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The Importance of the Creative Brief

MarketingSarah Thom

The creative brief, sometimes written by clients, sometimes written internally by the agency, is a fundamental element of any marketing communications campaign. The main objective of this important document is to minimise confusion and clearly define the parameters of the project for both the agency and client; ensuring that the project is completed to the correct specifications (in terms of design, purpose, budget and time limits). This further guarantees that time and money are used efficiently and not wasted.

These briefs transmit the information which has been put forward by the client, regarding the project, to the agency in a clear and concise way which means that everybody is clear on what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by, but importantly they act as a spark of insight to get the creative process going.

There are several different areas that a brief needs to address; it should clearly define what the project is, for example, a monthly newsletter, who the target audience is and the objectives which the client wants to be met by the project. At McQueenie Mulholland we see objectives as vital as they determine what success looks like to the client and act as a guideline to accurately measure the results of a given campaign.

Another important aspect of the brief is the budget; the project budget of the client is essential as it determines the scope of the campaign, how much time is spent on it by the agency and how long the campaign will last. The activity’s schedule and deadlines should also be indicated in briefs to ensure that everyone is aware of the time restrictions that are in place allowing the agency to plan accordingly. The most important component of a brief could be argued to be the proposition. We recommend that propositions are short, concise sentences, which through its brevity gets to the point in outlining exactly what the client wants the campaign to achieve. Propositions help keep the agency’s team focused.

Further information to include is: what information about the campaign do we, as the agency, know already? And the flip-side from that what information do we need to know to complete the work.

A brief can go through a variety of processes before being finally approved. At McQueenie Mulholland we first write an initial brief which is then internally circulated to our planning strategist and then our creative lead for approval. After this it is then sent to the client who has final sign off. It’s only when both the client and the agency have agreed and approved the brief that the project can begin.


Our top tips for writing creative briefs:

 
  • Keep the brief simple and to the point- excess information can take away from the objectives of the project and blur what is important
  • Invest time into it – although briefs are meant to be short and concise this does not mean that they’re not worth spending significant time on them to complete; the more work put into a brief at the beginning the more easily good work will follow
  • Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions when writing the brief: if you are confused about an aspect of the project, don’t be afraid to ask the client or other people in your agency for the answers. It will benefit both you and the brief if you have a clear understanding of what is required
  • And finally, be creative: briefs are more than just informative, they are meant to be motivational too. So don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit and think outside the box!
 

Our Top 5 (on a budget) Marketing Communications Tactics

MarketingEleanor Yeo

At McQueenie Mulholland we represent clients from a multitude of sectors, from charities to retailers, from B2Bs to farms.

The one thing that our clients all have in common is that they have a story to tell. And telling that story is a major part of increasing awareness, sales, and ultimately, profits. But, how do you go about it? Where do you start?

Last week, we gave a workshop at the Institute of Fundraisers regional conference. We work with a number of charities and, in particular, their fundraising and communications teams and individuals. Our talk was all about using communications as part of a data-led fundraising strategy, all on a very limited budget. We had more than 70 people at our session, suggesting to us that there is a definite need for support in this area. Here are our top tips on making the most of your communications strategy. They are designed to help everybody, regardless of size, scale and scope of business, to communicate to key audiences.

Drumroll please ... the countdown begins ...

Tactic number 5 - Your core message is vital
Do people really understand what it is that you do/make/sell? How good are you at explaining it to others?We start this process with our clients by summarising their business in a statement, and make it as long as it needs to be. Then, reduce it down to something that you could explain to somebody in about 60 seconds - we call this the elevator pitch. From that, reduce it down further to about a ten word proposition. Explaining to others what you do is a key part of promoting your business, and you must make sure that your audience fully understands what sets you apart from the others. You also need to have every single member of your staff clear on what your core message and values are.

Tactic number 4 - Map stakeholders and contacts
Who do you work with? Who do you know? Who do they work with? In what capacity are they useful to you? Get all of your contacts down on a bit of paper and plan a strategy for what they can do for you and how you can get them to reach others for you. Contacts are incredibly useful to you (as are you to them) but you need to know how they work and how they are connected and can be used in helping your business.

Tactic number 3 - Channel selection
How do you talk to your audience? Is it appropriate for everyone? Have you tested it to know how many people read, listened to or watched your piece? Who were they?Lots of businesses use the same old methods for getting their messages out without ever really knowing who has seen it and whether they’ve acted upon it. If you use digital channels you can measure your impact and use this to formulate future messaging and strategies. Ask yourself a little bit about who you’d like to see your story? How do they access their information? Where do they go to for news? Do they use social media? Do they read local newspapers? A few basic questions could really help you to define how it is that you want to get your message across.

Tactic number 2 - Timing
Have a think about seasonality. What else is going on in the news world? Is there a related story in the press that you might be able to respond to? It’s important to stay agile and keep abreast of what’s going on in your sector, in your local region and in the world at large - using gravity from other organisations or issues can give you momentum quickly. What else might your customers be interested in? Avoid working in silos so that you can share knowledge and information with others in-house, and they in turn can help you. Think about when quiet months are for news stories - you may be more likely to achieve positive coverage if there isn’t so much going on elsewhere.

