On the necessity of briefs, client briefs, and creative briefs


“Every order which can be misunderstood will be misunderstood”

Jacob Meckel, 1877

Briefing is difficult to do well and has a major impact, for it essentially determines how people are going to spend their time and what outcomes they are going to try and achieve. Few things could be more important for any business. In view of its importance and difficulty, it is remarkable that it is little taught.”

Lesson: Demand great client briefs.

Briefing is radical in the way in which it unifies effort. The effort is directed towards a desired outcome – everybody has an ultimate goal which is defined in terms of the state of affairs to be attained in the world.”

Lesson: Great client briefs define outcomes, not means.

In the backbrief three things happen. The first obvious thing is that the unit being briefed checks its understanding of the direction it has received or worked out. Secondly, and less obviously, the superior gains clarity for the first time about what the implications of their own actions actually are, and may revise them as a result. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity to ensure alignment across the organisation as well as up and down it.”

Lesson: Creative briefs should move the thinking on, not merely replicate the client brief in more cogent or interesting language.



The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results by the military historian and management consultant Stephen Bungay. It looks at how the organisational model developed by the Prussian Army in the nineteen century holds lessons for how today’s organisations and companies can more effectively execute strategy. When a former high-ranking officer in the British Armed Forces recommends you it read, you know it’s worth a read.


  1. katekerr61

    Martin, are you in favour of getting clients to sign off reverse briefs? After nearly 30 years in planning, I still go back on forth on this one! On the up-side it means greater clarity for the client the implications of what they’ve asked for and ensures that client and agency are on the same page, on the down-side it can lead to briefs being watered down, or written to get through the client.

    • Martin Weigel

      After 20+ years I still have no idea what I am doing.
      It’s a good questions.
      And I too go back and forth on it.
      I think it comes down to client.
      If it’s a command-and-control, top down relationship, in which the brief is used to TELL the agency what to TELL the consumer (the proposition habit doesn’t exactly help in this), I think it fails.
      If it’s a relationship of collaboration, in which exploration and risk are encouraged, and in which there is creative imagination on both sides of the relationship, then I think it works better.
      But as I say, I am still cluelessly stumbling around in the dark, waiting for the day when I get found out…

  2. krisinamsterdam

    Reblogged this on krisinamsterdam and commented:
    This is a great blog to follow by a fellow advertising professional here in Amsterdam. I haven’t met this person yet but hope to soon as I highly appreciate and applaud these blog posts.

  3. saltis99

    As someone who has been on both sides of the agency/client relationship, I totally agree with Martin that it depends on the client – for two reasons:
    1) There are some clients who WANT a reverse brief – much like Martin says in his reply. This to me (and I would like to include myself in this client cluster) is the “elevated discussion” where both agency and client collaborate and add value throughout the process
    2) There are some clients who NEED a reverse brief. Either because there was no formal brief in the first place, where a reverse brief is a sanity check before moving on to creative development. Or because the brief was issued with an inside-out approach, in which case the agency risks going down an unproductive path. Here the agency can demonstrate both its strategic value – by showing how it understands the client’s business – and its planning skills, by showing how it understands the client’s clients. Both are good and valuable for the client (but not always appreciated by the client), so it often requires supreme account/client handling skills to do this well…

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