Before you decide whether or not to read this blog, there is something you should know about me. Don’t worry, I am not about to expose my inner most demons to you! I just wanted to let you in on a little secret…I have worked on both sides of the brand/agency fence.

I think this puts me in a helpful position of understanding the pain points that brands can experience when it comes to working with an agency. I have been there. I’ve written numerous briefs that I thought were completely bullet proof, only to be frustrated by my agency’s ‘inaccurate’ response to my brief. I am sure you have probably shared this frustration at some point too – right?

Equally, I understand the prickly issues that can arise when working agency side. I know what it’s like to be sent a new brief that takes the word ‘brief’ to extremes. I’ve also received initial briefs from clients that might as well have come with a note saying:

“Dear Mystic Meg, I’m not really sure what I want, but I’ve heard that you have psychic powers, so I’m sure you’ll know what I need from you!”

Leaving the success of your project down to mystical supremacies and crystal balls may work out in some cases, but I wouldn’t recommend it. In my experience, the main reason difficulties arise between brands and agencies is due to problematic briefs. An unclear brief can result in misinterpretation, which can lead to many hours of wasted budget. This is frustrating for all concerned which is why I want to share my learnings with you. I want to help brands to save time, money and effort by writing more effective agency briefs, but I also want to free up more agency time to do more of what we love – delighting you, the client.

Unveiling the crystal ball

Effective briefing is not really a ‘Dark Art’ as the title suggests. The truth is, anyone can learn how to brief well. Here’s 7 top tricks to help keep you and your agency on track, and on budget…

  1. Help us, help you

It seems obvious but working with an agency is a two way street. The more you help your agency to understand your brand needs, the more successfully they can help you achieve them. My best advice is to try and put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving the brief. See your brief from both sides, then re-edit it accordingly.

  1. Be clear

The clearer you are about the outcome you would like, the better. If you haven’t got a clear vision then hold an ideas session with internal stakeholders to develop a clearer picture of your desired outcomes. If they are international, no problem, simply host a multi-person video conference call and source ideas that way.

Depending on budgets and requirements, you could invite your agency in for a face to face briefing session. This can help them to understand where you are coming from on your project, right from the get-go. If this isn’t possible, another great way to convey where your ideas have come from is to include your sources of inspiration in the written brief.

  1. Drop the crystal ball

After working with an agency for a while, they should develop a good understanding of your brand requirements, however this doesn’t happen instantaneously. Don’t expect them to be mind-readers. Initially you will need to download everything that is in your head about your brand, project and expectations, into theirs, in a way that works best for both parties.

  1. Detail is king

Remember to provide all the relevant information pertaining to the brief. This includes the answers to all the big questions; who, where, what, when and why. Have you conveyed all the salient points required to fulfill the project? If there are holes, this will probably be where your project falls down. Try and make your brief as watertight as possible.

  1. Check capacity

Before setting deadline expectations internally, call your agency and ask if they have the hours required to fulfill your project. This will help you and your agency to build a realistic expectation around timeframes.

  1. Follow a process

After an initial call to check capacity and to explain the project. Follow it up with a clear, detailed written brief with supporting documents as required. Don’t assume your brief is water tight. There might be a junior at the agency who is too embarrassed or scared to ask for further clarity. That’s why it’s important to always sign off your email with a note to this effect:

 ‘If anything is unclear, please call me and I will be happy to provide further clarification’.

  1. Build a solid rapport

Face to face meetings and phone calls help to build up a good working relationship much quicker than firing emails back and forth. A solid rapport between client and agency is vital, not only is it more fun but it opens up the lines of communications, which can help to reduce errors.

 Harness your superpowers

Having the right agency working with you as an extension of your communications department can be a God-send. Get the building blocks right, brief effectively and build mutual trust and you will soon be reaping the rewards.

I’d love to hear how you get on.