A questionnaire will set things straight
The attempt to approach a briefing with agencies by using standardized questionnaires most often ends in failure. After all, general questionnaires fall under the “tedious homework” category. While they are known for briefly dealing with a host of different topics – precisely therein lies the problem. Assuming you’ve been working with an agency for an extended period of time, you definitely don’t want to (be put in the position of having to) say anything else regarding standards such as “tonality” and “target audience”. It’s simply expected that it is already clear whom you’re communicating with and, in turn, how this should be conducted. Subsequently, some people adopt a kind of careless disregard for the “never-ending” questions and, in the worst case, may even consider them annoying.
The incorporation of, for example, images or Excel tables into the questionnaire’s formatted response fields is arduous and sometimes even impossible. And if you have already formulated thoughts, these quite often cannot be incorporated into any standardized questionnaire questions. Therefore, just quickly copying and pasting everything is not an option.
Furthermore, the standardized nature of questionnaires can result in topics being treated in a half-hearted manner. In fact, the entire thing turns into mindlessly filling out a form and is no fun whatsoever; enquiries virtually smother room for ideas. That’s too bad, since the goal is actually to initiate a creative process and instead, just the opposite occurs.
Once the homework has been completed, then the queries start to trickle in – via e-mail. Even if the original intention was to initiate a briefing documentation, at this point it would be over anyhow. The allegedly indispensable briefing document disappears into a storage unit. Fortunately, it’s good riddance!
Briefing is (only?) a form of communication
The topic of briefing is universal, because it is ultimately a matter of communication. After all, briefing situations generally occur when people want or expect something from one another. Components such as time pressure and billing only compound these daily situations for agency briefings. In fact, everything could be so simple: “Say what you want and ask questions if something is unclear.” Perhaps that is why briefings are such a controversial topic. Those who are conducting the briefing must strive to reach a high level of clarity, while those who are at the receiving end must pose as many questions as needed to achieve clarity as well. Therefore, both sides have something to do – even before the actual project gets underway.
Customized briefing – form follows function
Keep in mind just who the participants are when selecting the means and form for the briefing. Simplicity is the key to success. Form follows function. Even a questionnaire can get the ball rolling, but most people brief by means of e-mail. Therefore, once the initial contact has occurred in writing, it is recommended to conduct a personal conversation – all it takes is a call. There are limits to what questionnaires and e-mails can achieve – the following aspect represents a prime example of this: Before anyone gets started, a common understanding of the task at hand must be established and clearly communicated to all participants. And the easiest and fastest way to achieve this is by having a good old-fashioned conversation.
Triad consisting of a clear statement, true candor and breathing room
A productive briefing relies on other people’s expertise, without completely sending them off on their own. This results in a triad consisting of “a clear statement, true candor and breathing room”:
Which aspects must be strictly adhered to? Which invite candid feedback? And which aspects are free from stipulations, in an attempt to consciously avoid providing a specific direction and thereby allowing the maximum amount of freedom to let the “briefee’s” creativity run wild? Once these steps have been clarified, the proceeding discussions can be conducted about the designated topic and the expertise of the other person truly receives the attention it deserves – at the right point in the process.
Briefing requires clarity
When visiting an Italian restaurant you would never think of ordering “something nice with pasta”, only to complain later on that Nonna’s home-made sauce doesn’t taste good on linguine and that everything is far too expensive anyhow.
This principle can be applied to briefings as well. What this means is first of all, you have to be completely honest with yourself. After all, it’s easy to convince yourself that the inability to make a decision regarding a certain aspect is an attempt to leave some room to maneuver during the briefing. However, the reality is that you just haven’t completely thought out that particular aspect or clarified the details with colleagues. A clear indication of this is when the first draft elicits responses such as “That’s totally wrong” or “That’s not what was meant!” … Obviously, it was destined for failure from the beginning on … Unfortunately, this was not mentioned beforehand, because even no gos should be included as part of the briefing. Of course, this does not mean that every briefing should turn into a research project; however, everyone is well aware of their own challenging topics and each hour invested in the briefing is likely to save at least two hours during the project, which ultimately saves money and cuts down on stress.
Briefings live from feedback
There are moments in which it makes sense to counter-check the briefing. First, as already mentioned, right at the beginning of the process. Then through a cost estimate based on the briefing, since this is the most reliable way of confirming whether or not both parties are on the same page regarding the assessment of the project expenditure. Once again, if the first draft arrives and fundamental corrections are required, this clearly indicates that a common understanding obviously was not achieved in advance. And finally, if the briefing is intended for use as a reference for future projects, feedback from previous projects should be included.
More than the sum of its parts
Perhaps even more interesting is the topic of the overall impact of consecutive briefings. After all, several productive briefings are more than the sum of their parts. They promote a common understanding in an effective and pleasant manner. As a result, there is no longer a need to clarify many topics, in addition to creating solid reference projects for subsequent undertakings – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Whereas unclear or unresolved briefings lead to the usual hassles, in addition to unsettling those who were convinced where the journey was going thus far. This applies to partners in agencies, as well as colleagues involved in projects or employees in the department. Therefore, you should look at it from a different perspective by asking the question “What would I think, if I was faced with this briefing?” If at any point in time, the smallest question arises, this certainly indicates the need to clarify, explain and subsequently discuss those aspects.
Hard work pays off
Productive briefings require thoughts, allow feedback, lead to new ideas, encourage a constructive exchange and have a positive impact on the interaction between the people involved.
At the end of the day, briefing is a form of communication. And productive communication is the key to success.