Calls Or Documents: What’s Better For Briefing Creatives?

Which is more effective for briefing writers and other creatives?

Receiving briefs through Zoom calls can be a very efficient workflow for creatives. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I’ve written before about the supreme importance of excellent briefs to the process of working with a freelance writer.

While freelance writing is the space that I’m most familiar with, the briefing process is used to good effect with many different kinds of creatives. These include:

  • Graphic designers
  • UX consultants
  • Marketing strategy advisors

While I have a pretty firm idea about the type of information that I look for in a good brief — if you’d like to see my wish list, check out the blog above — my thoughts have changed over the years in terms of how I like to receive briefs.

There Are Many Ways To Communicate A Brief

I’ve pointed out previously that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how to brief writers.

While the traditional model is to capture a brief in the format of a document, briefs can also be communicated in just about any way that communication can, including:

  • A series of WhatsApp voice memos
  • A YouTube video
  • A Zoom call
  • Notes written on the back of a napkin at a conference

The Pros Of Briefing Creatives By Document

Before exploring why you might wish to brief by video call, let’s look at the pros and cons of briefing the traditional way: by sending over written documents.

The main ‘pro’ of briefing by document — at least in my view — is that it creates an easily accessible written record of what you required, as a client, from a project.

Furthermore, both sides to the creative relationship — client and creative — have a copy of the brief.

If expectations later fall out of alignment — as sometimes happened — both sides can refer back to the brief as a start point for draft number two.

The main disadvantage of briefing by document is that it creates a slow back and forth process. If the creative has a question about the brief then they have to take the time to write an email or pick up the phone in order to solicit clarification about its contents. In other words, it’s an asynchronous form of communication.

The Pros Of Briefing Creatives By Video Call / Zoom

I’m as prone to suffering the effects of Zoom fatigue as anybody else.

I’ve lost count of the number of Zoom calls I’ve participated in this year alone.

Repetitive Zoom calls — and smiling at new contacts from behind a webcam — tends to get tedious.

However, increasingly I’m finding myself favoring Zoom video (or audio) calls as a means of soliciting briefs from clients. In fact, I’m actively encouraging clients to brief me this way.

Here’s my reasoning:

  • It can cut out one call: The subject matter expert (SME) interview is an integral part of many writing creative projects, including producing case studies and white papers. By assembling all project stakeholders on one call, I’ve found that it’s often possible to cut out one subsequent phone/video call in the chain of briefing. Getting people together in this manner also enables a dialogue between account manager and SME. These are often different people and their expectations about a piece may differ.
  • It’s synchronous communication: Briefing a project by video call enables a simultaneous two-way dialogue between client and creative. If you don’t understand a core part of the brief you can just ask for clarification right away. No tedious back and forth after the call. In exchange for a little bit of upfront pain — I mean a Zoom call! — you can cut out a lot of the follow-up work that comes after.

My Workflow For Receiving Zoom Briefs

You may be wondering how you keep a record of briefs transmitted by video call. And the answer is easy: you record them!

My workflow typically goes something like this:

  • Convene a Zoom briefing call: Calendly or some other scheduling tool is your friend when you’re trying to find a time that works for multiple project stakeholders spread out across different time zones.
  • Let people know the call is going to be recorded: It’s much better to make this known in advance rather than springing a “can I record this?” question after the meeting is already in progress. Inform your clients that you’d like to convene a Zoom call to receive a briefing for the project and that you’d like to record the call so that you can refer back to it later, if required. Assure your client that the call recording will stay on your personal computer / in your private cloud and won’t appear anywhere publicly.
  • Record the call: Using Zoom, you can easily record calls either to your local machine or (on higher level tiers) to the cloud.
  • Transcribe the call: Increasingly, I use an automatic transcription service such as Rev to automatically create a transcript of the briefing call. This means that I don’t even need to playback the video.

Receiving briefs by video / phone call has a lot of advantages over receiving them as documents — although there are plenty of clients who still prefer using the tried and trusted method for briefing creatives.

Remember that you don’t have to pick and choose. A video brief coupled with a follow-up document can be a very effective type of workflow too.

Marketing communications consultant interested in tech, Linux, ADHD, beer, async, and remote work (in no particular order).