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The right ingredients for better briefing

The right ingredients for better briefing

When the problem is defined, strategy communicated and objectives set, the creative can flow

The brief from marketers to their creative agency is key to the success of any project. It can be summarised in a document, but the best results often come from a more involved interaction between marketing folk and creatives. In an ideal scenario, the problem is defined, the strategy communicated, and the objectives set. But a study from the Better Briefs Project has shown that in most cases, this process is far from satisfying and efficient.

The project is led by two award-winning planners, Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler, who wanted to shed light on their experiences in the advertising industry. They surveyed hundreds of marketers who create the briefs and the creatives who receive them to examine what was going on. What may come as a surprise was that they found nearly 80% of marketers think they’re good at writing briefs, but only around 5% of agencies agree.


Nine out of ten marketers admitted that their briefs change once they are briefed in, which in turn may lead to wasted time, increased costs and demotivation. What often results from changing the brief is the creative process being used to clarify strategy. In some cases, marketers want to postpone making decisions about where to focus their strategy until they have seen multiple iterations of the creative.

The report goes on to recommend that marketers need to be clear on strategy before writing the brief, make sure it contains clear objectives, bring more structure to the briefing process and get the right people to sign it off, to avoid watered-down briefs-by-committee.

Agile agencies help refine the brief

This got us thinking about the briefing process, and our experience as a smaller, independent creative agency working closely with large corporate clients. Do we really need a pinned-down brief, when a looser scenario of problem definition is a golden opportunity to draw on our creative ideas to help shape strategy?

The size of an agency makes a big difference here. The Better Briefs Report found that people in large agencies, where creatives are a couple of steps removed from the client, felt less excited and energised about briefs. At Embrace, our smaller size allows us to be more fluid in our collaborations and get close to our clients so that they can go further. We see ourselves as small enough to remain friendly, hands-on, agile and flexible, while also large in our seniority, experience, and our robust client service approach with matured and refined processes.


Often, we’ll be working not from a defined written brief, but from a conversation about what the client wants. When we understand the business and the objectives of that business and the problems they're having, sometimes the brief that we get is: ‘here's the problem’. And sometimes that's a better brief as it allows us to bring more value. If the client gives us the knowledge and data that we need to understand the problem, and understand the audiences, then we can help devise the strategy to solve that particular problem.

For example, when Trivium Packaging approached us to put together their annual Buying Green Report, they had formats in mind, but we were able to share with them what we know about evolving audience expectations of reports and how to meet them. People are often time-poor and want to consume content in a non-linear fashion, dipping in and out, browsing, and following links. Our approach was to go beyond the traditional downloadable PDF, bringing a digital-first solution to support the more traditional assets. The result was a 31% increase in report downloads from the previous year, and a Platinum dotCOMM Award.

Building on the basics

So a tight brief is not necessarily always best, but what is crucial are the fundamentals of good audience data, clarity on the product or service to be promoted and the strategic direction to be undertaken. This helps avoid the less-ideal scenario of coming up with multiple iterations of creative work for the client to choose from until they land on one that feels right. Emma Perkins, Head of LEGO Agency, EMEA, put it well in The Issues With Briefs And How to Make Them Better:

"There’s distinction between using the creative work itself and using the creative process to clarify the marketing strategy….it’s undoubtedly a daunting prospect for marketers to focus in a determine a specific direction for creative ideas upfront…the solution is to harness the creative process and agency partner’s expertise to define the parameters for creativity within the brief."


To engage successfully in creative projects, of course marketers need a clear overall strategic direction and good audience data. But a good creative partner can help them arrive at the right brief, given the right fundamentals and the freedom to do some digging around. With knowledge of sector trends, tech opportunities and creative solutions, they can make recommendations on how to reach audiences most effectively. With sound data and direction, and a collaborative approach, we can close the gap between marketing intention and effective creative work.

If you'd like to talk to us about solving your business challenge through creativity, do get in touch.

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