Why Is There Such A 'Stink' In The Briefing Process?

After reading Bill Duggan’s stimulating commentary of the ANA’s “Better Creative Briefs” last month in MediaPost, I found myself, again, asking the question:  why is there such a “stink” in the briefing process? 

It’s no secret that the creative process needs a refresh. I myself have led discussions with both agency and brand-side people to break down the steps to completing a brief and the ways in which it can become a less laborious task. 

When you look at what Duggan refers to as the “alarming gap” between clients’ confidence versus agency perceptions in quality of assignment briefings, what’s clear is a lack of transparency. The quality of the work is not all that’s in debate; there’s also a strong indication that relationships aren’t being built on honesty, truthfulness, and trust. 



There’s fear—not of “not being thorough,” as the study says—but of being exposed while making the short, clear decision of what really matters. The best agencies know that clarity and focus are the brief’s springboard for extraordinary work. Maybe that’s why nearly three-quarters of surveyed clients felt they have a very single-minded proposition, and only a quarter of their agency partners felt the same. 

Brands and their agencies should consider the following steps to make the briefing process a more transparent and collaborative exercise: 

The essence of positioning is sacrifice. Aphrase I’ve used for years, both as an inspiration to my teams and my client partners. And a measure for me to live up to as well. Achieving that sharp focus alone is difficult. Pivoting from Duggan’s point, the lack of clarity in the client brief is not just about wasted time and money. As the study shows, the void of understanding is in how to be decisive. 

Taking the time to thoughtfully brainstorm. It’s not a baton to be handed off. The creative brief is a starting-point and can only be fueled by genuine discussion, input, and valuing everyone’s contribution. Clients need to share, and vulnerably so, to take a stand and openly commit. Then all can work together to unearth the single-minded element that will lead to competitive advantage, the very role for all strategy. 

Symbiosis is at the heart of collaboration.There are two halves to a great brief and building a mutually beneficial relationship is what’s at the heart of the most prolific collaborations between client partner and agency. Shocking is the reminder of how too many briefs and too many client partner relationships are built on a dearth of truth and commitment. As my old creative director used to say when I was a pup, “Great work takes time. Yours will be ready in a minute.” 

Treat the agency brief as the first piece of creative work.Use the brief to add fresh brilliance to the insights, audacity, and even the current work. Clients can be slow taking a shine to the novelty of great work. As Duggan explains, that’s where the fundamental role of inspiration comes in. That’s your agency brief. 

As passionate as my company is on the power of emotionally-charged storytelling, we also take on an industry truth. In our result-critical culture, work is typically measured by short-term achievements, and the more functional work is the one that often succeeds. 

Today’s agency/brand relationship begs transparency and the first step can ever so evidently come from starting a project on the right foot forward. If we establish trust as early as the briefing phase, we will have a chance to all do better work, together. 

And a final sign-off: Please, enough with the “synthesis into creative language” for the function of the creative brief. Don’t insult Creatives by tube-feeding them a translation.


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