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Stellar marketing requires thoughtful planning. A well-crafted and concise communications brief will save you hours of frustration, rework and added costs.

There are two things marketers have in short supply: time and money. Even then, many marketers seem to find time and money to repeat things. It’s called rework. And it often results in missed deadlines, wasted time, increased costs, lost customers and dejected teams.

Fortunately, most rework is preventable if three things are in place: (1) an agreed-to process and tools, (2) employees who follow the process and use the tools, and (3) managers who enforce the process and tools.

When I talk about tools, I’m not referring to the burgeoning array of marketing automation tools and technologies. Research finds that an average organization today uses a staggering 91 different martech tools. Rather, I’m talking about those core strategic marketing tools every marketing leader needs in their management arsenal to maximize their team’s effectiveness.

The good news is that there are only five tried-and-true core strategic tools you need to save time, money, aggregation and rework:

  1. Communications Brief
  2. Messaging Framework
  3. Marketing Playbook
  4. Executive Dashboard
  5. Project Management Office (PMO)

In this article, we’ll cover the first of the core strategic marketing tools: the communications brief.

Depending on the undertaking, a communications brief may also be referred to as a “project brief” or a “creative brief.” While briefs can take different forms, they all share the same underlying purpose: focusing your precious time and money on solving the right problem.

“Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.” ~ Russell L. Ackoff

The Communications Brief

When I started my marketing career, the communications brief was akin to the prime directive. No work could be initiated without a thoughtfully crafted and vetted brief. My management took it seriously and, as a result, I took it seriously as well.

It is unprofessional and unacceptable to rely solely on a verbal exchange of information. Yet most marketers do. During my stint working on the agency side, I even had clients send major project requests via voicemail and text message. And the requests typically arrived after hours.

There is a myriad of reasons (or excuses) for bypassing the important communications brief and briefing step, including:

The agency already understands what’s needed.

I’m under the gun to get this out the door.

This project is on a fast-track.

Let the agency write the briefthat’s what I’m paying them for.

I don’t want to limit my agency’s creativity.

That’s not how to get the best work out of your agency partners or your own internal staff. The adage rings true: Clients get the work they deserve.

Communications Brief: What It Is

A communications brief is an agreement document that guides communication across all key contact points, internal and external. It provides a vital link between business objectives and creative or technical strategies. It ensures a common understanding for any communications project and the investment of time and money that accompanies it, prior to the start of the project.

Communications Brief: Why It’s Important

The communications brief:

  • Builds alignment internally on important communication challenges and goals
  • Helps clarify your thinking and makes you more strategic
  • Allows those developing the communication piece to perform better and apply their creativity within the laid-out guidelines
  • Minimizes the subjective I like, I don’t like conversation when evaluating a creative piece
  • Eliminates confusion, misunderstandings, multiple revisions and lackluster results

Communications Brief: What It Contains

Dozens of briefing templates are available to download from the Internet, or you can design your own. Regardless of whether your communications brief is for a product, business, brand or event, it should cover the following seven areas:

  1. Background: Describe the current situation and the goals for this project.
  2. Objective: Include the business and communications objective.
  3. Target Audience: Identify the user or target audience, including their current perception of your product, brand, or company.
  4. Promise and Proof: Delineate what sets your product, brand or company apart and why your target audience should believe you.
  5. Key Message: Distill your key selling point or differentiator into a single most persuasive idea and call to action.
  6. Timing and Other Parameters: Specify the timeline and any budget limitations for this piece, how you will evaluate success, and who will provide final approval.
  7. Guidelines: List any creative guidelines (such as tone and manner) or restrictions that need to be followed.

Agencies are problem solvers, not inventors. They work best when they have a clear problem that needs to be solved. A well-crafted and concise communications brief can save you hours and hours of frustration, rework and added costs.

Adding the communications brief to your leadership arsenal is one of the simple steps you can take to drive a smooth and steady flow of brilliant marketing work.

Whether you’re rebounding from the crises of 2020, or preparing yourself for an uncertain road ahead, enhancing your toolset and ability to adapt to change will be a key source of competitive advantage in the future. To find out where you fall on the agility continuum today, take my free marketing agility assessment.

This is the first in a five-part series on core strategic marketing tools every marketing leader needs in their management arsenal to maximize their team’s effectiveness.