Introducing the briefing system

By August 2013, I felt that our methods of creating materials was creating undue stress on me and, even worse, that they weren’t working particularly well. (Even though they probably were.) To make sure that materials would be created in an efficient manner and, more importantly, that they would be used by outlets once they had them, I devised a simple briefing system that everyone in the company had to use in full if they wanted me to make materials for them.

Each brief had to take five things into account for each piece of material required for any project:

  • What is its purpose? (e.g. to increase sales of a certain book(s), to increase sales at a certain outlet, to allow customers to easily browse products.) If a material has no real purpose behind its creation (“point of sales”, for example, is not a purpose), nothing will come of it, and it will be a waste of time. Its purpose will also inform other crucial parts of the material’s design.
  • What will it look like? What format will it take? How big will it be? Is it print or electronic? Is it in colour, or black-and-white? Where is it going to appear?
  • What details have to be on it? If it’s for an outlet, for example, what details for the outlet need to be on it (address, e-mail, phone number, etc.) and what are those details? Is there a price list on it, and if so, what are the outlet’s prices? Does the material need another organisation’s logo on it, and if so, have you got that logo organised already?
  • How will you make sure this material will succeed in its purpose? How do we make sure the material is printed or distributed effectively? If it is left up to an outlet or other organisation to distribute it, then how to we make sure that it has been distributed?
  • What are the metrics by which this material will be judged to be successful? How will we judge that the production of this material is an effective use of company time, and on what time frame? Or, if you’d like to use Shuttleworth Foundation terminology, what do you expect to see from the production of this material, what would you like to see, and what would you love to see?

I hoped that if we were to consider all of these aspects before we produced materials, we would cut down on unnecessary revisions to materials and the production of unnecessary materials – in short, time-wasting.

So effective was the briefing system that I managed to get through the amount of work that I would ordinarily do in five days, in three days.

Happily, it worked. Marie and I were able to more efficiently get through our work, and it avoided a large amount of unnecessary work for the both of us. So effective was the briefing system that I managed to get through the amount of work that I would ordinarily do in five days, in three days.

It also forced us to think about marketing campaigns in a more nuanced and planned manner – instead of starting a campaign and producing materials ad hoc for it, as we usually tended to do, we would work out exactly what we needed to produce before we started the campaign, and figure out the most efficient ways for us to produce and personalise them, if needed. It meant that, when we embarked on our matric exam paper campaigns and, later, the #textbookrevolution campaign, we could spend as much time following up and doing new things in response to new developments in the campaign as we needed to, without the hassle of having to revisit messaging or price lists or product lists, etc., as we had to do in the past.

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