Writing better agency briefs

Writing briefs is part of marketing life. Most of us stink. Apparently.

Writing better agency briefs
Photo by Felipe Furtado / Unsplash

At some point in every marketer's career they need to write briefs. It could be a content marketer engaging a freelance writer, or a more experienced director engaging a $100K/mo agency.

Whatever the case, writing briefs is part of marketing life. Yet apparently most of us are note quite as hot at it as we think. According to research from the Better Briefs Project, 80% of marketers think they write great briefs. Only 10% of agencies agree. Ouch.

It gets worse.

33% of every marketing budget is wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work! Better briefs produce better results faster and at a lower cost.

Mark Ritson went, well, full Mark Ritson over at Marketing Week in a typical classic, The horror of marketers’ strategic bankruptcy is about to be laid bare:

Dunning-Kruger is in full effect across our industry. Marketers are so bad at briefing they have no idea they are bad at it.

So, now that we know we have a problem, what are we going to do about it?

How to write a brief

A good brief is never easy to write. It's a test of your strategy, how well it is defined, and how well you understand it. The process of writing a brief and then delivering the briefing is an exercise in transferring responsibility from you to the agency.

The IPA released a best practice guide to briefing, written by Mark Ritson. Here's a short summary of the first four elements to include in your brief.

  1. Define the (advertising) need. "Brands use agencies to come up with ideas they can't think of themselves." You need to clearly articulate why the brief is necessary.
  2. One brief = one strategy. Ask yourself what is it you want the agency to achieve for you. Customer acquisition? Upsell? Increasing purchase frequency?
  3. Build the backbone. Ritson explains that a good brief requires a "backbone." He advises that it consists of the objectives, target audience, and the budget.
  4. Set linked objectives. Businesses invest in advertising to drive better results. According to the BetterBriefs Project, 61% of marketers and 71% of creative agencies rank objectives as the most critical element of marketing briefs. So you need to be explicit about your "commercial objectives, behavioral objectives, and attitudinal objectives."

The final three practices to include in your brief are segmentation and targeting, prioritizing you message, and alignment on how you and the agency will evaluate success.

You'll find a detailed explanation of these concepts along with numerous pro tips in the guide linked below.

Get the source docs

Head on over to the Better Briefs Project for the data proving most marketers can do a better job writing briefs.

Once you've come to terms with the probability that you're probably in the 80%—along with me—download this best practice guide to writing and briefing which contains significantly more detail than shared in the post. It is well worth your time.

Additional reading

The horror of marketers’ strategic bankruptcy is about to be laid bare
As the Better Briefs Project reveals, 90% of marketers fail to brief agencies effectively, and their failures begin with a total lack of strategy.