If you’ve ever suffered through a difficult client/agency relationship, you’ll know what a frustrating experience it can be. As the client you feel like you’re not getting the agency’s best work and are wasting your money. Meanwhile the agency tears out its hair at your indecisiveness, while submitting new stories of outrage to

In most cases, this strain between the two sides is a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, much of which stems from a single source: a badly prepared creative brief.

The creative brief is an extremely important document that should clearly communicate a campaign’s desired direction and outcomes, while educating the agency about the client. Yet too many clients see it as just a painful form to complete and don’t give it the required time and thought.

When this happens, agencies are more likely to miss the mark with their creative efforts because the brief didn’t provide enough guidance or steered them the wrong way. For an agency’s creative team, the brief is like a bible, which is why “that wasn’t in the brief” is a commonly heard excuse when client feedback introduces new ideas and requests.

If you’re a client about to work with an agency – whether you’re in the marketing department or a business owner – don’t blow off the brief. Instead use these six tips to ensure your next creative brief gets you exactly the campaign your business needs.

Tip #1

Write your own brief


Completing a brief form sent to you by an agency is a pain. That’s because it’s a standard template designed to cover the diverse needs of their clients. So instead of struggling to make their template fit your business, create your own brief from scratch. That way you can focus on your intentions, ideas and idiosyncrasies and not on how to shoehorn them into the agency’s template.

Tip #2

Split your thought process

Think about your brief in two distinct parts. The first is a macro view of your business and target audience and will probably be the same for all of your creative briefs – saving you valuable time in future. The second part is an ever-changing micro view that focuses on the specific campaign you’re discussing and should include goals, direction, references and must-haves.

Tip #3

Have a single compelling idea

When a potential customer experiences your new campaign, what is the one thing you want them to take away? This single compelling idea is the most critical part of your brief – 80% of your brief creation time should be focused on it. But you don’t want your agency to just come back with it as a tagline. It should act as more of a starting point for their creative process.

Tip #4

Be guided by your goal

What are you looking for from the agency? Do you want fresh creative insights and inspiration or just new strategies and tactics for your existing messaging? If it’s the former, your brief should be less prescriptive and focus on providing the information that will let the creative team do its thing. For the latter, be clear about your new objective and which assets to use.

Tip #5

Mind your language

Resist the temptation to simply copy and paste language from existing promotional material or internal documents (unless you wrote it yourself). You’re responsible for the relationship with your agency so you need be able to explain everything about the business in your own words. And remember to keep the language simple, concise and jargon-free. Would your grandma understand it?

Tip #6

Don't write the brief

As an alternative to all of the above, have a meeting with your agency where you tell them everything they need to know about your business. Then have the agency write the brief. It’s a great way of ensuring they’ve really listened and understood your needs. Of course, you’ll still need to spend time thinking about the initial story you tell them so the above tips remain useful.

Additional resources

Check out more content from Hightail.

  • Five reasons to consider an agency

  • Better feedback, better results

  • Webinar: Five techniques for unlocking marketing creativity