February 20, 2019
Many years ago at an advertising agency far, far away, a former colleague came back from a client pitch. She wore a pained expression on her face. Gingerly, I asked, “So, how did it go?”
“They changed the brief!” she replied.
I looked at the empty coffee cup on my desk, and I sighed. I sighed because the creative team had been up until 3am that very morning trying to pull together a collective work of genius so compelling that the client would instantly fall in love with our ideas. But I sighed all the deeper because this was not the first time the client had allegedly changed the brief. Something was wrong.
Whose fault was it? The client’s? Of course not. We’d been working with them for a long time and should have known them better. In fact, they accounted for the majority of our business at that time. Put simply, we didn’t listen properly when they briefed us. And to make matters worse, we hadn’t learnt from our past mistakes.
Could all this have been prevented if we had listened to the client and written an accurate brief? Yes! And I’ll tell you why else a good brief is important: in life, there are some things that complement each other perfectly, and one of those is creative teams and a clear set of instructions. Essentially, if we want to please our clients, then we need to get the message right from the very beginning.
So how do account and project managers go about eliciting everything they need to delight their copywriters, designers, art directors and, most importantly, clients? They ask as many questions as possible. And they aren’t afraid to, either. They know that there really is no such thing as a stupid question – or too much information. Here are some of the things copywriters look for in a brief:
• Background information about the client, especially if they are new
• Who the target audience is
• Details on what the client is hoping to achieve
• What actually needs to be produced (yes, really. Is it an ad, an eDM, a brochure or a website? Be specific. Leave nothing to chance. We creatives can be a faraway bunch, so firm instructions are welcome)
• What tone and style the client likes
• When they need the work by
When accounts teams get this right, their creatives adore them. But crucially, so do their clients.
There are times – and we’ve all seen it – when the client simply can’t give us a demographically segmented breakdown of their target audience on Facebook. Nor are they going to provide a complete set of word-count limits for their three-month email campaign.
That’s OK, honestly. Deep down, copywriters know this. At The Giles Agency, we understand that clients give everything they possibly can, but only because our account managers ask the right questions. For us, even if there are a few small holes in a brief, these can be filled in later.
It’s said that you only get out as much as you put in. For copywriters, this amounts to the hours we spend conceptualising and executing ideas. And we can only do this if we trust that the accounts team have done all they can to tease out crucial information from the client. It’s a skill, and it’s one most creatives probably do not possess. Trust them that they’re doing it. Have some faith. After all, they put faith in us as writers.
So there you have it. Here’s some quick advice to sum it all up:
Don’t say: “They changed the brief!”
Do say: “Thanks for this clear, well-written brief, my friend. I will read it now and if I have… Oooh! This is a first! They want to do a TV ad and their budget is US$10 million…”