Whose Brief Is It Anyway? Day One of ISBA/IPA Good Brief Week November 2015

03 November 2015
The Agency or the Client? Who Owns the Brief? That was the question on the first day of the Good Pitch Week that threw up everything from an 1856 map of Soho to tales of pulling the perfect pint of Guinness to discussions about mediocrity and how not to write boring briefs.

By Sonoo Singh on behalf of ISBA & IPA for #GoodBrief week. 

The Agency or the Client? Who Owns the Brief? That was the question on the first day of the Good Pitch Week that threw up everything from an 1856 map of Soho to tales of pulling the perfect pint of Guinness to discussions about mediocrity and how not to write boring briefs.

The panel, chaired by Debbie Morrison, ISBA Director of Consultancy, included Ben Rhodes, Director of Customer Marketing at Royal Mail; Direct Line Head of Brand and Marketing Planning, Piers Newson-Smith; Henry Daglish, Managing Director, Arena Media; and Saatchi & Saatchi Chief Strategy Officer Richard Huntington.

How to rise above mediocrity?

“One of the biggest issues facing us is mediocrity,” said Ben Rhodes, who kicked off the evening and added that the culture of mediocrity is making it harder for marketers to drive through great strategy and creativity. Mediocrity, underpinned by lazy thinking, driven by the digitisation of design and the automation of everything. He said he was fed up of agencies not being able to direct strategy or not delivering game-changing creativity, but simply nudging things out of the door because we happen to be stuck in the real-time world of execution where things need to get out quickly. 

The solution? A great brief, because it represents a huge opportunity for both the marketer and the agency. Where does a great brief come from? From the client, who fuses consumer insight with customer desire and champions the customer over the product.

Great briefs produce great work, he said. But what makes great briefs brilliant? The best briefs state clearly what the business needs to achieve or what success looks like. They outline the business problems, for instance why do customers prefer rival products? They clearly state what the desired response of the customer would be - both emotional and practical. Great briefs articulate all of that in a sentence. This, he said, is the first step to rise above mediocrity.

A Good Brief is a Transmission 

Piers Newson-Smith said : “Just like a transmission, a good brief is wrapped up with all the power you have as a client, which includes not only all your commercial objectives but everything that you have as a client - from your customer insight to who your audience is to what your brand is and what your heritage is all about. Everything your agency can use to convert that into the most powerful creative result possible.”

What has he learnt over the years about writing good briefs? “A brief is that one moment when as a client you can make something happen,” and added how he was taught never to let a boring brief out of the door by one of his former bosses. A good brief has to be exciting and inspiring and make people do something.

Newson-Smith talked at length about his brief to Saatchi & Saatchi at a time Direct Line was trying to maintain its lead status in one of the least-trusted industries and was fighting against an increasing consumer apathy, in what had become a commoditised market. As a brand, Direct Line was built on a purpose. A challenger brand that created compelling communications and was then able to build a business around it. However in the early 2000s the rise of price comparison sites posed a huge threat to the business. The ambition of the business was clear. It decided to create “a third revolution in the market.” He confessed the agency was unable to crack that brief the first time. How did it make it happen the second time? “As a client we provided the agency with a clear point of view of what we wanted to achieve and also how we wanted to get there, and gave the agency all the tools and the power to help them funnel through the transmission and create something special. Which it did.”

Top tips to create a good brief.

  1. Do not be boring.
  2. Always have a commercial objective
  3. Set the scale of your ambition
  4. Talk to the agency, Then do it again.
  5. Do not rely on a template. Do what’s right.
  6. If you are not used to writing briefs, don’t be afraid to ask someone who is.

Media Agencies & Good Briefs : Stop & Think

What really “switches agencies on” when it comes to briefing and the depressing issue of the “sort of” briefs landing on agency desks, was the focus of Henry Daglish’s talk.

Media used to be an after-thought when clients were thinking of what they want to do with business. But with the evolving media landscape the largest piece of expenditure is media, making the briefing process not only more important but also challenging. Operating in an always-on world, with media agencies continually being asked to optimise the clients in this digital space means that the work is largely automated and programmatic. What both clients and agencies need to do is to stop and think. Be very clear with the KPIs, clear about what makes success and give people the opportunity to think about the bigger picture.

The one single thing that will make a difference within the digitised and programmatic world of media is innovation and creativity. The solution? If an agency is driven enough by the passion that comes from the client’s business, the challenges that the business has and the brief that is front of you then it is not all doom and gloom.

He reminisced about his time working with the Guinness brand, learning about the composition of the brand, the product and why the perfect pour is a marketing gimmick. “You learn all these things because a client makes the effort to enthuse you.” Pitching is another fascinating area he touched upon. His agency pitched 24 times this year, and only twice did he see his team ignited during the process.

“As a media agency the one thing I know if we haven’t got it right is when we are sitting on version 36 of a media plan.”

Good Brief Guide: Make Us Fortune and Fame

Richard Huntington shared his 6 top tips for a good brief guide which should ultimately result in fortune and fame for both the client and the agency.

  1. A Map of Soho

Richard showed an 1856 of Soho - a cholera map - from the time in history when it was finally understood that cholera was water-borne and not airborne. The bigger the problem, the better the solution.

If clients don’t go to agencies with the ‘right problem’ the agency cannot solve them.  The business problem has to be well defined for it to be solved.

2. Kill the caricatures.

The legendary creative Steve Henry once said all he wanted from the client was a brief that described the consumer in a way he could respect and love the audience.

This business is about real people, about engaging and stimulating ordinary people.  As much as clients might love their new-fangled research techniques, what agencies want to know is more about their customers and the non-customers.

3. Let’s have an adult conversation about insights.

FCB’s brilliant This Girl Can campaign for Sport England is based around one simple insight - our fear of being judged.

Clients don’t need to be putting their time and angst providing insight but just because you call it an insight, it doesn’t make it one. Insight has to be alive and curious and depth charged.

4. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Agencies like to be told that our work is important.

When Sony Bravia briefed Fallon, before it resulted in the celebrated ‘Balls’ campaign - the client approached the agency with a “spiritual brief” that said that the brand was under serious threat from rivals and a bit of the brand could die. Just like when Michelangelo was asked to paint the Sistine Chapel, the commission was not to paint the ceiling or in what colours the frescoes were to be covered in, the Pope’s brief to Michelangelo was create something: “For the greater glory of God.”

5. You are Marketers Not Form Fillers

To template or not to template is not the question. What agencies care about is clients having thought about the brief, about their desire of what they want from an agency.

6. Brief in hope not fear.

Clients, brief your agencies with a wide eyed enthusiasm. Agencies can smell fear and have an expectation of loveliness from their clients - much like Richard’s eager and happy dog Edward!

The evening concluded with a lively Q&A session with both clients and agencies sharing their views and questions on issues such as whether it is the agency or the client who should write the brief, should clients sign off the creative briefs, and how to enthuse an agency when the brief is to simply adapt existing assets.

Debbie Morrison concluded by suggesting that clients and agencies need to take time out to think about their briefing techniques, that clients find a ‘briefing mentor’ to inspire creative briefing and finally that ISBA & IPA  would explore building a briefing repository for the industry that shares examples of great briefs.

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