Intern’s Guide: How to Take a Brief

By Ramairo Davis

You’ve made it this far. You’ve weathered sweaty palms, the doubters and the self-doubt. You think you’re getting to grips with things when you get handed your first task and someone needs to brief you. No need to panic – here’s my intern’s guide.

As with whenever chartering unfamiliar territory, it all starts with Intel.

The Intel

Knowing what questions to ask and the sort of answers you want is your symbolic campfire. It protects you from looming dangers, the workplace kind. Get this right and the future should be bright.

Who is the client? Can you send me any background on them? Where do they operate? What information do they want? Which sources are valid?

What is the task? Content? Media list? Pitching? Research? Can you give me examples? What would be perfection? Is there anything else I should know? Knowing what a good standard to go by is will save you time.

Most of the time, the person briefing you has forgotten what it’s like to be an intern. To start from the beginning. And perhaps, will explain things at their level, using unfamiliar jargon. There’s no shame in asking questions. Ask. It’s much worse to sit silently at your desk wondering what on earth they have asked you to do.

Comms people, in general, are already operating at full capacity. Maintaining their attention long enough for you to extract the necessary information is a key element of survival. However, being skilled in negotiating deadlines and timeframes, is another trait all survivalists formerly known as interns will have to master.

The Negotiation

Strap on your cargo boots. Imagine yourself with your very own Rambo headband and get stuck in.

Like wandering bears, hungry for what all you’ve managed to forage; the person briefing will be hungry for your ‘yes’ – use it wisely.

Manage expectations

After you feel your questions have been answered sufficiently and you have gathered the necessary Intel to do the task, ensure the deadline is feasible. Interns are typically briefed on different jobs by multiple people and this person may not have a good picture of what else you have on.

Likely they will need to review it. Have patience with yourself, breathe and accept that you will probably need more time than stated to do the task. And if you’re not sure what to prioritise – ask. No one will expect you to make that call.

Once you agree to a time you are bound to it. It can either be your route to success, or path to failure.

The Correspondence

Maintaining a consistent line of communication between yourself and the person who briefed you is your symbolic ‘shelter’ in this office wilderness. Send a short follow up email summarising the main points of the task.

Deliver a daily email outlining your priorities.

Comms, especially agency work, has been likened to the art of spinning plates. It most certainly is. To poorly quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman, ‘with more responsibility comes more plates’. Making comms professionals a slightly jittery bunch. Help calm their nerves. Proactively keep the team updated with the task’s progress and you will make their lives much easier.


With this survival kit you may grow to love and master this PR wilderness. Whatever is the outcome of the internship, these pointers can help even the shortest-staying intern survive. Exhale.

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