How to Brief Your Agency (if you’re not Mick Jagger)

“Do whatever you like. Take as long as you like. And charge whatever you like.” The perfect brief? Maybe if you’re a rock star…

With characteristic swagger, Mick Jagger gave Andy Warhol total freedom in designing a new album cover for the Rolling Stones in 1969. In the real world however, most agencies would prefer ‘the freedom of a tight brief’ – a document that defines clear parameters for the expression of your brand and establishes an objective framework for assessing the creative value of the work.

To get the best creative work out of your advertising or design agency, certain ground rules should be followed. They’re like the laundry instructions on fine shirt. One of the most basic is to brief your agency well.

 

The Five Indispensable Ingredients of a Good Creative Brief

Here are the principles we at Machete Creative encourage our clients to follow. They are the result years of experience. No one needs red tape, but certain practices tend to produce good work on a consistent basis without wasting time, resulting in a more profitable relationship for both parties.

 

1. Tell your agency what you want to achieve. Not how to.

Define your objectives as precisely possible – but don’t dictate the medium, nor the message. There may be a stunning left-field solution, one that is more effective and less expensive than anything more conventional work can achieve.

.Give your agency time and space to explore lateral alternatives. Like interactive VR signage that asks pedestrians to select their best selfie background when they walk past. Or an environmental billboard that is seeded with moss spores. At a time when digital and real are colliding and disrupting each other in all sorts of ways, challenge the studio to come up with something off the wall.

 

2. Tell us whom you are talking to. And how you want them to respond.

Forming a clear idea of the intended audience of any piece of corporate communication is vital. It allows the agency to tune in to the right people in a way they can relate to. It allows us to avoid generalities and create amusing, edgy, eye-catching work instead of a bland, one-size-fits-all message.

Tell us how you want these people to react once they get your message.

The more precisely this can be articulated, the better. And whether you can measure response in terms of enquiries, clicks, conversions or sales, try to agree on reasonable target to begin with. Without a bulls eye, how can archers improve their aim?

Measuring response should by now be standard practice in all online campaigns. You don’t need months-long tracking and liking studies by teams of market researchers to find out whether a campaign is working or not.

 

3. Write it down

Do yourself and your agency a favour: put it in writing.

No one needs reams of purple prose. Bullet points in an email are fine. But the value of the exercise is not just to serve as a record. The very process will help you articualte and define your objectives more precisely.

Your agency should be able to provide you with a briefing form which covers all the essential points. Stuff they really need to know so they can get going without danger of wasting time.

If your agency has not provided you such a form, click here. We can help.

 

4. Give us a budget

Huge amounts of time get wasted when we set off blue-skying and chasing an exciting concept – only to find out it’s going to cost ten times more than you have to spend. It is far better to have a ballpark figure in mind.

Of course, you should expect a precise quotation from your agency before they incur any external hard costs.

Mind games like, “Oh, they’ll only try to spend it all if we tell them what we’ve got” should form no part of an honest, open and trusting relationship. The kind that will prove increasingly beneficial to both parties as the years go by. 

 

5. Give us time

Be clear about the delivery deadlines and give your agency as much time as possible. Remember, there will be other work in the agency system when you brief them, so don’t expect us to be able to drop everything and start right away.

Anyway, how long does it take to have a great idea? The most difficult part of running a successful agency on a sustainable basis is to manage your creative’s time efficiently.

Of course, there are going to be times when you need your agency to respond swiftly to a tactical opportunity. On those occasions, it is not unreasonable for your brand communications partner to work overtime and over weekends on occasion. But it is equally reasonable to expect to pay a premium for after-hours work.

Such emergencies should never become the norm. As a general opertating procedure, allow time for the agency to absorb the brief, discuss it with the creative A team, and come back for a question session if requested.

After that, unless it is an exceptionally quick turnaround project, expect a delivery schedule from your agency with a refined concept. And expect them to stick to it.

This schedule should provide for an initial concept presentation, time for you to digest the pitch, and allow for a second or even third concept presentation if you are not excited by the idea.

But remember that only once a creative concept has been approved can the agency schedule an exact production timeline.

 

Enhance the Power of an Upward Creative Spiral

Practicing these five principles shows you know how to treat an agency and you respect their work. Give us the best possible opportunity, as co-custodians of your brand, to blow you away with our creative thinking.

At the end of the day, it’s producing great work that motivates good creative people more than anything. An upward spiral of creative expectation is an exponential effect that could take your brand – and your business – much further, much more quickly, than you might imagine.

Nic Shepherd About the author
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