Monday, October 27, 2008

How to brief your agency

My friend Paul Isakson has done a huge favor for a mystery client colleague of his by soliciting the opinions on that thorny subject ‘How Should A Client Brief An Agency’.

There are lots of good comments on the post. Having come late to the conversation, I intended to make my thoughts succinct for fear of repeating what had already been said, but after I posted, I saw with horror and amusement that I’d rambled on for longer than anyone. Can anyone say, or even spell, logorrhea?

Anyway, here’s my comment, seeing as it is of blog-post length...

The most important thing to remember - marketers, strategic planners, and other creative thinkers - is that creativity is a misunderstood animal. (And I focus on creativity because I believe that that is the number one quality an advertising agency can provide to its client partners.)

Creativity is not a stage in a process. it is THE process. It doesn't happen when the layout pads get dusted off, it's a constant lateral discipline all the way through, from client chairman to agency producer. Many of the creative people I admire are not called creatives, they're called entrepreneurs - people such as Robert Stephensat Geek Squad. While I agree with all the above comments about not prescribing bridges and so on... it's another matter all together to actually pull this off in the real world. Finding the people who are not only trained lateral thinkers, but who also have a head and stomach for business, is not an easy task.

Something else creativity is not, as many suggest through their behavior and legacy business models, is something fragile to be protected at all costs. Rather, it is more nimble and powerful than any of its enemies (time, budget, committee etc). Perhaps creativity's only true kryptonite-enemy is fatigue. And that can be cured with fresh legs and copious amounts of caffeine.

So, my advice, based upon a history of successful and unsuccessful briefs, is this:

1. Make sure you're briefing the right people. Out-and-out specialists don't work in today's world. The people you need at the table have to be creative, strategic, and business focused. All three. All in each person. All engaged in your challenges.

2. Let it all hang out. Warts and all. Don't try to 'control' the bedlam that exists within every business. It will only conceal the shoals in the water. Again, creativity is a more nimble creature than anyone gives it credit. Lay the whole scene out, in all its complexity, and let creativity find the path.

3. One enemy of fresh, relevant solutions is the constant layering of interpretations from various steps in the development process. By the time a brief makes it to an agency, it might already have been through a number of iterations, each time being added on to by someone naturally inclined to prove their worth to the company. By all means, have opinions, but also allow your agency team to see the naked, original facts on the ground.

4. Lay out some very real goals. Not fantasy real ones. Realistic real ones. And don't be afraid to make them the same ones you, personally, are being measured on for your own performance. Assuming that the reason those bonus measures are there is that they're important company goals.

5. Dust off all your research. How much money have you spent on research over the last few years? Make a return on every cent by putting all that paper on the table, even if it's information that has since been discredited, or was authored by an unpopular figure, etc etc. Again, you don't know - no one knows - the connections that creativity will find. That's it's job.

6. Be real with your agency partners. Don't say you're looking for the next Nike or Xbox or Apple, when you know you can only gain internal consensus for something more conservative or traditional. In fact, I would say don't even have this conversation. Brilliant ideas aren't brilliant because they're brilliant, but because they solve tough problems. Solve the problem, let the solution speak for itself as a consensus maker.. and if other marketers start referring to your communications in THEIR agency briefs, pat yourself on the back and go ask for a raise.

image by jonas_k

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