Clients big and small: Writing the creative brief is not just for your agency!

This point is a sub-set of the "who should write the brief" issue.

I've encountered too many clients who don't bother providing any kind of brief to their advertising agency or creative consultants.

This is a huge mistake.

Writing a creative brief for your creative team puts you, the advertiser, in the driver's seat. Call it whatever you will–communications brief, advertising needs brief, "how to make my advertising better" brief–you need to write something to get the process started.

Your creative team (agency or freelancers) will likely write their own creative brief as a way of articulating back to you, the client, that they understand what the project is all about. (If they don't, you might want to reconsider your relationship.)

Don't be concerned that the brief you get back looks nothing like the brief you submitted. You hired the agency or creative consultants for their professionalism and expertise. Trust them to do their jobs.

Your briefing document should be clear about three things in particular:

1. Tell your agency what you expect the advertising to accomplish.

If you say, "increase sales by X%" that's not too helpful. No agency accepts an assignment from a client with the expectation of seeing sales go flat or drop. Up is a given.

But if you say, "Last year a competitor introduced a new product and we saw our sales go down by X%, so we need to respond" that's a specific problem your creative team can get its head around.

2. Tell your creative team who your product is for, as specifically as you can.

The more you know about who buys your product, the better of you are at targeting a relevant message.

Try to avoid generalities and bullet points. Draw a picture of a particular consumer, an individual. Use specific words to describe who he or she is.

Here's an example of what I mean. It's from a brief written by a UK agency, hhcl/red cell, for a supermarket chain called Iceland:

"Think of the typical, hard-working Mum trying to feed a demanding family on a tight budget. Iceland is a godsend to them with its amazing deals and the advertising draws them in on a regular basis. However they either go straight for the deals or look for favourites, rarely taking the time to browse and find all the new things Iceland are introducing.

"They are family and house proud, live vicariously through celebrity gossip magazines and soaps, have a wide network of sassy Mum-friends (these Mums are surprisingly switched on and 'street smart') and are always looking for something new to make life just a bit easier. Their family is everything, kids especially and it's the needs of the latter that often inform and dictate their needs."

This is from a really well-written brief. But hey, it's not rocket science. You know your consumer well. Your brief to your agency or creative team can easily reflect that fact.

3. Tell your agency what you think the most important message should be about your product.

Resist the urge to list three or four things. Or more. That's too much information. Your advertising can certainly talk about a few key things, but its focus should be on only one.

The one key thing. In creative-brief writing parlance it's often referred to as the Single-minded Proposition.

The brief you get back from your agency will have a box with its version of this phrase. Your brief to them should too.

It's a hard thing to write this Single-minded Proposition. It's the epitome of whittling down your message to its essence.

Here's an example of what you probably should avoid:

"Brand X offers a unique package of features."

Don't laugh. I worked for a client whose marketing manager insisted that was the one key thing.

Here's the one key thing from the hhcl/red cell agency's Iceland creative brief:

"There's more to Iceland than anyone ever knew."

Clients, you need to write your own brief for your agency or creative consultants.

Own the process by starting it yourself.