It’s inevitable that the paths of marketing and advertising will cross. They’re twin industries, joined at the hip. Which is why it’s so important to know how to properly brief an advertising agency.  Depending on what your role in marketing entails, you may have had a little or a lot of experience dealing with the Suits and the Creatives and the dreaded Ninjas that live in Adland. Regardless of your exposure, you’ll definitely know that they’re a strange bunch. So what does it take to get the most out of them when you brief in new work?

You have to go beyond the basics

I’m going to assume that you know the basics of briefing an advertising agency, such as defining your target audience, your strategy, your budget, your objectives and so forth. But to be honest, the basics just aren’t enough.

There must be thousands of basic examples of how to brief an ad agency available online. The Communications Agencies Association of New Zealand (CAANZ) has a cute, five page, basic briefing guide on their site. I only refer to it here in a similar way to the United Nations placing “Danger! Minefield!” signs all over old battlefields. It’s truly average and any brief sheet that says the most important point of a brief is “to save money” needs to be rewritten.

On the other end of the scale, The New Zealand Transport Association, in all its bureaucratic glory, has a 60-page manual on how they brief their advertising partners. They cover almost everything from what font should be used on a billboard design, to how you should evaluate creative concepts. Amazingly, they devote 12 pages of their guide purely on how to avoid “common mistakes” in advertising. That means they’ve set aside 20% of their manual to cover possible negative outcomes to an advertising campaign. Which means that either the other 80% of their guide is very badly written, or briefing an advertising agency isn’t as easy as it seems.

 So what makes a good brief?

The answer to that all-important question is very simple: one that delivers results! After all, advertising is all about results, whether it’s in the form of increased sales, higher profits or better conversions. Your advertising agency has to know exactly what you want them to deliver, and how they deliver it is up to you to decide. That’s why you need to give them the a seriously tight brief.

Who's interested in boring advertising?

Who's interested in boring advertising?

The freedom of a tight brief.

It’s important to set up very strict parameters as early as possible when briefing an advertising agency, simply because you’re asking your advertising agency to be creative. Granted that this is part of their job, but the thing with creativity is that one man’s Picasso is another man’s piece of junk. Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that the size of your target audience is one million people. This means the creative work being produced by your advertising agency has to appeal to a very wide range of folk, so there’s most likely no place for Picasso here. On top of this, there’s always the chance you might alienate your target audience if you’re creative just for the sake of creativity.

Creative freedom has to come with constraints.

You need to rein in your advertising agency and make it clear in the briefing process that this is a financial transaction, and that you expect them to deliver what you’ve all agreed to. If you invested a million dollars on building a new home, you’d expect the builder to build as per the approved plans. You’re not going to want the builder to put together your home with seven bathrooms and one bedroom just because he was feeling creative, so why should your advertising be any different?

Now many people will say you shouldn’t ever constrain creativity and that creative people should be free to do as they please but I disagree. When you enforce constraints, when you make the journey to find real creativity as challenging as possible, that’s when the magic really happens. Who wants to see a daredevil ramp his motorbike over a single car? It’s blasé and we know it. That’s why we demand that daredevils ramp their bikes across the Grand Canyon, over rows of hovering helicopters, through burning hoops of napalm while being chased by Stinger missiles. That’s where the glory is, that’s what the audience wants to see and that’s where you will find true creativity.

Advertising, and the associated creativity found within the industry, has to have restraints. Every creative person working in an advertising agency wants to break the rules and push the envelope right out of the box into some new, as yet undefined, realm. But seriously, let them do it with their hands tied behind their back.