Sunday, December 15, 2013

Of Course You Can Crack Any Brief. But What If There's Two?

Sometimes, the agency brief is not the only brief. Sometimes, the client writes their own brief first. And then the agency writes a brief based on that (called a 'reverse brief').

This system, quite frankly, sucks balls.

Because when you have two briefs, the potential for confusion is immense.
I remember one occasion at a previous agency, when the most senior client had a strong view on what their next ad should be about. This was translated by their team into a client brief. Which was then translated by our team into a reverse brief. The proposition our creatives got was 'fun'. We duly wrote ads to fun. But when the work got back to the senior client, it had apparently wildly diverged from what was wanted - they had asked for ads about 'great service.'

Again I quote Mark Fitzloff, Global ECD of W&K, who said in a recent panel discussion: "Everyone between the CD and the most senior client is playing a game of telephone." ('Telephone' in some countries is called 'Chinese Whispers'). At first I thought this was a tad arrogant. But maybe he's right...

Having a great strategy is a great advantage in the creation of advertising. But even the best strategy will be unhelpful if it's one of two.

Maybe we have to accept that sometimes the client has their brief, and that's what they want answered. Planning was invented in an age when clients walked in with a product and not much else. It was up to the agency to decide how to sell that product. Nowadays, the client often has their own insights manager, has done their own research, and has their own view on what they want to say. What they want the agency to do, is to say that well. Not write another brief.  


Unknown said...

I have to admit I did this.

It happened when I didn't get the chance to interrogate the client and the information passed to me was incomplete or off the mark.

To avoid this, nowadays if there's a case when I think the client has it wrong (the problem and the solution do not match), I ask to meet the client first before briefing the creative team.

However sometimes we (the team) have to take a bet, e.g. during business pitches when any Q&A will be sent out to the competing agencies as well.

Anonymous said...

Begs the question of whether or not we need planners involved in every brief? Certainly for the larger strategic projects they're required but often things would be improved if creatives were present during client briefings, ideally with all decision makers present.

Surely as creative problem solvers, the most obvious solution to this ridiculous 'reverse brief' problem we have created for ourselves is to cut out the middle man, reduce the margin for error and simply get the people working on the solution in the room with the people who have the problem that needs to be solved.

A swift dialogue between these groups will have everyone able to probe and prod for information that is required. We won't then have 8 weeks strategic back and forth with only 2 days to solve it in creative.

Sangfroid said...

@Anon - yes you do, because the stuff that comes from clients is pretty vanilla. It has the "who/what/when/why/how much"; but generally lacks the cultural zeitgeist element. A good planner should be in there early with the client and do some inception. And yes, creatives should not be shielded from the client brief. They deserve to know the bare-bones reason they've been asked to provide a creative solution.

Old CD Guy said...

Advertising is a stupid, wasteful business. Merry Christmas.

marranne said...

Ironically, I'm finding it very hard to look away from that image .....

JR said...

It hurts my eyes.

Anonymous said...

the trouble with reverse brief is that it usually turns business problem into communication problem.

Sell! Sell! said...

I agree completely Scampy. What we found (kind of by accident) was that the process is way more productive and rewarding for all involved when creative people talk directly to clients - and ideally with the commercial people - sales, the CEO, rather than just the marketing types (because in a lot of large companies, the marketing people are as much off the pace as the agency planners).

We did a couple of freelance projects, direct to client, no planners, no marketing types. Just creatives, smart numbers guy, and the client. The process was great, we all knew what we were trying to achieve, there was a bit of knocking of heads but it all worked out well. Think of all the stuff that gets in the way of that in normal agency-client relationships.

So when we set up S!S!, this was one of the major problems that we wanted to side step. We had experienced this so many times at previous agencies, we were determined to improve it. So we always work direct to the clients brief - we make sure that it's something that can be attacked head-on. And then we just attack it, head-on. It's simple, no planners, no smoke-and-mirrors, no hidden agendas. It works, and it's far more rewarding.

In big agency land though, there is a certain kind of creative who isn't comfortable talking with clients, and don't like 'getting their hands dirty' with the commercial realities of why their work exists and what it's meant to be doing, they're just interested in their cannes lion, or coloured pencil. Which is a shame, because they're missing out.