I was handed a difficult document the other day, a long marketing plan heading well into double digit pages. The section on communication was difficult to read, mainly because it lacked direct prompts for development of material.

The point of communication is to achieve a result. If no result is needed, then no communication is needed. Without the prompt to achieve the result, the brief to the agency meanders, the agency has to clutch at straws, interpret the needs, wonder if it is doing the right thing, and justify itself with creativity, rather than goal directed messaging at the right time, that produces the result that makes everyone from the customer to the accountant happy.
If the communication brief is written well, there should be a direct and visible result in terms of what is needed, whether it is a direct selling message, a retention exercise, a behavioural change message or an opportunity to link a brand to soft aspect, such as involvement in a cause or issue.
Here is an example of a bad brief: “Make us an ad for St. Valentines Day.”
Your baseline expectation on this is hearts, cherubs and some form of script font, with the words, ‘romance’ and ‘Valentines’. The call to action might be something like, “Celebrate the romance of Valentine’s Day with us.”
Here’s a translation of that brief into something useful to the advertiser and the agency. “We want middle aged couples to associate us with enjoyment of being together. We are a restaurant that caters to middle aged couples, who want a quiet place to spend time together over a gourmet meal. We want to introduce ourselves to couples with a special offer on Valentine’s Day with a range of platters for two.”
Analysis of those three sentences shows how the communication will produce a different, far more effective approach.
“We want middle aged couples to associate us with enjoyment of being together.”
This is a competitive statement that plays to the marginalisation of the segment. There is an understanding of who the venue wants to attract. The advertising should show a romantic middle aged couple. If you need young couples, say so and expects a reflection of youth culture instead. It should clearly maximise the potential of the event by attracting a specific target, not watering down by going for the ‘man on the street’. Middle aged couples are unlikely to want the excitement of a night club or a party. Middle aged couples are more likely to spend. Couples at tables are better business than singles at tables.
“We are a restaurant that caters to middle aged couples, who want a quiet place to spend time together over a gourmet meal.”
This reaffirms the statement on the segment however it also says more about the appeal of the venue which in this case is a quiet place where the couples can focus on one another over a good meal. It will tell the agency to focus on emotional intimacy and good food, rather than excitement and a crowd. “We want to introduce ourselves to couples with a special offer on Valentine’s Day with a range of platters for two.”
That establishes the call to action for the segment, and the expected result of the advertisement. It is clear and simple enough for everyone to understand.
Think of this briefing approach as a catechism in obtaining results.
Who are we speaking to?
What are we saying?
What do we expect them to do?
The more specific, the better the result will be. And please also bear in mind that the ‘man on the street’ is likely to drink cheap alcohol, possibly meths, so reserve that description solely for substance abuse initiatives.
There is one more benefit to this approach. If the brief is clear, the agency will spend far less time on getting the communication right. There won’t be much in the way of back-and-forth, and mounting hours. The time spent by the communicator is costly, and the agency billing hours will mount.
Spend a bit of time on your briefs for far better results.