In my previous post I discussed how to write an effective marketing communications brief. Once your brief has been approved, then the next stage is to organise a face-to-face agency briefing session. This can be an area fraught with difficulties, yet it is crucial you get this right since a good briefing session is often the foundation to a great campaign.

The purpose of the briefing session is three-fold:

  • To ensure that the agency understand what is required, and that they have all the raw material they need from the client.
  • To involve the agency in finalising the campaign requirements.
  • To inspire the agency, so that they emotionally engage with the task.

It’s advisable to invite all the agencies who will be working on the campaign to attend the briefing meeting (for example the advertising, direct marketing, digital, media, print management and public relations agencies) so that all parties are aligned on what is required. You should send them all a copy of the marketing communications brief a few days beforehand so that they have a chance to interrogate it, and are therefore able come to the briefing session armed with questions. It’s probably most useful if the creative agency is represented by the account planner and the account manager (ie the ones who will go on to write the agency creative brief).

It is generally a good idea to have the client Product Marketing Manager attend in order to provide additional supporting detail relating to the product, the business objectives and the market-place. You must be clear though that their role does not over-extend into the creative approach.

It’s helpful if individuals who attend the briefing meeting, particularly those on the client side, are the same ones who go on to attend the agency creative execution presentation – in order to encourage a consistent approach. It’s therefore very important to get all the key players to attend the initial briefing session. You’ve probably already experienced how disruptive it can be when one of the key players doesn’t attend and then starts giving their input after the event – which may not align with what was agreed by everyone else in the briefing meeting! According to ‘Ad Contrarian’ blogger Bob Hoffman:

the best creative work happens when the real decision maker and the real creative leader have a good relationship and work closely together. The worst creative work is always the result of layers of people supervising layers of people.

In terms of the structure of the briefing meeting, it’s a good idea to start by asking the agency if they understood the brief: was it clear enough? Did it contain the right amount of relevant information? Did it inspire them? If not, what was missing for them? (you should make a note of the agency’s feedback to these points, so that they can be re-visited in the post-campaign review).

Rather than reciting the brief verbatim, pick out the key sections and provide some insight into your thinking behind them, in order to help ‘flesh-out’ the agencies’ understanding. You should not however, be adding in new information that was missing from the brief at this stage. If possible, you should bring the product itself along to the briefing session, so that you can demonstrate its features and benefits (and also any short-comings) – relative to competing products.

The focus of the briefing session should be on the single-minded customer proposition – it should not prescribe any specific creative approach – even implicitly. That said though, it is helpful to let the agency know about any creative approaches which have been particularly successful or unsuccessful in the past – but only for the purpose of providing the agency with background information. You might also want to show examples of the kind of work that is exciting you (or just as importantly, anything that you want to avoid).

Finally, in terms of the location of the briefing session, you may wish to consider holding it in a particular location that brings to life the prospect’s problem, stimulating all five senses. This helps to root the brief in the real world, demonstrating the situation that the brand needs to address. For example, for a restaurant chain you could hold a briefing session around a large table in a representative restaurant.

Hopefully this has given you some useful pointers on how to ensure you get the most out of the agency briefing meeting, avoiding the common pitfalls. The next stage is for the agency to start work on their own ‘Creative Brief’ – more on that next time!

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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