BetterBriefs – Marketing briefs: Marketeers and agencies are speaking different languages

Pieter Paul von Weiler and Matt Davies, BetterBriefs; Vaughan Flood, Flood + Partners
In this webinar, expect takeaways on: what are the biggest problems with marketing briefs? What's the impact? And potential ways to reduce the damage and waste

To download the BetterBriefs report, head here.

Key takeaways on marketing briefs

  • The marketing brief is the most important marketing document, but has only been lightly researched.
  • Marketers… Be clear on your strategies and use clear and simple language. Don’t send briefs to your agencies that you’re not happy with.
  • Creative agencies… Don’t be silent. Flag what’s missing and clarify what’s unclear with your clients. Better briefs are your responsibility, too.
  • In the end, better briefs drive better business results.

[07:44] How did the BetterBriefs Project come about?

  • An important topic, lightly researched
    • UK:
      • The Briefing Process by IPA, MCCA, PRCA, & ISBA (2003).
      • Sample Size = 277 (121 marketers and 156 agencies).
    • NL:
      • Een goede brief is het halve werk by SWOCC (2007).
      • Literature study, including 37 interviews with marketers and agencies.
    • USA:
      • Enhancing Client-Agency Relationships by the ANA (2015).
      • Sample size = 231 (126 marketeers and 105 agencies).
    • Global:
      • Briefing for Integrated Communications by the WFA (2014 & 2017).
      • Sample size = 78 (32 brand owners and 46 from agencies) for the study.

[10:10] The aim of the study

  • They conducted a survey to help agencies and marketers better understand where marketing briefs fail and where they succeed.
  • They hope the results help both parties—marketers and creative agencies—have better and more objective conversations on how to make briefs better.
  • A special survey designed to uncover feelings standard surveys do not reach
    • Created in conjunction with Flood, using their groundbreaking, award-winning approach to surveys, with questions designed to capture emotions, instinctive associations, and hidden feelings
    • Generated a vivid picture from over 1700 highly-engaged respondents
      • 1731 respondents from 70 countries
      • 944 from marketing organizations
      • and 786 from creative agencies

[14:25] Glossary of terms

  • Marketer = brief-writers, contributors, and approvers all employed by a brand (aka the client)
  • Creative agency = account managers, strategists, creatives, or management (aka the agency)
  • Marketing brief = the brief written by the client for the purposes of developing a creative solution (aka the client brief)

[16:17] Part 1: The Problem—Marketers and agencies are on different planets.

Both marketers and agencies agree that briefs are important.

  • “It’s difficult to produce good creative work without a good marketing brief.”
      • 89% of marketers agree.
      • 86% of creative agencies agree.

However, despite their importance and value, most marketing briefs are neglected.

    • “The brief is one of the most valuable and paradoxically most neglected tools marketers have to create good work.”
      • 90% of marketers agree.
      • 92% of creative agencies agree.
      • In the UK, briefs have grown in importance since the last time they were researched.
  • “It’s difficult to produce good creative work without a good marketing brief.
    • 2003: 79% of marketers agree, 90% of creative agencies agree.
    • 2021: 90% of marketers agree, 91% of creative agencies agree.
  • “The brief is one of the most valuable and paradoxically most neglected tools marketers have to create good work.”
    • 90% of marketers agree.
    • 92% of creative agencies agree.

Both marketers and agencies acknowledge that writing briefs isn’t easy.

  • “Writing briefs is hard.”
    • 82% of marketers agree.
    • 83% of creative agencies agree.

And it doesn’t get any easier the more experience you have.

  • “Writing briefs is hard.”
    • 78% of marketers with 0-7 years experience agree.
    • 81% of marketers with 8-14 years experience agree.
    • 84% of marketers with 15+ years experience agree.

Most marketers think they’re good at writing briefs; most agencies disagree.

  • “I consider myself/my clients good at writing briefs.”
    • 80% of marketers agree.
    • 10% of creative agencies agree.

The perceived quality of the last three briefs written/received is concerning.

  • Marketers:
    • 31%: “Not good enough”
    • 52%: “Ok”
    • 17%: “Good”
  • Creative agencies:
    • 75%: “Not good enough”
    • 22%: “Ok”
    • 3%: “Good”

Creative agencies think most marketing briefs lack focus, clarity, and inspiration.

  • “Choose from the list below the words that describe the typical marketing brief.”
    • Unfocused: 83%
    • Unclear: 79%
    • Dull: 65%
    • Thoughtless: 44%
    • Shoddy: 39%
    • Useful: 37%
    • Useless: 26%
    • Thoughtful: 15%
    • Inspiring: 9%
    • Clear: 5%
    • Well-Crafted: 4%
    • Sharp: 3%

Most marketers think that the briefs they write provide clear strategic direction; most agencies disagree.

