Telling a good brief from a bad one – and saving £50k

Dave SullivanWhat are the main issues when it comes to unpacking a pitch brief? Well, firstly, I’d say a good brief shouldn’t need unpacking. That’s because a good brief should be clear and, well… brief. If it needs unpacking, then it hasn’t been properly thought through. If it’s long and laboured, it isn’t a good brief.

So, what is a good brief? Well, to me, a good client brief succinctly defines a problem. And, because we’re talking specifically about pitch briefs, not just an existing problem, but a new problem, or at least an old one reframed. And that’s it. Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s not as simple as it sounds. It requires clarity of thought and an egoless discipline not to wander into the dare I say it, realms of ‘client creativity.’

Big Ben-sized alarm bells ring when pitch briefs begin to offer solutions. At worst it suggests an inability to relinquish control, at best a nervousness that will never allow the kind of work that drives results, or at the very least gets noticed. And we all know who gets the blame when work doesn’t work.

Briefs that come with ready-made solutions render us merely stylists, which isn’t value for money. As agencies, we offer so much more. In many ways, defining the problem defines our role. It empowers us to use strategy and creativity to find new and exciting ways to solve problems. Put simply, we’ll understand what we’ve been asked to do, we’ll be able to judge what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll know when we’ve cracked it.

I’ve worked with good briefs, and I’ve worked with bad. A good brief, that identifies a problem well, will instantly fill your head with ideas. Because ideas are solutions to problems. A poor brief will keep you spinning. It will drag you into dead-end cul-de-sacs filled with those 1960s-built bungalows (and not the cool type). You’ll be waiting for that ‘nailed it!’ moment, but it will never come. No matter how many kid’s birthday parties and nights out on the town you sacrifice, the solution will always elude you. That’s because the brief’s been kind of half-nailed already. But poorly. A brief’s job is not to answer the brief.

So, if that’s the problem, what’s the solution? Well, as is the case with a lot of things in life, it’s communication. So often we take a pitch brief from a client and start working without properly questioning it. Perhaps we feel it’s too early in the relationship to start holding clients to account. But, there are nice ways to do it. What better time to get to know each other than at the beginning? If you don’t build good foundations, your house will quickly fall down. Define your roles. Sus out who’s responsible for what. Be honest. Be open. I don’t believe that a decent client isn’t up for a conversation about their brief. And, if they aren’t, perhaps question your alignment. Maybe you’re not right for one another. It happens.

Anyway, here at Tribal we believe in talking things through early on. Why wait for the tissue meeting before you resume dialogue? That’s nuts. You’re most likely two weeks or more into the process by then. Time and money have been burned. Conversations about the requirement early on are invaluable. Particularly when you’re about to invest what’s likely to be well north of £50,000.

Winning a pitch is winning the opportunity to work with a new partner. ‘With’ being the operative word. So, start early because, guess what, great clients want to get to great work as much as we do. And to be honest, I’ve never made a great piece of work without a great client.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my old mate, Einstein. He’s able to say in just a few words what took me nearly 700. Maybe he should have written more briefs.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”

Dave Sullivan is creative director at Tribal Worldwide

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