect marketers to be trained in the media space. There are few things more difficult than writing a short, succinct distillation of the issue that you are seeking to overcome.

It was interesting to note that in the BetterBriefs Global Report, published in 2021, more than 80 per cent of both clients and agencies agreed that “writing briefs is hard” and that number only increased as marketers gained experience, from 78 per cent for those with up to seven years experience, compared to 84 per cent for those with 15 or more years.

Yet briefs still tend to come across as hand grenades. A client lobs them over via email, then they disappear into the digital ether.

I suspect it’s because people are too afraid to admit they aren’t very good at writing briefs.

But why would they be good at it? So few have had any training.

Time for agencies to step up

I’m not putting the blame entirely on clients. As agencies, we need to be more honest about what we need from a brief. Yet all too often we are not brave enough to say, “hey this brief isn’t clear.”

And when we don’t clarify that a brief isn’t up to scratch, the client assumes they’ve done a decent job, so they rinse and repeat the next time.

I daresay most of us have a client that uses one ordinary template to write a brief, largely because no one nipped the poor brief in the bud.

It takes two to tango. So maybe it’s time agencies started taking the lead.

Something I’ve been thinking about is: maybe agencies should be writing the briefs for the clients?

We know what we want communicated and how, plus agencies want to be more creative with how we use media.

So why not let the agency put it all together?

I’m not suggesting we let the inmates have run of the asylum, the client – of course – would be given the final document to sign off on.

But if you’re working with an existing client and you know them well – and agencies pride ourselves on being an extension of a client’s marketing team – then why not have agencies write the brief as the client signs it off?

The ideal option would be to make it a truly collaborative effort.

Get the agency and the client together and lock the door – no one leaves until the brief is nailed.

We’ve done this with a few clients and we’ve found it to be a really beneficial process. A document that’s short, sharp and clear is the output, but the throughput is precious too, because by spending the time together to create the brief, so much context is communicated.

Perhaps the best part of this process is that in an industry where relationships are so important, writing a great brief together is one of the best ways to assess how strong a relationship you have.

Let’s talk about briefs because when you’re having the conversation at the end of the campaign, it’s already too late.

We should have our honest – brutally honest, if needs be – assessment of what the actual problem is and how we can help you at the start.

If we distill the problem to solve from the outset, we can be creative in our solutions.

Asier’s top tips for brilliant briefs

  1. A brief should be thought of as an insight. An insight is not a number, it’s a human, category or brand truth hidden behind data.
  2. You need to have some sort of single-minded proposition. This is often used in creative agencies to brief creatives, so why not use it in media to give direction?
  3. Give a clear idea of the challenge you face. A list of objectives is uninspiring. What’s the challenge? Be honest: what are the good and bad things about what you’re selling? A weakness can sometimes be a selling point.

Article originally published on Mi3.