If there’s one thing every Creative agrees on, it’s that clients are morons.

Always getting in the way with crass, inane feedback. “Leave the inspiration to us,” the Creative thinks as she pretends to listen as the client offers feedback. “You stick to what you’re good at – writing cheques and spreadsheets or whatever.”

Except clients aren’t morons. Sure there are good and bad ones, just as there are good and bad Creatives, bank managers and US Presidents. They have a tough job to do and never enough time and money to do it. Creative content is, whisper it, just one of many things on their worry-list.

I’ve worked with dozens of marketing execs at major brands like IBM, Shell, Virgin and BT. I’ve helped start-up founders build a business from scratch. And I’ve been the client at global tech giants and government regulators. I never met a moron, and I hope I wasn’t one myself (though no doubt I’ve said moronic stuff in meetings). But there is one thing I’ve noticed.

It’s rare that the creative team begins a project with a good enough brief. I truly believe this is why so many projects go awry. There’s nothing more frustrating for either side when the Creatives feel they’ve knocked it out of the park, but the client was at a different game.

I’ve written and received more creative briefs than I care to remember. Here are four lessons I’ve learned along the way.


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1) Be clear about what you want

The project is helping you achieve clearly-defined marketing communications objectives, or ought to be. So name them. Do you want to generate leads or build a tribe? Drive traffic or start a conversation? Be specific, be realistic. Be SMART. Explain how it fits into the broader marketing mix.

Who’s the audience? Sketch out the persona with as much demographic detail as you have.

Next, set out exactly what you are buying. Is it one video or a series? If it’s a photo shoot, how many people, set ups and locations need to feature? For copywriting, what’s the format and how many words do you want?

Then think about the context in which the content will be seen. If it’s digital will it be on a desktop/tablet/phone? If it’s print, what’s the format?

2) Creatives think visually

A picture paints 1,000 words, goes the saying. And according to Forrester’s researchers, one minute of video is worth 1.8 million .

You can spend an hour explaining what you’re looking for or write it down in minute detail. A creative might still picture something completely different in their head, so why take the risk? Show them what you want instead.

Whether it’s a series of Youtube video clips or a moodboard of still images, this is by far the best way to make sure you’re all on the same page.

It’s also a great way to communicate the tone you’re looking for. Any creative content is a window into your company’s personality, so it’s crucial you make this a fundamental part of the brief. How does your company ‘speak’: is it professional or playful, elegant or edgy?

3) What’s the story?

Any piece of creative content ought to be telling a story to your audience. Start with a list of key messages that you need to communicate. Then think of story points or ‘beats’ as they’re called in the film community. Different moments in the life of your business or customer that you really want people to see.

Example: one of our clients is a restaurant that serves seconds of the main meal. People are always chuffed to bits when this happens so it was crucial that came across in the video that we recently commissioned.

Finally, make sure you have a clear call to action. What do you want the audience to do as a result of engaging with the content?

4) Show them the money!

When asked how much they have to spend, it’s amazing how many clients invite the agency to tell them how much they think it’ll cost.” Ugh. Annoying.

The difference between a £5k video and £25k video is akin to the difference between the Blair Witch Project and the latest Avengers. Offered the choice, any Creative will go for the latter (or at least its budget). If you only have £5k to play with, don’t waste their time inviting them to come up with a concept that would cost five times that.

If you’re embarrassed about your budget, don’t be. Any creative team that turn their nose up at it will probably be out of business before too long. At the same time though, listen when they tell you what can and can’t be done for the money you have.

I know a client who sticks a finger down his throat whenever any mention is made of Creatives. And I know lots of Creatives who have perfected their ‘you-are-crushing-my-soul-with-your-inanity’ smiles in meetings. The fact is, though, we’re in this together. Clients need agencies to succeed and vice versa.

So what do you call a good client that writes a bad brief? An oxymoron.