Design Brief – an open or closed case?

Treating a briefing meeting like visiting a fortune teller worried about giving anything away, forces the agency to turn detective and they will search for subtle clues about the company, trawl through existing material available on the internet or simply guess. 

None of these approaches are likely to harbour accurate results or predict the company’s ambitions.

Sometimes clients are worried about revealing their budget because they feel it puts them in a vulnerable position.  It actually empowers the whole process because everyone knows from the start how far the budget has to stretch. 

In contrast would a transparent and open view hinder the creative process by subconsciously influencing new ideas when showing previous exploits?  Surely it would be short sighted if an agency rehashes an old idea, but if the client is traditionally very conservative maybe this naturally restricts the number of acceptable new ideas.

So what information should you pass on?

A good place to start is to answer the question words? How, who, what, when, where and importantly why.  Think of these in two parts, firstly on a large scale about how the event fits within your overall marketing strategy and secondly in detail about the actual event itself.

Big picture:
• Why are you attending the event?
• What do you hope to achieve?
• How are you going to measure a successful show and ROI?
• Who is making the final decision and on what basis?
• What is your pre-show and after-show marketing strategy?
• What needs to be decided internally before you set an external briefing meeting?
Answering the Big picture questions should simply strengthen your reasons for attending the event and justify the expense within your marketing budget compared to other forms of promotion.

Close-up:
• Who is going to see you at the event?
• How do you want to be portrayed? Is this different to your current profile?
• How will your staff, customers and competitors feel about the way the design reflects the company image? Are staff proud attending the event?
• What facilities and requirements will you need?
• How will you manage the event, before, during and afterwards?
• Do you have a mix of sales and technical expertise at the event and what will they need?
• What timescales are you working to?
• What is the budget and is it realistic to fulfil your requirements?

I could generate a very long list of things to consider around the event, but a good agency should be asking the client themselves.  Perhaps this is where the boundaries start blurring and the process to find not only a solution to this particular event but a long term partnership begins. 

Give the essence of what you are about and why you are going.  Pad out with factual details of what’s required and budget and let the agency pick at the gaps and fill with their interpretation.  Allow the agency to become part of the briefing process and ask challenging question.  This significantly guides the agency how open minded their interpretation will be perceived and consequently both theirs and the clients success.  It also provides the client an opportunity to understand the agency.

Personally I am reluctant to work on projects when clients keep information and budgets under wraps.  It means the team are working blind, guessing what they actually want or have to spend and is a pointless waste of time for everyone. I’ve rarely been successful in these circumstances.
I certainly know our best results have come when there has been open dialogue from the start of the design process and particularly when clients appoint an agency for the long term.
This approach begs the question, ‘what comes first, the agency or the brief?’ I’ll leave the merits of this particular discussion to a future blog.

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