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Briefing on Briefs

Apr 3. 2019

The good brief can make or break a project. It’s the difference between “so-so” and success. Learn how to best brief your creative agency and get the most out of your budget.


A brief must limit a task and match expectations. Whether it's long, short, complex, open, closed, oral or written. But what is a good brief? Brief means short, so let's start there: a good brief is short and precise. But what to consider before you can brief your creative agency on major projects so that they understand the task, do their best and you get the most bang for your budget?

The good brief - and not least all the considerations behind it - can make all the difference between ‘so-so’ results and success. Here are nine pieces of advice from our very own Helene Øllgaard who has received briefs in batches and worked on transformation processes of all sizes. (Article originally published in Danish on Bureaubiz)

1 - Take your time

You’ve probably been pondering for months, perhaps even years. Finally, you decided to do it and now you want to get started as soon as possible. You expect a response to the brief including a proposal within a week. But just as your decision has taken time, the scoping of the project is also a process that requires maturing. Take time to meet with your potential advisors and consider waiting to finalise the brief until after the meeting. Or write it together with an agency. The best of them will come back with a debrief that illuminates aspects you hadn't seen initially. At the same time, be realistic about deadlines and milestones in the project as transformations take time, whatever the scope. Especially if you're from an organisation that requires sign-off from several stakeholders.

2 - Describe the need

We often receive a brief entitled "New logo for...". It's a bit like buying a designer toilet for a bathroom and leaving the tiles in 1980's hues. A contemporary brand consists of much more than just a logo. It must be dynamic across everything from website and PowerPoint to signage and publications - internally as well as externally. Colours, images, motion, typeface, communication and many more elements play into the overall brand experience. Therefore, describe your company, the core changes you wish to enable and the challenges you face. It’s these key details that help agencies scope the task and ensure you're solving the right problem.

3 - Acknowledge the ambition

Instead of making a laundry list of deliverables, try to describe where you want to be in six months. Tell us the success criteria and the most important parameters. Is the aim of the project to impact the stock market listing in a year and a half, or is it more important that the project doesn’t exceed the budget with a single penny? Are you going to launch a new product or do you need to match your new owners' ambitions with a fresh new brand? Unless you have a blank check (which is rarely the case), it is difficult to prioritise economy, time and quality equally. So be clear on what is most important for your specific project and prioritise accordingly.

4 - Prioritise positioning

Whatever you do, and no matter your industry, it is crucial to get your position right from the start. You know yourself better than anybody so help the agency by describing your target groups and competitors. Also, tell us if your presence is largest online, in physical stores, in people's homes or in a fourth place? This is crucial to ensure your relevance in the future.

5 - The role of the consultant

Be aware that you don’t just buy a result. You buy a process as well. Therefore it’s important that you feel the consultant is on your side, both during ups and downs. Together you mould and adjust the process along the way and, thus, also the result. There are benefits to hiring smaller specialist consultants for each area and other benefits with a larger ‘all-round’ advisor, where you can be free to coordinate, share knowledge and prioritise between the many different parties who all affect the project. Decide how much time you and your organisation can devote to the project and how much counselling you will need to invest in to reach your goals.

6 - Clear project organisation

In order to reach the intended goals, decisions must be made. Decisions are always political so clarify the project's decision makers as soon as possible. Describe from the start who owns the project and who qualifies and approves the solutions. Who is going to work with the new design, strategy, website or communication in the future? Do you have an internal design team or specialised staff that need consulting? Who should be informed, who should be involved and when? Organising this is crucial, so get the key stakeholders involved in the project early on. Possibly in collaboration with the agency.

7 - Creativity calls for a kick-start

In addition to setting the scoping of the task, a brief should also kick-start and inspire the creative teams involved. Therefore, please give concrete examples of the brands you think are doing well and explain why. It doesn't have to be within your own industry - often it works even better with brands outside your category. So ask your colleagues to consider who makes everyday life easier, better looking, different or just better in general.

8 - Predict the anchoring

There will always be colleagues who prefer the well-known to the new. But transformations, campaigns, strategy and new design influences everyone. So prepare your organisation to be ready to change behaviour, routines, work procedures, forms of communication and more. All beginnings are difficult, so consider how the new initiatives should be rooted and introduced as early as possible. Does anyone need to be taught to comply with the design guidelines? How should a launch take place? How do you secure internal anchoring and how do you live the new brand? Think in the long-term and make sure that your organisation has time to become familiar with the new initiatives.

9 - Honesty, please

Be honest when you look for an advisor. It's only natural that you talk to other agencies, and it’s always good to let us know whether you prefer a short flirt or a longer relationship. Tell us what the budget is (come on, we know you have one), so time isn’t spent budgeting for a palace, if there’s only enough to cover a patio.

Regardless of the extent of the change you are facing, the more you clarify your brief before setting off on your transformational journey, the better the process – and solution - will be.