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Agency Creative Briefing

When it comes to the question of “Budget” agency creative briefing can be like a game of high stakes poker, with neither party wanting to reveal too much of their hand. One side asking “What budget do you have?”, with the other asking “How much will it cost?” It doesn’t have to be this way, and with a decent briefing process and mutual trust, it’s easy to reach an agreement that meets the needs of both parties. This is a key point. The deal cemented needs to leave both parties feeling that they have reached a commercially attractive outcome.

Agency briefing

In this article, I look at how you should approach it from a client’s perspective, in order to get the best from your agency when briefing creative development. Imagine the scenario. A buyer walks into a car showroom, and approaches a sales representative. Sales Rep: Good morning, how can I help you? Buyer: Hi. I’d like to buy a car. SR: Do you have a budget in mind? (We need to start somewhere) B: Not really. (If I reveal my hand, he’ll spend all my money for me, but I have £25K) SR: OK. What do you need the car to do? B: I need 7 seats for family holidays, as well as being able to tow a caravan. It needs to be easy to drive and park around town, and economical with it. On the weekends I’d like to be able to put the top down, and enjoy exhilarating drives in the country. And I’d like it to be fast off the lights. I’d like a Tech Pack, Comfort Pack, Lighting pack, Seat pack, Storage pack, upgraded sound system, leather, big alloys and matt finish paint. SR: That’s quite a list. When would you like it by? B: We’re off to Cornwall in 3 days. This may sound ridiculous and far-fetched, but it makes several points. I’ve seen numerous press ads in trade press where the only thing missing is the kitchen sink. The key to managing this situation are a decent briefing process and trust. Let’s look at these in turn.


Every client/ agency relationship starts from scratch at some point. However comprehensive and thorough the pitch process was, both sides have to get to know, understand and trust one-another. It’s the same as any relationship, building and developing over time. In a personal relationship, I think it’s fair to say that generally speaking, we start from the principle of qualified trust, that builds over time. By this I mean that we assume our new friend/ partner to be honest and trustworthy, but we’re unlikely to give them a set of house keys on day #1. A client/ agency relationship needs to start on the same basis. Qualified trust. Nowhere is this more essential than the “How much budget do you have?” question. You should know how much money you have and what you want in return, but there’s always a degree of uncertainty. “What will it cost?”, “What can I get for my money?” Experience forms a big part of you, the client, understanding what you can get for your money: Single press ad; re-size; artwork amend; digital banners in multiple formats; rich media; multiple sizes etc. etc. You will need to trust your agency to provide an honest cost, while accepting the fact that if you ante up a £50K budget, they’re unlikely to respond with a proposal that spends £5K. If you just don’t know what you can get, then the practical option open to you is to ask for Small/ Medium/ Large costs, each having a different set of deliverables. This will increase the workload required of the agency, so it’s not ideal on a routine basis. Clamming up on the budget question just isn’t the solution, and leaves everyone in no-mans land.
River Turtle

The Briefing Process

The briefing process employed will be influenced by many factors including the quantity and complexity of the campaign deliverables, cost, and the degree to which your agency understands your brand, product/ service, competitive landscape and you as a client.

For more complex, costly or innovative campaigns it may help significantly to brief in person, including the creative(s) who will work on the project, and anyone responsible for overseeing the work. This allows for a walk-through of the brief, for supporting information to emerge and a Q&A style discussion.

For simple briefs, it should be sufficient to send the brief via email, discuss this with the Project Manager, and then sit back.

Briefing Template

A standard briefing template should ensure that both the client and the agency have a clear and shared view as to what is required, why, and when. The act of producing one may result in some internal soul-searching, which is no bad thing.

The client needs to be clear what they’re saying, why, how their product/ service is differentiated and who they’re talking to. If any of these points are unclear, it’s inadvisable to issue a brief, as failure is a likely outcome.

Background/ Overview

This should set the scene for the campaign/ deliverable, providing sufficient information about your objectives, business, product/ service, target audience, and your competitors.

Three or four short paragraphs of narrative should be sufficient on this point.

Primary objective

This should be a single, succinct statement that clearly sets out the most important single thing that you wish to achieve. The longer and more woolly/ waffly this becomes, the less your agency will be able to deliver a targeted and effective deliverable.

Secondary objectives

Having identified the single most important thing you want your campaign to deliver, you can now list out anything else that would be a great by-product of this. This list should be relatively short (2 to 3 items), else you run the risk of creating confusion for your agency, and creating expectations internally that may not be met.

Target Audience

It is highly likely that you will have personas developed for your brand and product/ service, so it may simply be a case of including those here. If you don’t have this, then some or all of the following should be included as relevant:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income/ Wealth
  • Lifestyle/ Interests
  • Socio demographics
  • Needs/ Wants

Secondary audience

Depending on how targeted your communication, you may have secondary and/ or tertiary audiences who are not the focus, but who you would happily market and sell to. In this section, you effectively repeat the format of the Primary Audience (above).

The Product/ Service

This section describes in sufficient detail just what your product/ service does, including key features, benefits, limits, advantages etc.

Whatever you’re selling, there will be points that can be called out that allow your prospective customers to compare and contrast what you offer against your competitors.

A short narrative introduction will help, coupled with a bulleted list of key points.

If you have product/ service details on your website, it will prove useful to link to it.

Additionally, if you are running a campaign that is designed to direct people to a specific page on your website, it will help your agency if you include the URL of this page here.

The single most important thing to say

In one, short, succinct sentence, you need to say exactly the message that you want to get across.

Rational reasons to believe

Rational reasons to believe are those qualities of your company and product/ service that mean that your target audience should believe that you are the right company to do business with.

Rational reasons are potentially vast in number, including: heritage; location; employee count; financial backing; senior people; service; quality; flexibility; opening hours; specialism; cost; many more.

Ideally these should be points of differentiation over your competitors, but they are your strongest attributes.

Emotional reasons to believe

While the rational reasons to believe are designed to appeal to the head, the emotional reasons to believe are talking to the heart. Whatever you’re selling, you need to convey how your product/ service will add enjoyment, protection, fulfilment or excitement to the person buying your offering.

This section can be a series of short statements and/ or bullet points.


A set of realistic and honest timescales for deliverables. This could simply be the final deliverables, or individual stages. If you have a hard deadline (e.g. product launch) you may consider adding in a little contingency.


This is a list of what you want at the end of the engagement, and could include some or all of:

  • Physical stock
  • Artwork
  • Print ready artwork
  • Digital assets
  • Original images


Going into any creative briefing process you should also have defined Brand Guideline and Personas as a minimum, and these should be attached to the brief.

The following video brings the whole Agency vs Client dynamic to life, though it uses some pretty fruity language!

That’s it. There’s not a whole lot to it.