Our top number 1 tactic - Always see your creative output as a content asset
Once you’ve come up with your story, be prepared to keep it alive by adapting it and using it across different channels and therefore audiences too. The days are gone where somebody would write a press release and send it out to their local newspaper and then sit and wait to see what happens. Today, you can write a press release, and send to your local newspaper but also adapt it to use in a number of different ways. Maybe re-write it so that it appears as a blog on your website (look out for a future blog from us, about blogs!!). Create a series of short messages with images to appear on your Twitter and Facebook feeds. Use that same press release but with different images and a slightly different angle for different media. Adapt it for digital. Make it into a video. Do whatever your audience wants in the way that they want it, at the time that they want it! 

Client donations: Test channels not just the ask itself

StrategyRob Mulholland

In our work with charities (especially smaller ones) we see a lot of concern and reluctance to ask clients, who benefit from an organisation's services, for donations. It's understandable and we recommend that all charities consider key client demographic attributes before developing client-focused fundraising strategies. 

Recently, after analysing its client database and concluding its clients were suitable for a fundraising 'ask', a charity we've been working with decided to embark on such a test. 

However, rather than just focus on the obvious, we proposed the charity test not just asking for a donation but also testing the channels in which it used to do so. In doing so, we opted to test post versus email versus telephone all of which would utilise the same creative proposition (a client feedback survey) and fundraising ask - the results were compelling. 

Below is an infographic that gives the basic headline results of our test, from which we learnt:

 


1) This charity's clients are willing and able to give donations - 18.8% said they would do so.

2) While telephone performed the best in terms of clients completing the survey (26.7% did so), telephone also performed the worst in terms of actual donations received (0% - possibly due to the recent scandal and mistrust of telephone fundraising)

3) Email and post had equally the same number of donations but email out performed post in terms of the average donation value (£20 compared with £10 respectively)

4) Due to its non-tangible quality, email by far out performed post in terms of Return On Investment - with a positive ROI of 6.7 to 1.

 

As a result of this work McQueenie Mulholland is now developing a second test for the charity and re-examining its digital strategy for both fundraising and communications objectives.

It’s still all about the brand

Strategy, PREleanor Yeo

Whether it’s Marks and Spencer, Tesco or VW - we are surrounded by “brands”. They are an integral part of our daily life as customers, and crucial for helping businesses to grow, develop and maintain customer loyalty.

But a brand is not just a logo - far from it. A brand is the very heart of the company, the product, the reputation, the staff and the customers - a brand is a living thing, and its visual logo is only an element of that. Brands are the ‘X’ factor - they’re what makes your company stand out from the others.

My usual bleary eyed, early morning scan of the BBC news website, led me to two articles on well known British brands (RBS and Anne Summers), and how those brands have adapted to meet the needs of their customers. The RBS said:

"Our brands are our interface with our customers and through them we will be able to connect (with customers) and rebuild pride."

McQueenie Mulholland have recently been working on one of Devon's and Exeter's longest standing brands - the CVS (Council for Voluntary Service). Working to connect charities and businesses with the volunteers, staff or training that help them operate, the CVS has been in Exeter for about 70 years.

We’ve recently been tasked with starting this branch of the organisation off on the road to re-branding. We’re asking staff all about the organisation that they work for, how they describe it to others and what it really means to them and to the thousands of people that the organisation helps each year. After all, only by them all truly understanding what makes their organisation unique,  can they build a brand that can adapt to new challenges and responsibilities.

This change is not something that will happen overnight. But it will become something that takes this valuable organisation into 2016 with the confidence that their staff, stakeholders, volunteers, partner organisations, customers and the general public understand, and can use, with confidence.

And we can’t wait to get started!

The art of being nosey

Strategy, MarketingEleanor Yeo

I'm a pretty curious person (some might call it nosey!) and throughout my adult life I’ve often found that this has formed the basis for some great friendships. I enjoy asking questions and finding out about the ins and outs, and ups and downs of people’s lives.

Let’s face it, asking questions is human nature. The first thing we do when we see our husbands and wives of an evening is ask how their day was, or what they’ve been up to at work. We ask our friends how they’re doing? And when asking my five-year-old son what he had for lunch that day, or who he played with in the playground, I get told to “stop asking me so many questions – I CAN’T REMEMBER!!"

"He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever." - Chinese proverb.

At McQueenie Mulholland we ask lots of questions. We use questions to get to the heart of our clients’ needs and aims. After all, research and the art of being nosey and finding ‘stuff’ out is what the world’s most successful companies and brands are really good at. Tesco recently announced that it was changing the layout in 50 of its stores because customers wanted related meal items next to each other. It asked, customers answered. Facebook have just announced that they’re including a ‘dislike’ button. Why? Because, when asked, Facebook users told them this was what they wanted.

As a small business owner, how are you going to find new customers, if you don’t know what drives your existing customers to your business? And how are you planning to reach your new customers if you don’t know which media channels they use and respond to? And how can you develop new product ranges if you’re not entirely sure whether people actually want them.

It’s all about asking questions, and making sure that you listen and use the answers. Just like being nosey on a personal level, but making sure that the questions asked are relevant and pertinent. Or in the words of Albert Einstein: