One of my old agency colleagues said to me the other day: ”Clients routinely overrate themselves and underrate their agencies.” Whether you think this is harsh probably depends on which side of the fence you work.
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One of my roles at WFA is to manage a working group focused on marketing integration. Our discussions often come back to something along the lines of; “true integration will only ever come from strong client leadership”.
To my mind, there are few better tests of leadership than the briefing process.
It’s one of those things that clients instinctively know is critical but – if we’re being honest – most are guilty of not doing quite as well as they could or should.
So – with the help of our partners at The Observatory International – we recently revisited the topic of ‘briefing for integration’ with our members. It’s the first time we have surveyed our members on the topic since 2014. The key difference this time: we also asked a group of agency folk to provide their views too: 36 multinational brand owners and 46 agencies sharing their anonymous views.
More is more?
When we asked them to outline roles and responsibilities for briefing, there were some notable differences versus 2014. On average, there were more stakeholders involved in the process. More external consultancies being consulted (88% versus 47% in 2014) and, rather encouragingly, more local marketers also (65% versus 48% in 2014).
In terms of what’s included within the brief? The answer, again, is more. All of our responding clients now include business KPIs, 96% include marketing metrics, 64% include behavioural changing KPIs. More insight is also being included from a variety of sources, with a notable increase in contribution (again) coming from local markets.
It is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn – Robert Southey
Yet at the same time we see a trend towards condensing briefs. What Maria Mujica (global leader of Fly Fearless) from Mondelez described to us in KL as the “t-shirt brief”. And as one agency leader encouraged our members in Miami: “remember, to many creatives, data is boring. Try capturing your brief in a tweet”.
Singularity a challenge
Despite the increase in inputs, two of the areas which are still notable by their absence are a ‘single customer view’ and a ‘single minded proposition’. Why? The truth for many marketers is that they are challenging to deliver. Defining customer decision journeys is also often a struggle for many clients who do not work in data rich sectors. That said, 46% of clients now think they include a ‘clear integrated customer journey/ path to purchase’. Somewhat deflatingly however, 93% of agencies said their clients did not.
When asked whether clients were “guilty of including the answer within their brief i.e. being too directive” an honest 59% of clients said that was true. Perhaps predictably, 76% of agencies also felt their clients were guilty of this.
The ‘channel neutral brief’ was always advocated as a foundation of the IMC process. Reflecting this, only 9% of our clients said they brief with specific channels/ outputs in mind. However, this is not a one-way street. As several WFA members have shared in our events in London: they increasingly produce connections planning blueprints in advance of any creative brief: enabling them to save on thousands of pieces of copy being created for channels in which they never planned to invest media money: content which would never have seen the light of day.
Are clients getting better?
No briefing discussion would be complete without a mention of timing. As the cynics amongst us may have suspected; whilst 79% of clients share that they always or mostly brief ‘well in advance’, only 44% of agencies back them up on this. The answer to the question of whether more time would really make a difference probably depends where you work.
So have clients improved? As you can see below, our sample of multinational marketers now rank themselves 6.9/10 versus 6.3 in 2014. Unfortunately, the responding agencies agreed with my old agency mate and mark their clients down.
The gaps we saw in our briefing study feel very human. Both clients and agencies can be guilty of procrastination. Sharing that neither party is always single-minded and succinct is hardly ground-breaking news for anyone who’s worked within the, often, verbose world that is our industry.
So what’s the answer?
There are, of course, many ways to address these gaps. In one members’ case he suggested the ‘no brief brief’. Getting your agencies to present the random ideas they’ve never presented to anyone else: “telling your agencies to just show you cool stuff can be quite liberating” for creatively-minded agency folk. Though that clearly depends on how open-minded the audience (client) is.
Better briefing templates and processes are something we plan to work with our industry stakeholders to address. Yet the inevitable truth is that clients need their agencies’ help with briefing as they do elsewhere. That’s why they work with talented agency folk; to help them produce better work. Both clients and agencies need to work together to make briefs as good as they can be.
I listened with interest at Advertising Week Europe 2017 to Patrick Hickey, CEO of independent agency Rothco, when he said “we’ve given up looking for companies to pitch to and focus on individual marketers we believe in”. There’s a lot to be said for this. Integration ultimately doesn’t come down to agencies or brands, it comes down to people. That said, having basic tools in place, like a great integrated brief, can’t but help the cause, particularly as agencies’ and clients’ models continue to evolve. As the world becomes more complex and uncertain, so the need to collaborate will only increase.