Creative brief. Two little words, yet they seem to make even the most veteran of marketers shake in their boots. The problem is, creative briefs can make or break a project so it’s important to nail them to make sure both you and the agency do the best possible job.

Think of the creative brief as a navigational tool. It forms the foundation of the project and determines its direction – it ensures everyone involved in the project shares the same vision and is solving the same problem. If there’s a disconnect between your brief and the agency’s interpretation of if it, the outcome isn’t going to solve anything.

So, without further ado, here’s our brief guide to briefing a creative agency to ensure your creative briefs hit the mark, every time…

Ask yourself the right questions.

Any agency worth their salt will likely come at you with lots of questions to get a better understanding of the brief, but to get the project moving in the right direction from day one, ask yourself a few key questions and include the answers in a written brief to provide the background…

  • What’s the problem you need to solve and what’s led to the need for this brief?
  • Where will the designs be used?
  • Who are your competitors and what sets you apart from them?
  • Who’s your ideal customer and what do you want them to do once they’ve seen your creative?
  • Does your brand have a tone of voice (or better yet, brand guidelines)?
  • What can’t the agency do, are there any restrictions in place?
  • How will they (and you) know if they’ve solved the problem (think goals and KPIs)?

Look back to see forward.

To successfully design great outputs, the agency needs to understand what the brand is and where it’s been. So, provide examples of existing marketing materials as this will provide key insights into the brand.

Whether it’s a brochure, slide deck or business card – consider what has been successful and what didn’t really hit the mark. Think about tone of voice, colour, imagery, layout, as one element might be working whilst another isn’t quite right.

This will help the design team in knowing which direction to take and what to avoid. If brand guidelines are available these should be shared with the agency so they can review and ask any questions.

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” – Pablo Picasso

Know your audience.

You know your customers better than anyone. We hope. So, bring along any information you have about your target audience that might help the agency get a better understanding of them.

Whether it’s client feedback, market research or survey results. Anything that will help your creative team understand their motivations and desires will play a key part in the design process.

What makes you so special?

Hopefully you’ve been keeping an eye on those pesky competitors too so use any competitor analysis you might have as this will also inform the design process.

What have they been doing that you’ve liked or disliked? More importantly what makes you different from them? Why should a prospect choose you over them? What’s your USP?

Are you more cost effective? More agile? Do you have a better product or service? More expertise? Whatever it is, it should be clearly communicated through the design so make sure you inform the agency what your key differentiator is.

“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on” – Albert Einstein

Don’t avoid the budget.

Don’t be afraid to share your project budget with your agency. No, not because they want to know exactly how much money you’re willing to part with so they can price accordingly… £10,000 budget? That’ll be £9999.99 please.

The budget is so important when it comes to scoping the work. Of course, the more money you’re willing to spend, the better the outcome. Why? Because no two projects are the same. There’s a misconception that creative design is just putting pen to paper to come up with a fancy logo.

In reality, designers need time to think, to research, to develop a concept and really bring it to life. The more time invested in a project the better the results will be. And ultimately time is money. So being upfront with budget will ensure your creative team can manage your expectations and scope the project accordingly.

Timing is everything.

This might sound obvious but have a clear (and realistic timeframe) in mind. Designers are primed for working at tight deadlines but do you really need to have a new logo designed within 3 days?

The more limitations on time results in less time to research, less time to think and ultimately… well… less time to design.

Having a clear timeframe (and budget) at the beginning of a project will allow the agency to accurately map out the project, so there are no hidden surprises when the invoice comes in!

“Design is thinking made visual” – Saul Bass

Meet face-to-face

Finally, give your agency the chance to meet you face-to-face for both the brief and the pitch. Briefings (and pitches) are always more successful and enjoyable when done in person rather than on a call or email. And not just because there’s usually fancy coffee and posh biscuits.

Face-to-face meetings allow both parties to get to know each other. To assess whether there’s potential for a great working relationship… or if there’s just no chemistry. It’s a bit like going on a first date. You want to get to know each other and see if there’s potential for this to be a long-term thing.

This is really important when the agency is ready to pitch too. Don’t make them email over their presentation. They’ll have spent lots of time and resource in pulling something together that they hope will really wow you, and it just won’t have the same impact if they can’t talk you through it.

“The problem contains the solution” – Michael Bierut

So, there you have it… our brief guide to briefing an agency. Ultimately your creative brief should clarify for everyone involved (whether it be designers, developers or copywriters) all aspects of the project – the aims, objectives, timeline and expected deliverables. If it doesn’t? Well it’s just not a very good brief.