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Building a Bulletproof Brief: Defining, Inspiring, and Benchmarking the Process

by Elizabeth Freeman on 01/12/2016 | 3 Minute Read

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A great creative brief can be the most valued part of the creative process. A bulletproof brief is one that defines, inspires, and benchmarks the process. Creating it also establishes a positive client/designer relationship and sets expectations of both parties. A clearly defined set of fundamental goals and challenges underpinned by insightful research and information will set your team on the path to success.

Your design should solve the challenge defined by the brief. And you can play a vital role in making the brief great.


“Give me the freedom of a tight brief” – David Ogilvy


Clients can seem to expect the agency to simply “understand” their needs without explaining the background clearly: you can help by identifying information gaps, working with the client to fill them; making sure that you have access to all the knowledge that is ‘in the client building’ that could be relevant ;that you understand who all the client stakeholders are and what their input is. Shared ownership of the brief across client and agency through all stages of design, evaluation, and implementation makes for a smooth and efficient creative process.


How do briefs go wrong?  

Buried intent. Information overload. Lack of focus.

Any of these will require an agency to chase the ‘real’ brief. Chasing the brief, leads to rounds of design that attempt to define the brief, frustrating conversations, and poor solutions.

Omission is common – Leaving out vital practical details can result in production failures, unintended revisions, and timeline delays.

The brief should be a unifying tool – bringing all parties together at the start of the project. A way to give consistent and agreed criteria against which to judge the design when you see it. All stakeholders should be ‘bought in’. Agreement upfront is liberating and goes a long way to ensuring that creative feedback is not purely subjective, but based on strategic drivers.


Avoiding these pitfalls.

This is mostly about asking the right questions of the client and the brief - and doing so at the start of the project, before costly design work is underway.

A brief always implies change – so be crystal clear about what needs to change and why.To understand the change, context is key.  Understand the client context.  The consumer context. The design context. 


Client context:

• Why is establishing the brief important now?

• What would happen if you didn’t do anything?

• What is the business strategy behind the brief?

• What is the competition doing? Or NOT doing?

• What is the key problem you are trying to solve for the client?

• What are the KPI’s?


Consumer context:

• Who is the target?

• What do they think of the brand?

• What do they think of the market?

• How do they currently engage with the brand?

• How do they use it?

• What is the key change you need in behaviour or attitudes?

• How will this be measured? 


Design context:

• What are the primary goals of design?

• Where will the design live? (in store, online, geographies etc)

• How will the design will fit into the broader marketing mix and what else will be happening within the brand landscape when this new design hits market?


Do your best to pre-empt any ‘bumps in the road’ and identify any genuine constraints – and opportunities. Get the client to paint a picture of what success looks like for them.Never accept just a written brief – make sure you have a face to face briefing with the client. Don’t be afraid of asking stupid questions. Always focus on uncovering the challenges, not the solutions.

A bulletproof brief is one which defines, inspires and benchmarks – so make sure all three components are clear before you go to work.

Written by Wendy Lanchin

The Complete Brief Ltd, Partner

Wendy's career has spanned both creative agencies and client companies. She has held Planning & Strategy Director roles at leading London agencies Publicis, McCann Erickson, FCB & The Marketing Store, and also Marketing Director roles for Channel 4 TV and The Design Council of Great Britain. 

Her extensive experience covers both developing briefs for brands and communication campaigns and leading teams to design and deliver those campaigns.