Building Better Brief(ings)

I designed the Building Better Briefs training workshop out of frustration. After 20 years in marketing, I simply had spent too much time in excruciating briefing meetings. Even when the briefs were well written (rare enough), briefing meetings often felt like lifeless formalities. The equivalent of someone reading out their tax returns, albeit with a free lunch. So, I designed a workshop to try and fix this. To do so, I conducted research and spoke with dozens of marketers to figure out what exactly makes a briefing effective. After months of digging and debating, the following themes emerged:

Include the ‘Business Owner’. Often briefs are presented by those responsible for managing the project rather than those responsible for the results. Including the ‘owner’ of the results in the meeting ensures that everyone has a shared understanding of ‘why’ the program is required in addition to ‘what’ needs to be completed. Participants also have the opportunity to have business-related questions answered directly on the spot, without lengthy follow-ups.

Hold Integrated Briefings. Different tactical elements of a marketing program will often be briefed separately to different teams. Briefing ‘core’ and ‘extended’ team members at the same time (from the same brief) ensures that everyone has a shared understanding of the full project scope, strategic context, and key stakeholders involved. Everyone also benefits from hearing the questions and perspectives from others in this larger meeting.

Communicate Roles & Responsibilities. The number of people, disciplines, and teams involved in marketing briefings continues to grow. The result is that it can be difficult for everyone to know exactly what they are responsible for. Turf battles and politics amplifies this. Make sure to establish project governance prior to any briefing meeting and circulate tools like RACI charts for team members to review. Address any questions or issues openly during the briefing meeting.

Establish Common Language. Different people often use different terms to describe the same thing – why would briefings be any different? Walk through the steps and deliverables with the integrated team to make sure that everyone has a shared understanding of terminology (e.g. Concept, Strategy), deliverables (e.g. Plan, Journey), and how they all fit together. This is particularly important when you are in the Forming stage with a new team.

Pose Challenging Questions. With larger groups attending integrated briefings, people often find it intimidating or inappropriate to ask questions or raise concerns. This leads to post-briefing hallway conversations, group emails, and ‘alignment meetings.’ Surface these topics within briefing meetings by openly posing questions directly to the group. Make it more uncomfortable for people not to raise their concerns and ‘give the quiet ones a voice’.

Start Thinking Together. Once everyone is clear on the problem to be solved, require people to share their initial thinking. This is unconventional and will make some people uncomfortable. That is ok. Make it clear that the goal is not to solve or decide anything in the room, rather it is to have everyone benefit from the fresh thoughts and reactions of others. This makes participants lean into the briefing material earlier and transforms one-way briefing monologues into more active discussions.

Outline Delivery Approach. As more organizations move towards agile ways of working, it is important to clarify how the work being briefed fits in with the larger delivery approach. Do recommendations need to be documented as user stories for a backlog? Do hypotheses need to be documented for testing? Do budgets need to be withheld for iterations? Do meetings need to be booked for Sprint Planning? Flush this out in the briefing meeting so next steps are clear.

So, what does a better briefing actually look like? Below is a draft agenda that I shared with participants that reflects these tips in a 90-minute meeting. While your projects, teams, and plans will no doubt vary, I hope these pointers will make your briefings better and less frustrating.