Matt Gill
By Matt Gill
Jun 21, 2012 2:20:43 PM

Don't Dance Around The Client Brief


As they say, it takes two to tango but both need to know the steps before the music starts. Get it right and a relationship will flourish. More frequently it goes wrong and someone’s feet get badly crushed.

When the parties involved differ in their understanding of the basis and direction of a relationship, problems are sure to follow. This is certainly true of the relationship between an advertiser and their media agency.

Fortunately, we are able to put in place systems, tools and processes that can help to mitigate the risk of an unhappy parting of ways. And the keystone of these systems and processes is the media brief.

To mis-quote Wind in the Willows; “There is nothing half-so-much worth doing than simply creating a good brief”. But we all know that for something so critically important, the client to agency brief can sometimes be woefully inadequate.

In our experience, where a brief exists at all it is often based on a legacy template handed down from when media planning was first conceived in the 1980‘s, i.e. years before the internet existed as a marketing platform. There are many anecdotes of poor briefs; some given verbally, describing an execution imagined rather than an outcome desired...

It is easy to overlook the importance of the humble client brief - and also very easy to give it only cursory consideration. The proliferation of new communications channels means that marketing professionals lead increasingly busy lives and are being asked to deliver more and more for their organizations. Consequently ‘time’ is becoming an ever more elusive commodity, with the result being that the briefing process can often be somewhat disregarded, and certainly not treated with the focus and attention that it merits.

The notion of just wanting to ‘get something out’ to the agency (often with a very short turn around time) so that they can begin the planning process is understandable - but risky. It can lead to a situation whereby media planning becomes too reactive, the client pays too much for inventory and activity is not measured properly - a wasteful approach that negates the value of this powerful tool. In contrast, a well planned and managed briefing process enables the agency to be aligned with key targets and to understand their core deliverables within an appropriate time frame - here media becomes an accountable investment and a valuable tool for growing businesses.

There is also the reality (and pace) of business change which makes it hard to create a single moment in time and commit it to (electronic) paper as a fixed brief. Often once the agency has developed a response to the brief, the game has moved on. We therefore take a more pragmatic view, a brief in isolation DOES NOT DEFINE the relationship between client and agency, it is purely a reference point. The most important part of which is to ensure that the metrics of the agency’s performance - which should by the way sit in the contract - must also be reflected in every brief to the agency. This ensures that the agency partner can remain focused on their performance, as defined in the contract. Agencies should challenge their clients who fail to do this.

Over the past three years, we have worked with our clients and their agencies to establish best practice working processes, including creation of bespoke, client-specific briefing templates designed for the modern communications era.  And as a result we have seen a marked improvement in both the output of media delivery, with the agencies  inspired to produce their best work, and in the working relationships between client and agency.

If you would like to understand more about developing a best practice working relationship with your media agency, or would like a recommendation tailored to your specific requirements, then please get in touch with us confidentially.