Why writing better briefs is good for business

Post by Anne Charbonneau, Managing Partner based in Amsterdam.

If you’re a marketer running a brand, you probably think you’re good at writing creative briefs: 80% of clients said they were in research for the Better Briefs project (1).

However, if you work in an agency you probably have a different view. Only 10% of agencies believe their clients are good at writing briefs! And it’s agencies that matter more of course, as they are the ones using the briefs.

This new data, from 1,700+ respondents in 70 countries, highlights a worrying gap between client and agency perceptions. This gap has a huge impact on the quality and the effectiveness of client/agency relationships.

Writing better creative briefs is a business imperative. An estimated 1/3 of marketing budgets are wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work (1). Key issues to fix include briefs being unfocused (83%), unclear (79%) and dull (65%).

In this post I share some highlights from the research and suggest some solutions. These solutions draw on 13 years working on brand growth projects at the brandgym and 17 years on the agency side, including my time as Planning Director at TBWA, where I ran creative development workshops for clients.

1. Be clearer and more focused

Good creative briefs start with clear communication objectives. It seems this section is often neglected, given what are frankly shocking results in the Better Briefs research (see below). A staggering 55% of briefs lack clear objectives and desired outcomes!

Write very specific communication objectives and avoid confusing these with your commercial targets. For example:

  • Are you trying to make existing users feel better about the brand to limit transfer to private label?
  • Do you want challenge consumer perceptions about the category as a whole to reinforce your mental leadership? 
  • Or do you want to generate awareness about a specific range extension for a specific target group? 

Each of these reflect a radically different scope and ambition, and would lead to very different briefs with a specific ‘spinal chord’.

2. Be more inspiring

I suspect the issue driving 65% of creative briefs being dull is not just about the creative briefs themselves but also the creative briefing process: how the brief is delivered to the agency. I’d say it might be OK for the piece of paper to be a bit dull. But it’s NOT OK for the briefing session around it to be dull and uninspiring.

Don’t rush into sharing your own creative ideas about how to execute the brief, in an attempt to make it fun and inspiring.

Instead, think about how to convey the brief in the most engaging and  inspiring way. The briefing should not be about ‘talking through’ the written brief. Agency people can read, as the IPA mentioned in their pager on the topic! (2)

  • Make it an immersive experience: now that we have less meeting restrictions, think about what would be the most relevant place to conduct the briefing (the factory? One of your farms?… the kitchen of an organic restaurant?..)
  • Bring the consumer and consumer insight to life: share articles that talk about the issue, create a video of some qual groups where where consumer talk about the brand…or even better, bring some real consumers into the meeting.

3. What next?

The gap between what agencies and clients think about creative briefs suggest a good first step would be a conversation with your agency. Get feedback on how creatives work and what they need from you to do this. Have the discussion outside of the context of a specific brief, where pressure and personal engagement are too high. 

Then, commit to making your creative briefs clearer on the one hand and more inspiring on the other hand. Pilot the new process on one brief perhaps and evaluate the process to see if it proves to be more effective.

From my 17 years as planner in various agencies, I can confirm that writing (and delivering) better briefs pays off. Better briefs attract the best creative resource inside the agency. And having the best creative teams working on your brands gives you a better chance of success.


1. Better Briefs Project

2. IPA Paper on briefing