Agencies need to stand up for better briefs

Regan Hancock
By Regan Hancock | 18 June 2024
Regan Hancock.

The onus is on agencies as much as marketers to develop better briefs. The stakes are too high not to. Regan Hancock explains.

It’s been almost three years since Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler revealed the findings of their jaw-dropping study of 1,700 marketers and agencies that found 90% of marketers fail to write briefs effectively.

In case you’ve forgotten, the study found that half of all marketers weren’t even trained to write briefs properly. Which is pretty damning.

Fast forward to 2024 and what has changed? Not a whole lot, it would seem, with agencies still frustrated by the briefing process.

And the stakes have never been higher.

According to Davies and von Weiler, bad briefs are responsible for wasting a third of marketing budgets. That’s about $5 billion-plus of ad spend that’s being flushed down the toilet annually in Australia. With marketing budgets getting the squeeze and SMI figures telling us spend is down in many different sectors, now is not the time to be wasting billions of dollars.

But perhaps we’ve been going about this all wrong. Instead of pointing the finger at marketers, agencies need to step up and take some responsibility.

According to Mark Ritson, the briefing process is more than just handing over a piece of paper or an email. In his LVMH days, he says, it was known as “la danse”. That’s French for the dance, in case you weren’t sure.

What that suggests is that briefing should be a collaborative process. Something agency and client work on together.

Briefs should guide, but if they confuse your team or don’t provide a clear starting point, don’t waste time and effort in trying to decipher where to begin. Go back to the client and start a conversation about the brief. Pinpoint what is missing and what needs to be more clearly defined before you put precious resources behind executing the brief.

According to Ritson, the problem with ineffective briefs often lies with a lack of strategy. By his dire estimate, 90% of marketers will never develop a marketing strategy during the course of their careers.

By focusing on objectives, unclear target audiences and a prescriptive list of media channels instead of the all-important strategy, briefs are doomed to fail.

So why not work with your clients to clearly define the strategy?

A strategy should have three key components: a defined set of business or brand goals you’re aiming towards, a clear idea of your target audience and ways you’ll win them over, and a set of guiding principles to navigate the journey to success.

We all need a clear understanding of what makes a good brief. Both on the agency and the client side. So why not develop a bank of the best briefs – yours or other people’s – and use these as a guide to help have these conversations? Having examples will help to build the case to go back to clients to ask for better, or clearer briefs.

Agencies must be proactive in demanding better briefs and participating in the briefing process.

The opportunity for transformation is ripe; but this means pushing harder, potentially having some uncomfortable conversations, and trying to get the process started earlier, or being ready with insights from past campaigns to inform your team.

If history suggests we aren’t going to receive a brief that meaningfully helps us respond to a client’s marketing and business objectives, we need to intervene before the problem occurs. This means being proactive by providing a reverse brief or a specific set of requests before it comes time to brief.

By stepping up and fostering a collaborative environment, we can help ensure briefs are clear, strategic, and actionable.

This is not just a step toward more effective campaigns but a necessary shift to safeguard marketing budgets and drive real results.

The time has come for agencies to take the lead in this dance.

Regan Hancock is the Group Strategy Director at Hatched.


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