A vague and imprecise brief is a loose cannon; it is not true that it challenges the creativity of those who receive it, instead it creates only misunderstanding and confusion.
How can you give an effective brief? The brief is a document for passing along information and instructions to someone for a particular thing. This “particular thing” usually serves a purpose for those who give the brief.
Everything should start from there, from the purpose of the “briefer”. There are mainly three reasons why a company “briefs” a communication agency (broadly speaking):
1. to evaluate different agencies (in the case of those who are bidding for a contract)
2. to evaluate different project ideas (in the case of a task to an agency that has already been chosen)
3. to delegate the execution of a project ( in the case of a project that has already been chosen).
In this article I will concentrate on how to give a good brief for an event or an incentive trip (and this is what I take care of), particularly for competitions.
Let’s get back to the business aims, so far we understand that the brief, having different uses, should be conceived in different manners. In the vast majority of the cases this does not happen, because many companies, wanting to evaluate the agencies through their projects, ask them to work as if they were actually to. It is normal that at the time of the competition the company does not have all of the elements at hand yet and the objectives are not always clear yet so these briefs often result in being incomplete, vague, ambiguous, difficult to interpret and unreliable sources on which to create a project and make a serious commitment with third parties.
I would like to emphasize that a brief with unclear objectives produces a lot less, in terms of efficiency and quality, than what you could otherwise obtain from the same agencies, with the risk of eliminating some because they did not “read your mind”. A bad brief is a waste of time, resources and opportunities for both parties. It is often true that the real event is very different from the original brief because, once the agency has been chosen and the project defined, all the missing information has to be revealed and the proposals must be improved.
I suggest however that companies be more explicit when they start calling companies for a competition and to clarify on what basis they will be judged. The creativity of their ideas? The quality/cost ratio? The quantity of services that can be provided for a fixed price? Organization and speed for reaching a fast-approaching due date? Etc. If there is more than one objective, they should be clearly and hierarchically defined.
The brief for the competition, that is a simple, preliminary yet not vague, proposal is useful for the company at this stage. Clearly stating what you want to achieve produces comparability between the proposals and assures the agencies who will then be less cautious in exposing their prices and more focused on results. And this is no small thing.
Once you have established the criteria for judging, a good brief (one that is effective for the Company that gives it) should contain four blocks of information and requirements. If you follow this framework, it all becomes easier.
1) Background. All possible information about the company: business sector, mission, products, positioning, image and advertising, key people (perhaps even an organizational chart), significant events (corporate, market, product), type of event desired (incentives, conventions, leisure travel by itself or with work content, etc.), a brief company history and previous events.
2) Objectives and strategies. General objectives of the company (e.g. reinforce the South-Central area) and objectives of the event (e.g. launching products with high margins), strategies already in place (marketing, communication, business, etc.), feedback desired, etc.
3) Target. Who are they and how many participants will be at the event: relationship with the company, age, culture, socio-economic status, sex, previous experiences (individual and/or business), tastes, preferences (including food), geographical origin and distribution, and basically all that is known about these people.
4) Constraints and must-haves. Here are all the decisions already taken, the stakes: from the starting date to the duration of the event, from treatment for executives to the presence or absence of their partners from their places of origin to the destination arrangements, the number of meetings, the number of outdoor activities, and so on, including any other organizational, economic, procedural or purely preferential requirement (e.g. the wish to go to Bangkok).
Budget: no reasonable proposal can be completed if there is no indication of the costs, but we know that it is often purely an illusion because many people use the competition to get an idea of what they could have and at which price. But those who are shy about their budget should not be surprised when they receive proposals that are absolutely incomparable.
Finally some clear guidance would be helpful to the Agency: its margin of discretion, the areas where they are expected to make suggestions and doubts that are still to be resolved.
I shall conclude by saying that if I were to receive such an invitation for a brief, besides being taken by surprise, I would engage my people to their fullest in order to propose the best of the best. I am sure that most of my colleagues would do the same, with an obvious benefit for the Company.