The Goldilocks Effect: Getting Great Work From Your Agency With Just-Right Briefs

The next time I’m tempted to criticize a client brief on a new piece of work, I’ll think twice. I didn’t appreciate the difficulty of getting them “just right” until I sat on the Cannes Lions jury for the Young Marketers competition, where in-house marketing teams were given 30 hours to produce the perfect agency brief on a new product or service to benefit global education charity Room to Read.

If too specific, the creative director feels stripped of artistic license. Too vague or broad, and the strategic planner despairs of any real results. Too self-centered, and the PR team laments its lack of resonance or credibility. And when too prescriptive, everyone feels uninspired and wonders why the client doesn’t simply execute it themselves.

Yet the 16 corporate teams found, for the most part, the perfect bowl of porridge – not too hot, not too cold – to nourish an agency’s creative, strategic and inspirational needs. And the medal winners created briefs that were true works of beauty – viable concepts that all of us would love to see flourish in the real world.

Some of these have a good chance of actually being developed, which makes it slightly premature to describe the product ideas in any detail, but here’s what set the winning briefs apart, along with a few things to keep in mind when you give an agency your assignment.

1. Make choices. The winning team, from Portuguese superstore Continente, selected one brand from the hundreds they distribute to for special new formulation, with sales benefiting Room To Read. Rather than bundling several children’s brands together, their selection enables the agency to focus its energy on a single-minded proposition rather than be forced to accommodate an awkward collection of brands or the entire corporate entity.

2. Be generous with your assets. The team from Audi in Australia (who received Silver) refused to be cowed into the usual silos. Their brief required integrated use of their celebrities, sponsorship commitments, advertising strategy, PR activity and social media to engage children in a very clever application of proprietary technology.

3. Be brave. The team from Vodafone in Turkey (who received a special citation at the ceremony) went to the heart of a very delicate issue in their market – gender inequality. Their willingness to forge into the difficult territory where their corporate values and Room To Read’s mission overlap gives the agency an unambiguous signal to think big and be bold.

4. Know when to stop. The Bronze-winning team from Campbell’s Soups in Canada knows why they’re called “briefs.” They described a new product, detailed several innovations that align it with Room To Read’s agenda and laid a creative pathway in which the agency defines the next step. We loved it.

I hope to see some of these celebrated as real campaigns next year in Cannes – and until then, no more grumbling about client briefs from me.