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Have you ever dialed into a meeting and thought to yourself, “What the heck are these people talking about?” You know your business. You know your objectives. You know marketing. So why do you sometimes feel like your advertising agency speaks a different language?

We all have different levels of experience with ad agency culture. Some of us have spent years immersed in this environment as an employee. Some have had close partnerships with ad agencies.  We all know ad agency people are a unique breed. They offer an educated perspective, subject matter expertise and boundless ideas. Collaborating with the right agency can boost the performance of your campaigns, but, as with all good relationships, communication is what makes it work. At the heart of that exchange is the creative brief.

Every agency under the sun uses creative briefs in one form or another. Think of the creative brief as your Rosetta Stone – or your agency-speak translator. Often a brand manager will send a job request through the ad agency account lead and that account lead will translate the assignment into a creative brief. But if you stop there, you are missing an opportunity.

Collaborate on the agency creative brief to ensure nothing is lost in translation

If you add your stamp of approval to the creative brief before the work begins, you are more likely to be pleased with the end results: smart concepts and hard-working ads that lead to a successful campaign. This is your chance to make sure your request is adequately communicated and the team doesn’t go off course. That’s not to say there won’t be any course correction. Sometimes agencies go down different paths in their exploration as a necessary part of the process. It helps to be open to this exploration because you never know what might spark a game-changing idea.  But a good brief is the compass for every successful campaign.

What makes a good brief great?

By definition, a creative brief is a succinct, one-to-three-page document that provides clear, actionable direction to enable a team of strategists, copywriters, and art directors to strategize, write, and design creative that accomplishes its stated objective. When it comes time to weigh in on a brief your ad agency has written, here are five tips to make the brief as strong as it can be:

  1. A brief should quickly convey WHO we’re talking to, WHAT we’re promoting, WHERE we’re communicating (channel), WHY the individual might be interested, and WHEN we need to be in market.
  2. The brief is co-owned and requires collaboration.
  3. It only takes one insight to spark a powerful creative idea. If available, use market/competitive intelligence, audience insights, consumer research, and performance data while creating the brief.
  4. Clarity is essential. It may help to break down complex information into charts.
  5. Share your vision. Sometimes relaying the way you expect the creative to feel, the vibe of a piece, or even an example of another campaign that was successful will help your agency to know what to strive for.

The creative work is presented to you. How do you answer with actionable feedback?

  • Measure it against the creative brief. Is it on strategy?
  • Put yourself in the target audience’s shoes. The creative is for them, not you.
  • Be sure to mention what’s working, not just what misses the mark.
  • Try to be specific about what needs to change. It can help to concisely state the problem and let your agency find the solution.
  • Consolidate the feedback if there are multiple reviewers. This will prevent conflicting feedback.
  • Make it a conversation. Allow for two-way questions and collaborate on solutions.

Now that you have successfully communicated with your ad agency and have hopefully built a powerful campaign together, here is a bonus vocabulary lesson.

Swimming in a sea of acronyms

Without a doubt, ad agencies use a lot of acronyms and colorful expressions. Here are a few of our favorites and their meanings to help you get hip to the lingo. You are probably already familiar with many.


  • BR: Bounce Rate
  • CPL: Cost Per Lead
  • CR: Conversion Rate
  • CTA: Call to Action, the response desired via call or click
  • DCO: Dynamic Creative Optimization
  • DM: Direct Mail/Marketing
  • DMA: Designated Market Area
  • DSP: Demand-Side Platform
  • KPI: Key Performance Indicator
  • P2P: Path to Purchase
  • RACI: Responsible, accountable, consulted and informed (used when defining roles for a project)
  • RTB: Reasons to Believe, Reasons to Buy, or Real Time Bidding
  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization
  • SMM: Social Media Marketing

Expressions and terms:

  • Bespoke: Something made specifically for a campaign, personalized, or customized.
  • Concept: The idea or approach before it gets executed.
  • Course correction: A major shift in strategy or direction.
  • Creative: Includes both copywriting and the design/layout. Creative is not only the design, but also the totality of how the design and copy work together.
  • Execution: The final creative product, which may include multiple versions.
  • Headline vs. Tagline vs. Subhead: headline is the largest, main message. A tagline is usually a sign-off, or campaign theme line, often near the logo (i.e., Nike’s “Just Do It”). A subhead is a device to break up the copy into digestible sections and aids in scannability.
  • Huddle or Sync: A meeting to informally touch base on a topic or a project’s status.
  • Scannability: From a reader’s perspective, the ability to get all the main messages at a glance.
  • Your brief is showing: The creative is a little too on the nose and isn’t consumer friendly.