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Better Work. Faster: The #1 Thing Hospitals Can Do to Improve the ROI From Their Marketing Agencies

June 25, 2015
Healthcare Marketing, Marketing, ROI

Having led Brand Strategy at large agencies for some of the biggest brands in categories as diverse as pharmaceuticals, airlines, alcohol, beverages, professional sports, television networks, cable companies, utilities, toothbrushes, mattresses, big box retail and even sexual health products, there is one common thread that exists throughout: If you want your agency to produce better work, faster, then the initial burden falls on the hospital marketing department. If you cannot properly “brief” your marketing agency, the likelihood of them hitting it out of the park for you is an absolute roll of the dice.

While most (if not all) of you know what a “brief” is, I’m willing to guess that most hospitals are not using it properly – and, in fact, may not be strict in always using it.

But, let’s start with the basics. Let’s first ensure we’re all on the same page as to what a brief is and why it’s used. Then we can delve into how to build a brilliant brief.

Before I begin, however, I want to point out that there are two different types of briefs that need to be created. The first one is the Client Brief – and that’s what this article is about. The second is the Creative Brief, which is a brief created by your agency partner that translates the Client Brief into one that uses language and imagery that inspires the creative folks to develop breakthrough work. I’ll write about Creative Briefs in a future article. For now, let’s get the basics done first: the Client Brief.

The Client Brief…And Why It’s Critical

A “Client Brief” is a strategic document whose sole purpose is to outline a marketing/creative assignment with clarity of objective(s), well-defined target audience(s) and key customer insight(s) to give your agency enough guidance to develop ideas, ads, content, marketing strategies, etc.

This is the minimum a Client Brief should achieve.  Some clients will go above and beyond the call of duty and actually define the “Single Minded Idea” that they want the work to communicate. Frankly, unless my client is a brilliant creative strategist, I typically recommend that they leave that to the agency. After all, that is their job – it’s what you’re paying them to do. That said, if you’re crystal clear what you want the work to do – and you’re 100% positive it will achieve the results you’re after – by all means, full steam ahead!

So, let’s break down the Client Brief.

At the end of the day, you want to make sure you’re providing enough information without overdoing it. Brevity is critical to ensure the most salient points are communicated. Too much information may lead your agency down a path you never intended them to go. But, be careful. Never sacrifice clarity for brevity. 

If you already have a brief template, that’s a great first start. However, I’ve learned that there are a lot of people who are “Template Filler-Inners” — who never take the time to think through what they’re actually asking of their agency. Avoid becoming one of these people at all costs. While it certainly allows you to fill in the brief quickly so the agency can get to work faster, the reality is, it will cause non-stop frustration and anxiety at your agency who, behind closed doors, will be saying, “Thank you very much for this load of garbage, I guess we’ll just have to figure this out on our own (again).” Even worse, it will likely take longer to get the great work you want from your agency – as you go through rounds and rounds of development.

This doesn’t have to happen. In fact, it should never happen. I have “owned” the brief on both the agency and the client side for many years. While there are many different brief templates – and some are slightly better than others – what really matters is the substance of the brief.

Simply put . . . if you want consistently great work from your agency, then it is incumbent upon you and your marketing team to become great brief writers.

Hopefully, I can help start you and your team on the right path.

Below is a basic brief template with questions to help you and/or your staff become better at brief writing. Train your teams to become expert at this skill. If you have already written a great brief, hold it up as one that sets the standard for all future briefs.

Let’s get started.


In the simplest way possible, explain the current situation and the key reason(s) why we need to communicate to our target audience. What, exactly, is the question we’re trying to answer, the problem we’re trying to solve or the opportunity we’re trying to leverage?


Provide both the business and marketing objectives of this assignment. The(se) objective(s) must be SMART:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement;
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress;
  • Achievable – the goals must be reachable in the time-frame;
  • Realistic – given available resources, it’s more than just possible to achieve;
  • Time-bound – specify when the result(s) should be achieved.

Special attention should be paid to writing objectives. Too often people write strategies as objectives and, more often than not, provide objectives that are too basic or unclear. Make sure you tell your agency exactly what you want the work to achieve. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Don’t be like Alice in Wonderland talking to the Cheshire Cat.

Alice Speaks to the Cheshire Cat


Give a brief demographic headline, then sum up the defining characteristic(s) of your target(s) in a concise, illustrative statement. Don’t rely just on demographics– describe relevant psychographics, mindset, passions, or values that make them unique.

What relationship do they have with your hospital? If none, which competitive hospital do they regularly use – and why?

What do they believe to be true about your hospital, today?

What do we want them to believe about your hospital, tomorrow?


What penetrating insight about this target is so critical to know? Why is it important?


What is the one most important thing to communicate? This should be a single sentence that describes the most motivating thing that consumers should learn, believe, think or feel about the brand/category through our communications.

Is the one thing about your hospital truly differentiating and compelling?

Why do you think it will motivate your audience?


List out the rational and emotional reasons why your audience should believe what you are communicating. If you have them, include pre-approved (or mandatory) key copy points and visuals. Important: list them in order of importance.


If so, attach it to the Client Brief. While there are certain elements you know you’re going to have to have in your media plan, try as much as possible to have a blank media plan – to allow your agency to generate media ideas that embrace or enhance the big idea.


Here you may want to provide competitive context (positioning, links to competitive advertising, etc.), category context, key trends, any historical relationship with the target audience (either good or bad) that may impact how your marketing may be received, etc.


What marketing elements are needed for this assignment? List out every element that’s needed.


What are the elements that must be included in the communication? For example: logo, website, visual, actor, etc.


Work backward from the time the communication elements need to be in market and ensure you’re giving your agency enough time to develop work and for you to review the work through at least 2-3 rounds. Also, specify any gating issues for approval and build in time for review, feedback and changes.

It All Boils Down to ROI

As I said earlier, there is nothing more frustrating than going through rounds and rounds of creative development. And the number one reason this happens is due to poor communications – which begins at the Client Brief.

Make writing bulletproof Client Briefs a top priority of your marketing team. And, if you need help learning how to write one, ask your agency marketing partner to train your staff. Or, if you want a more objective opinion on how to do this, feel free to reach out to me for help at

This is an investment that is bound to pay off over and over again.

Best of luck!

Richard Bell

At the time of this post, Richard was the Executive Vice President of Brown, Parker & DeMarinis overseeing Brand Planning & Account Management.

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