Finding balance can help you achieve 'brief-nirvana'

A PR agency brief can be the difference between the success and failure of a campaign.

Have you achieved 'brief-nirvana'? asks Paddy Herridge
Have you achieved 'brief-nirvana'? asks Paddy Herridge
Whether it’s a brief for a new business pitch or for a fresh campaign for an existing client, getting the brief right upfront sets the scene for all that’s to follow.

With that in mind, it’s perhaps a surprise that briefs sometimes seem – to the agencies that receive them at least – to have been put together with little thought for the outcome.  

Sometimes they’re a couple of lines on an email asking for ‘big bang exposure’, or ‘growth hacking’.  

Sometimes they’re tens of pages of proscriptive prose, setting out every stage of the planned work.
Either way, they’re not going to get the best out of the agencies that respond to them.

It’s important to say that poor briefs aren’t universal – many clients have learned the hard way that effort upfront pays off later down the line – but too often a brief can miss the mark and make the process harder for all than it needs to be.

Finding the balance
The problem with getting a brief right is that it needs to draw a balance between giving the detail that’s needed and leaving the freedom for the respondee to add value.  

If you don’t tell an agency everything it needs to know in order to come up with a response, then it might miss the mark.  

Conversely, if you’re telling it every step of the campaign you’ve got planned, then what space is there for it to contribute additional value above and beyond the execution of your existing idea?

The dream brief
The ideal brief sets out the background to a campaign and then outlines the problem to be solved. It details the parameters of the request in terms of timescales, preferred formats of response and – perhaps most importantly – budgets, and it gives the process for a participating agency to follow.
If there are strong preferences towards a particular type of campaign or activity, these should be highlighted but not proscribed.  

All of this should be backed up with an opportunity for the agency to speak to the client and ask any questions it may have to help complete its understanding.
In 'brief-nirvana' this should be done – where possible – with sufficient notice to allow the agency to prepare a considered response.

This approach should generate value for both client and agency.  

For the agency it gives a clear direction and structure to develop its response, and offers the freedom to be creative that will help its ideas stand out.  

For the client it will ensure the best quality of responses, campaigns that will maximise the agency’s creative input and get its teams excited.

Clearly, this perfect brief is not always attainable, with multiple stakeholders sometimes adding their input until it becomes a brief by committee.  

However, where it is possible, finding the balance in your briefs can add untold value to your agency investment.

Paddy Herridge is UK managing director of MWWPR

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