Why does brief writing cause dread for many people, and what’s the magic formula for writing a brief that will generate the right agency response?

With the dawn of a new planning season or campaign comes the daunting task of squeezing all the product information, internal conversations, brand nuances and dynamics of the decision-making process into a few pages.

The contents of those precious few pages, and even how it’s delivered to potential partners, might well be the difference between an award-winning, career-changing, target-smashing idea…or an hour of your life sat listening to a response that you know quite early on isn’t the right route for your brand.

So why does brief writing cause dread for many people, and what’s the magic formula for writing a brief that will generate the right agency response?

Not to start with a negative, but sadly that magic formula probably doesn’t exist, purely because every brief by definition has to be different and tailored. But to try and cut through the clutter of information that tends to swamp my mind when I have a brief to write, I always ask myself 3 key questions – and considering what I want to see as the answer to these questions always get’s my head into a better space.

Question 1. What are the things that, if included in the response would make me really excited?

Agencies and potential partners don’t want to deliver a dull and uninspiring response as much as you don’t want to be sitting through one – so take the time to give them clear and open transparency on exactly what will really make you and internal stakeholders sit up and take notice.

Of course as a business tasked with responding to a brief, knowing how to actually deliver on this information is an ever-changing and moveable beast and therefore sadly isn’t something I can give the golden ticket to, but there are 2 things that I love to see in a response to a brief;

  • Something that only our brand could do, and that no other brand has done before.
  • Something that will cause our audience to not only feel something but also take action.

Question 2. What do I want the end product to be?

Often overlooked as something that should be obvious, or similarly as something that many brand-owners would argue is precisely what they want to see from an agency, and not something for them to give direction on in a brief.

But taking the time to be clear on exactly how you see this campaign/activation come to life help sets the tone for the people who are tasked with trying to achieve it. We’re talking parameters here, not granular details – For example, is there is a focus platform or media strategy that is recognised as a signature of your brand? Similarly, is there something that should be avoided – a tactic that isn’t supported by your wider business or that you have insight doesn’t work for your brand?

Question 3. What do the people I’m briefing know about my brand?

Bit of a trick question this one, because I’m a firm believer that you should always assume they know nothing.

Not to say that you should copy and paste the whole 9 volumes of your company history into the brief, but there will always be things that you take for granted about your brand that becomes the kernel of information in the hands and mind of a creative that leads to something special.


The answers to these 3 questions will be different for everyone reading this, and in turn potentially different every time you come to write a brief, but the common theme here is time.

Time is the glue that binds on the question of writing effective briefs.

The time taken to really think about what you want to see in the response and capture it succinctly.

The time taken to give as much granular detail about your brand and the opportunity as possible, even if you think they already know it.

And lastly, the time taken to actually go through the brief in person with potential partners makes the world of difference.

So next time that briefing season comes around, start with these 3 questions and hopefully the rest will come.