The briefs it takes to light up the sky

We’ve all grown up believing that clients write brief and agencies execute the brief. Many believe that, if you want anything done, you need to write it down in a brief so that there is no misunderstanding.

For some people, a brief needs to contain as much background information as possible to ensure that the agency is well-informed about what needs to be achieved — we ‘ve all seen those long briefs with attachments, appendices and addenda. The good ones get the point across; however, the bad ones confuse the hell out of everyone and are devoid of inspiration.

A well-written and brilliantly delivered brief is the spark that lights up the creative process. It articulates the business problem that communication is called upon to answer. Its role is to align the client’s thinking with the creative agency’s thinking. The big question is: who is responsible for writing the brief? Should clients continue supplying agencies with briefs? Should clients and agencies co-write the brief or should agencies brief themselves?

Three-part journey
The marketing communication journey is made up of three parts.

The brand planning is the first phase.
This is followed by the development of a scope of work, which is an articulation of a brand’s activity programme. This activity programme goes with a budget split, which reflects the brand’s priorities.
The third phase is briefing. In other words, once a scope of work is signed off, briefs follow.
More and more clients are starting to demand that agencies brief themselves. Once agencies know the brand vision, goals, objectives, KPIs, priorities and budget allocation, they should be in a position to generate a set of briefs and sense check these with the client.

Are clients becoming lazy? No. The reality is that clients are demanding more value from their agency partners. Their biggest criticism of us, as agencies, is that we do not understand their businesses. The expectation is that we should be fully immersed in their businesses so we can anticipate challenges and headwinds that lie ahead and prepare proactive solutions for these. Their argument is that, if we understood their businesses, we would be coming up with solutions without expecting to be briefed.

Requirements have evolved
The truth is that clients’ requirements have evolved and agencies need to keep pace. Clients themselves are under massive pressure in their organisations to rethink and relaunch the role that marketing plays internally. They need to feel that their agency partners understand this dynamic, and are geared to help them reinvent themselves.

Part of what’s needed is speed to market and better accuracy. The logic is that agencies that understand their clients businesses better will save time by briefing themselves and by getting the solution right the first time. This is called business partnering.

It’s a move away from traditional client-supplier relationships as we knew them. Clients expect us to have a vested interest in their success. We can’t afford to act like mere outsiders or bystanders who offer solutions without sharing in the ownership of the outcome of those solutions. If the proposed solution fails, we must all feel the pinch. And if it succeeds, we must all share in the spoils.

High level of trust
Would it not be amazing if clients trusted agencies to use their knowledge of client business to brief themselves on what needs to be achieved? That requires a high level of trust, and there are a number of benefits to agencies briefing themselves.

I am well aware of the perils of being at the mercy of a disorganised client which leaves everything till the last minute. I also don’t want to be at the mercy of a client which complicates life by trying to tick too many objectives with one job. The best campaigns are the least-complex, the most-focused and the most single-minded. Agencies understand this all too well; is it not time we generate our own briefs to maximise the chances of producing effective work?

Personally, my view has shifted from expecting a brief for every job. I care about my clients’ businesses as though it’s my own. Having been exposed to their brand-planning processes, scope of work development and communications planning, I know what success looks like to my clients and I know what failure looks like. I do not need my client to spell these out. I am capable of briefing myself and I know when I’ve missed the mark


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