How did you prepare for your last holiday? While spontaneous types might just turn up at Heathrow and see what takes their fancy, most of us put a lot more time and energy into the planning. You debate the kind of break you want, consider the best time to go and try to set a budget. Imagine then, if you asked someone else to book it for you – a good old fashioned travel agent (remember those?). You’d have to be very clear about your wishes to avoid that moment when the airport transfer drops you off at Hotel Fiasco and your fellow passengers wave goodbye with faces saying, ‘rather you than me, mate’. Yet when it comes to planning a marketing campaign, businesses often fail to properly brief their internal teams or outside support.

Without agreement on deliverables, hours are wasted on revisions. Without timings and budget, the project slips and costs mount. Critically, without clear objectives, no one measures whether the project was worthwhile. A thorough brief which captures key information concisely will make your campaign more effective and efficient.

I’ve shared my thoughts on what a brief should ask in the list below. The conversational style is deliberate – a brief shouldn’t be a form you email to someone to fill in their instructions. Ideally, it should be a discussion guide for the key people involved to chat through. After you’ve spoken, the answers can be captured in written form, agreed, then that document used as a reference throughout the campaign. Here are the main areas I find are the most important to pin down:

What are we trying to achieve and how will we know if we’ve achieved it?

There will be a business challenge that the company is trying to tackle with this project – it often boils down to new business or repeat business. Ask why we’re really doing the project to understand the direction we need to go in. Then, consider what marketing can do to help. For example, a company may want more people to come to their concert, but if it’s raining on the night and fewer people show up, there’s not a lot marketing can do about that, so you don’t want attendance as your only metric. Your marketing objectives should be directly related to the efforts you will control, focused (one is ideal, any more than three can make the project unmanageable) and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, responsible – state who’s delivering, and time-bound).

Who are we trying to speak to and what do we know about them?

By trying to reach ‘everyone’, your message loses relevance and you risk wasting money on people who aren’t interested. Narrow your focus to a priority audience and share all the information you know about them, whether from a customer database or market research. If you can design your campaign with your audience in mind (e.g. ‘Sarah, 42, lives in Bradford, has attended an event before’), it’s more likely that you’ll choose more effective channels, your message will resonate and in turn your campaign will deliver. If you can identify different audiences with distinct needs, then they each need their own approach.

Have we done anything like this before, and what did we learn?

If you’ve got results from a past campaign, share them. Get feedback from people who worked on the campaign, and if you get a chance, speak to customers about it. Learn from lessons to avoid past mistakes and to leverage successful tactics.

What is the competition up to?

Consider who else is talking to your audience and how you’re going to cut through that noise. It might be a direct rival or it could even be an alternative. It’s important to identify what makes your offering stand out.

Is there anything specific that must be delivered?

This is a tricky question. It may be that a company believes they need a flyer with a yellow background and a picture of a cow. But if after asking all the questions above, it seems like the yellow flyer isn’t the right solution, ideally there should be room to suggest what might be more effective. If the deliverables are fixed, they should be clearly stated, but wherever possible this section should be sufficiently open for a recommendation.

What message do we want to get across?

What do we want the audience to do, and what’s in it for them? Use an appropriate tone of voice to articulate what makes your offering special. Try to keep any call-to-action simple – ideally send people to one place rather than confusing them with lots of options. Make sure the place you send them corresponds to the success metrics you set earlier – if it’s web visits you’re measuring, don’t dilute the impact by sending people to Facebook.

Are there any guidelines we need to stick to?

If there are brand guidelines, share them as an attachment and reference any important parts here. If there are legal considerations (e.g. image rights, copyright issues, registered trademarks, regulatory standards), list them. This will save lots of time in future amends!

When do you need it by?

Ensure any important deadlines are captured, and try to break down the key milestones if you can. Once it’s approved, this brief should be everyone’s reference point for their planning, so it’s essential that this section is agreed by everyone involved, and any concerns flagged early.

How much money do we have?

Be as clear here as possible. If a budget isn’t set, at least offer guidance as to any limits –  recommendations for a £1000 budget are far different to a £100,000 one. If you can, break down how the funds should be split, for example between design, media or printing.

Who’s going to approve the work?

Clarify early-on who will be involved, what level of authorisation they will have and how they would like to be communicated with. For example, the business owner may have ultimate sign-off but may not want to be on every status call. It’s important to assign roles to the main project team so everyone knows who’s doing what.


If you want to avoid marketing campaign horrors and need help with your brief, get in touch!


© 2020 Faye Levi