John Brown - Communications Professional | Briefs are evil. Here’s how to deal with them.
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Briefs are evil. Here’s how to deal with them.

Briefs are evil. Here’s how to deal with them.

I’m going to come out and say it. I don’t like briefs.

Now, please understand, I love new clients, pitching, money etc. But I think briefs are dangerous. They lull us into a false sense of having all the information. Briefs tend to be heavy on tactical requirements and light on business objectives. Briefs also contain sweeping generalisations such as ‘our target audience is teens’ or ‘our products are lightning fast’.

Stick rigidly to a brief and you can be accused of not thinking outside of the box.

Go left field with an idea and you’r wrist is slapped for not following the brief.

But there’s a way of taming the brief beast and that’s to write one yourself.

Born out of frustrated design teams trying to wrestle with what ‘pop’ means to a client, the reverse brief is perhaps as important to the creative industry as fashionable specs and Moleskine notebooks. The act of writing down what you, the consultant, believes is the true issue and what parameters you have to work within brings absolute clarity to the situation.

It also gives the client a chance to correct any misinterpretations and you the chance to truly define the creative and business scope.

Despite this powerful tool being wielded to great effect in other marketing disciplines, in communications we seem to be all to comfortable with the far riskier approach of just ‘responding to the brief’.

So, I thought I’d share what goes into a reverse brief and encourage others to take this important first step before ever busting out PowerPoint and developing a proposal.

  • Summarise the objectives: Prioritise them into primary and secondary objectives but outline what you believe the objectives to be


  • Define the audience: Work with the client to identify workable personas that you are going to target with your comms programme and outline them in the reverse brief. ‘Consumers’ is not an audience


  • Outline an action: It’s all well and good thinking about outputs such as coverage or Tweets, but what action do you want the audience to take during this programme?


  • Nail down the proposition: Describe what you believe to be the thing that makes your client distinctive, and make sure that they agree


  • Define the tone: Some organisations are happy to stick it to the competition others demand a more subtle approach, make sure you define this tone early on


  • Agree the critical elements: You’ll need to rely on the client for somethings, make it clear what these are. Equally, the client will want to emphasise the areas they absolutely can’t do without


  • Draw the creative boundaries: Not everyone want to float something down the Thames, it’s good to get a handle on that first


  • Don’t shy away from the cash: Like it or not, it makes everyones lives easier if budget parameters are set, honestly and fairly. That way no one gets disappointed


Once this reverse brief is written up, get it signed off by the client and away you go.

So, in short, the briefs I receive I look at with an awful lot of suspicion. They’re evil.

The ones I write back to the client are great.


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