The two most common mistakes marketers make when they write a brief.

Thanks to research by my friends Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler at, we now have valuable insights into the yawning chasm between perception and reality on the subject of briefs written by clients and delivered to ad agencies. Specifically, briefs written by marketers. Whether the briefs are delivered to outside agencies or in-house agencies, the Grand Canyon-sized dichotomy appears to be the same.

Marketers are from Mars, agencies are from Venus.

According to, roughly 80% of marketers believe they write clear briefs. Fewer than 10% of agencies agree. This difference is even worse than the gap revealed by recent surveys done by the Association of National Advertisers.

I have a prescription for this industry-wide ailment. A two-step process that may in fact be easy, except that it requires for many brands a serious paradigm shift in how internal processes work.

But it’s doable, and once done people who’ve completed my training change their perceptions almost instantly. Marketers tell me they are loathe to return to old ways.

These are the two mistakes marketers make when they write briefs:

They write the brief alone.

When I ask the question, “Do you collaborate when you write a brief?” the answer is almost always, “Yes.” But when I dig deeper to understand what they mean when they say “collaborate,” we do not have a meeting of the minds. Marketers confuse “collaborate” with “asking for feedback.” The two ideas are polar opposites.

Collaboration is when two people sit in a room together, like an art director and a copywriter, and bounce ideas off each other before they commit pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

Asking for feedback, on the other hand, is when a solo writer writes a brief by themselves and then sends it out, typically to a boss or senior colleague, and asks, “What do you think?” This is not collaboration. This is an act of masochism. The danger is that this approach skews the brief’s audience away from the creatives, for whom briefs are written, toward the reviewer of the draft brief. The more senior the reviewer, the more likely their comments will be favored, regardless of whether the creatives benefit or not.

Marketers: Avoid this trap. Find a writing partner—a peer, a fellow marketer—and craft the brief as a team. Follow the lead of Bill Bernbach who invented the “creative team” in the 1940s when he put writer and art director together for the first time and helped usher in the Golden Age of advertising.

Too many in-house agencies or clients with a creative department do not have classically trained planners or strategists on staff, the very people who are charged with writing a brief. To make up for this lacking, I have urged marketers to collaborate in pairs.

The benefits are easily recognized: a sounding board helps you eliminate siloed thinking.

Creatives never work alone. Why should brief writers make the same mistake? They do, sadly, but the solution is sitting next to you in the office or cubicle or Zoom window.

Marketers fail to share the draft brief with a creative before the briefing or project kick-off.

The singular audience for the creative brief is the creative team. When marketers share the finished brief only at the briefing or project kick-off, it’s too late. Creative must see an early draft because they have skin in the game. They must be given the opportunity to weigh in and suggest changes and improvements.

I’m not saying the entire creative department must be involved. But certainly the creative director or group creative director. A senior creative, art director or writer, can help the brief writers hone in on a clear message and massage language to sharpen the brief.

When marketers commit the above two errors, they set themselves up for failure. And when I make the above suggestions in my workshops, I often hear in response:

“We don’t work like this here.” “This is not part of our culture.” “We move too quickly to take more time to writing briefs.”

To which I always reply with this industry adage:

“There’s never time to do it right. There’s always time to do it over.”

Use a writing partner, and ask a creative for help, to write a brief for the same reasons Bill Bernbach invented creative teams: Better thinking, clearer more inspiring briefs add up to better results. And the results will be self-evident.

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