  • “The briefs I/my client write(s) provide clear strategic direction.”
    • 78% of marketers agree.
    • 5% of creative agencies agree.

Clarity is key in briefs; however, most marketers and creative agencies aren’t even speaking the same language.

  • “The briefs I/my client write(s) provide clear strategic direction.”
    • 83% of marketers agree.
    • 7% of creative agencies agree.

[33:44] Part 2: The Impact—A lot of time, money, and energy is wasted.

Rebriefs occur too often for anyone’s liking.

    • “Rebriefs happen too often.”
      • 69% of marketers agree.
      • 73% of creative agencies agree.

Most marketers understand the negative impact of a rebrief.

      • Time lost/wasted: 43%
      • Add to cost: 18%
      • Leads to confusion: 13%
      • Demotivating: 10%
      • Positive effect/no problem: 9%
      • Damages relationships: 5%
      • Necessary because of poor initial brief: 5%
      • Worst outcomes: 3%

It means that, unfortunately, the creative process is not always used for what it’s intended.

  • 6 out of 10 marketers admit to using the creative process to clarify the strategy.
  • And in the UK, this is happening more than it has in the past.
    • “The creative process is often used to clarify the strategy.”
      • 2003: 35% of marketers agree, 79% of creative agencies agree.
      • 2021. 57% of marketers agree. 81% of creative agencies agree.
  • A lot of time and effort is wasted as a result of poor-quality briefs.
  • Poor briefs can have a big impact on marketing budgets.
  • It is estimated that 1 out of 3 marketing budgets are wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work.

[41:53] Part 3: A Way Forward—Suggestions for making briefs better

  • Be clear on the strategy before writing the brief.
    • Creative agencies are twice as energised to work on briefs that provide clear strategic direction.
    • To help provide clear direction, ensure every marketing brief contains clear objectives.
      • “Rank in order of importance the most critical elements of a marketing brief.”
  1. Objectives
    • 61% (marketers)
    • 71% (creative agencies)
  2. Insights
    • 18% (marketers)
    • 9% (creative agencies)
  3. Target group definition
    • 13% (marketers)
    • 8% (creative agencies
  • Bring more structure to the briefing process.
    • More than 7 in 10 marketers state that agency briefings could work better if they were more structured.
  • Get the right people to sign-off the brief.
    • Half of the time, the right people aren’t signing off marketing briefs internally.

Q and A on marketing briefs

Q: Where do you stand on the agency questioning or challenging the brief?

A: Yes, you should absolutely question it. Hesitancy to question is a massive issue. The brief is almost never perfect the first time you receive it. Talk to the agency before you finalize the brief and share notes. Don’t let the brief become a surprise to them on the day.


Q: How much are these differences due to the “transactional” relationship that exists between clients and agencies?

A: There could be a transactional relationship happening. But if that’s the case, there are lots of moments within the briefing process to manufacture a more personal relationship to minimize the “transactional” dynamics.


Q: What are the best examples of briefing meetings or sessions that you’ve encountered?

A: The brief is the document, and the briefing is the process. You need to invest time in both. The more time you invest in the process, the more you take the agency and the creative minds into your world—into the products or services that you’re selling. Even if you think you’re selling something “boring”, it’s still really important to get carried away with enthusiasm around the benefits of your product or service.


Q: Are there any examples or templates of good marketing briefs that people use? Should you even seek out templates, or should it be a custom process?

A: Start with the basics. Be clear on what you’re trying to do, what product you’re selling, who you’re trying to sell to, and whose minds you’re trying to change. Don’t go too fancy. There are many templates to choose from, but what’s more important than the framework is to keep the brief as short as possible to maximize clarity.


Q: Should briefing expectations and process be written into agency and client service agreements from the start of a relationship? Does the panel agree that there are different levels of briefs and that some need to be more strategic than others.

A: Yes, there are different types of briefs, from ideas briefs to production briefs. The former document will be more expensive than the latter because there will be more people working on it. A strict service agreement may at least serve as a stake in the ground, so try it out.


Q: Regarding the survey, were there any differences across geographies in how the client-agency relationship works around briefing? I’ve found that U.S. clients are a lot more into communicating, whereas UK clients just want us to get on with it and European clients are somewhere in-between.

A: Top line data seems to be fairly consistent amongst most metrics. Yes, agency-client relationships are very different in different parts of the world. Regardless, look at a brief as a contract between two parties. And a contract, such as for a mortgage, shouldn’t be broken. So, why are we writing poor contracts? Why are we changing contracts halfway through? No matter which country you’re in, you should just focus on making the contract better.