Marketers and business owners are often heard to complain about creative agencies  that have failed to deliver. Only equalled by agencies complaining about the capricious demands and unrealistic expectations of clients. Whether it is the number of attempts to produce  useable work, overrunning time or budget – frequently the fault is as much the client’s as the agency’s. This is as true of great global enterprises as it is of local micro businesses.

L. Short lived new Logo R. Original / Current Logo

L. Short lived new Logo
R. Original / Current Logo

The GAP logo snafu is a case in point. In 2010, under pressure to improve sales performance, an over-hasty decision was made to redesign the 27 year old logo as part of ‘refreshing’ the business. Within a week they had reverted to the familiar dark blue box after a deluge of negative comment. It would seem that the client had not factored in the relationship of its target market to the brand and the agency had seemingly not challenged the client’s assumptions. If you want to know more about this marketing drama take a look here

A good brief will not necessarily prevent such train wrecks from happening, as there are many other factors in play, but it will certainly maximise the chances of a positive outcome.

First up I should explain what I mean by a brief. What it is not is saying ” I want a brochure / video that describes my business”. I would define it as ‘ A process that creates and communicates clearly a clients need and constraints ensuring that the recipient can provide the best possible response’. To be  most effective it should be the jumping off point for a creative conversation that draws the best from both parties and where the the end result exceeds the sum of its parts. It should make the person/persons commissioning the work focus on thinking through what the project must achieve – the strategic  purpose. The creative execution is the job of the brief recipient.

11 ingredients for a satisfying brief:

  • Background – A summary of what the business is about and how this project relates to it and its current strategy. The client should share relevant strategic documents under a confidentiality agreement.
  • Objective – What the project needs to achieve for the client. Measurable ideally.
  • Target Audience – Who is being addressed? What are their distinctive characteristics- geographic, Socio-economic and aspirational.
  • Key Competitors – Who and why. What features are seen as strong or weak, good or bad? This helps to differentiate.
  • Design reference points – Web sites / imagery / artifacts/ colours / textures /analogy – anything that helps to illustrate the desired style.
  • Tone of voice – Professional/ chatty – Friendly/ Authoritative – Light hearted / serious – Conversational/bullet points.
  • Expectations – eg 3 different rough concepts from which to develop one to final artwork, draft copy to final agreed copy etc.
  • Mandatories – Brand guidelines to be observed and legal or regulatory obligations to be observed and/or included
  • Budget – Minimum to maximum cost parameters
  • Timing – When the project needs to be complete ready to go, when initial concepts are expected
  • Decision process – who, what and how – it needs to be clear who has the authority to sign off what – as distinct from giving an opinion

These ingredients should combine to provide the recipient with an accurate idea of the requirement and a solid foundation on which to build whatever type of creative execution – from advertising to exhibition stand – is demanded. It also provides a blue print to be annotated with any clarifications or modifications developed as a result of subsequent discussion between briefer and briefed. Approached with an open mind and positive attitude this process will avoid the ‘rubbish in rubbish out’ scenario and wasted time and increased costs resulting from misunderstanding and slipshod briefing.

Alongside the central purpose of creative communication other functions of the brief can be to:

  • A common specification for competing tenders
  • A marker against which to measure creative executions
  • A means of maintaining consistent management understanding internally.

It is the Swiss Army Knife of the creative process and just as indispensable.







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