The Four Principles of Briefing Agencies

Quote – “Give me the freedom of a tightly defined brief.” David Ogilvy

Last we delved into the topic of building agency relationships with PUNCH. Building on this, comes the great moment where we need to brief agencies. From a FAME perspective, there are four key principles that underpin effective briefing.

1. Preparation

There’s an old saying along the lines of “preparation is the key to success” and this certainly holds true for the creative briefing process.

“Half baked” briefs inevitably lead to rework which not only wastes time and money but also saps the creative energy of our agency partners.

FAME helps from this perspective, with the overwhelming majority of briefs being based on approved Activity Detailers, developed collaboratively with our agency partners through the Strategy and Activity Plan processes.

In addition, it’s the responsibility of the briefs Owner to ensure that it gets sent through to the agency three days prior to the briefing session.

This will allow the agency time to digest the brief and raise any immediate concerns prior to the session.

The final element of preparation that merits discussion is who should attend the briefing session.

For integrated (multi- discipline) campaigns it’s generally considered best practise to jointly brief the Advertising and Media agencies at the same time – which is what the FAME brief is designed for.

In terms of personnel, we’d recommend that you request the planner and creative team that are going to work on the brief attend the session.

From our side, the briefs Owner and Sponsor should attend the briefing session as a minimum along with any other members of the team that may assist from an immersion perspective – eg. a member of Insights to discuss the Target Audience Profile.

2. Accountability

From our side, accountability involves clearly defining roles and responsibilities on the project – namely the Owner, Sponsor and Decision Maker.

Linked to this, it’s the responsibility of the Owner to get the brief signed off by the Sponsor and most importantly the Decision Maker, prior to the session. For major campaigns, the Decision Maker is the Marketing Director (at a minimum).

This ensures that the expectations of person making the final decision on the creative are aligned to the team that are working on the brief. “She who signs off the idea, needs to sign off the brief.”

In addition, we also need to define the roles of our agency partners in the creative development process – in particular who will be responsible for executing different elements of the campaign once the idea is agreed.

From an agency perspective, accountability means coming prepared to discuss or challenge the brief and ensuring the appropriate members of the team attend the session.

Accountability means:

  • Full team in attendance
  • Timelines are kept
  • Team subscribes to high performance standards and behaviours

3. Immersion

Not only do we need to put time and effort into writing the brief, we also need to think about how we’re going to bring it to life in an inspiring way – engaging the hearts and minds of our agency.

Creating an “experience” that immerses our agency in the key elements of the brief could include:

  • Getting a member of the Insights team to bring to life the Target Audience Profile (dramatise the message)
  • Asking the Media agency to talk about media consumption habits
  • Running a tasting session
  • Playing a history reel or creating a “war room”
  • Staging the session at a location relevant to the brief (mood, atmosphere, sounds)
  • Inviting relevant experts or even consumers
  • Wow your team members with the ‘invite’ and homework
  • Have a dress rehearsal

The following are some examples of how brand teams have added richness to their briefs in the past:


In an attempt to immerse their agency partners (advertising, promotional & media) in the heritage and “substance” of the brand, the VB brand team staged their latest activation briefing at the old Victoria Breweries site. In addition, they invited Trevor Ahoy (long standing Fosters CEO) and head brewer John Cousins to take part in a Q&A session about the brands history.


To dramatise the brands purpose of helping to change peoples mood through colour, the Taubmans client sent pots of paint to the creative teams prior to the briefing session and asked them to paint their office walls – in essence, allowing them to experience the benefit first hand.


To launch one of their new sporting consoles, the Nintendo team briefed their agency in the centre of the MCG – their Activity Target was to sell 89,000 new consoles, exactly the same number of empty seats that are in stadium.

4. Alignment

In the spirit of a relationship with PUNCH, we should be prepared for and open to any challenges our agency partners may have around the brief.

This is not only important from a perspective of sense checking our thinking but it also helps drive alignment around the Task.

Getting our thinking aligned with the agency is a critical part of the process. If you feel you haven’t got alignment after the initial briefing session, get the agency to go away and put their concerns in writing, take them on board and try again.

Remember, having the hard conversations upfront can save a lot of time and money in the long run, not to mention clearing the way for great ideas to flourish.

The CMO’s Perspective: Tom Buday (Nestle)

“The overarching framework that guides our relationships with Agencies (and hence our briefing process) is “Brand Building the Nestle Way.” The platform is similar to what other companies in our peer group uses. Unilever has one. P&G certainly does. Diageo has their approach to doing things.

We spend a lot of time checking about the nitty gritty but important details of successful brand building: selecting target consumers, deeply understanding them; identifying the problems or tensions in their lives that we can solve with our brands, developing brand communication; getting the best from our agency partners; winning in social media; and delivering content and communication that’s attractive, rewarding and business building. The approaches to doing those things should of course be simple and efficient, but equally, they must be managed professionally and rigorously.

We believe that, while there is no one best way to do things, there should not be wide divergence across Nestle in how fundamental brand building tasks are carried out. And, while there are certainly no guarantees when it comes to marketing or brand building outcomes, there are ways of working that increase the odds of success, and it is on these “best practices” that we focus our energy. The way we interact with colleagues is consultative, but it’s not a take it or leave it proposition. We have a Nestle way, and we expect our people as well as agency partners to adopt it, or to propose a better way if they see such opportunity.

One of the big advantages of “Brand Building the Nestle Way” is that more than anything, it’s a philosophy. It’s a set of beliefs about how to put the odds in your favour. Behind it, of course are tools and processes, but at its most fundamental level, it’s a set of convictions that takes only about five minutes to read. It’s not overly complex.

We also felt it was important to establish a consistent vocabulary across our company because we have a lot of marketing people, not to mention agency partners, involved with brand building across Nestle. Consider that we have about 2000 brands, most of which are local.

If we don’t have a consistent vocabulary, we waste time trying to communicate with each other because we’re using the same words to mean different things or different words to mean the same thing. When we say “big idea,” that’s our terminology for a high level, creative idea. Everybody in Nestle gets that. When we say “core insight,” everyone in Nestle knows what that means. Vocabulary consistency is a huge time saver. That, in itself doesn’t empower sharing, but does make it a lot easier and more efficient.

It optimises our ability to brief agencies and in turn to deliver business and creative excellence.

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