The Brief – The solution to agency/brand disconnect

“My agency isn’t delivering the value, strategy, and creative they promised.”

“My client has unrealistic expectations and gives bad direction.”

Do these sounds familiar? Year after year they are the top complaints shared on surveys by brand marketers and agencies. I’ve been on both sides now and see a couple reasons for what’s causing this – both sides play a role and I’ve been guilty of it too!

Before I go further, I want to state right out of the gate that this is based predominantly on my experience over the years, research and articles by others, and of course I am simplifying and generalizing in order to help everyone have even better relationships and subsequently an amazing year (for example, “only” 33% of brand marketers stated they wanted better design/creative for example source:

There are awesome brands and agencies out there who aren’t having these discussions, mostly because they are already doing what I’ll share! If you’ve had challenges with your agencies/clients and find yourself saying either of the opening quotes, I encourage you to keep reading.

What’s going on?

Part of the challenge stems from a disconnect between what drives each side: brand marketers are measured on KPIs like sales, market share, customer satisfaction etc and need to sell their solutions to internal stakeholders on these metrics. Essentially, they need to be confident their idea will generate the ROI otherwise they will be held accountable for the “failure”.

Meanwhile, agencies are looking to build their reputation and grow their accounts. This often means coming up with big, innovative ideas that may rock the boat, be “on trend” and challenge the norm.

It’s a risk for a brand marketer to sell these ideas internally and can be an uphill battle – and herein lies part of the issue! While big ideas are “sexy” and “cool”, often it’s not actually the direction the brand is ultimately going.

The other part comes in transparency within communications, namely the brief.

Digging into the brief

If you aren’t familiar with briefs, they are essentially the RFP for marketing. It’s the way brands tell agencies what they are looking for.

Just like RFP’s, briefs and the subsequent proposals are only as good as the content within them – poorly crafted briefs results in solutions that don’t match expectations. I’ve seen briefs (and truthfully written them in the past) with no clear asks/objectives, ones with incorrect target audiences and others with no budget among other gaps, all of which make it near impossible to accurately create a proposal.

Transparency is the key to success – agencies need to know more than what many brands think they do and, conversely, agencies need to be more transparent in how they develop their strategy and allocate the budget.

To get the most out of your agency (and to get the brilliant ideas the other guys are getting), here’s a few elements to include in your brief or at the very least to discuss with your potential agency partners when you review the brief with them, along with some pointers for agencies to land more deals:

  • insight into the challenges/strategy/plans the brand has for the upcoming year, as well as whether the agency should create within the plan or generate a new one to compliment the other activities. Knowing what else is going on either ensures a seamless experience for consumers across all channels, which is vital these days, or creates a unique stand-alone experience.
  • as much detail as you can provide about objectives and target audience. Agencies will always do additional research however we need direction to ensure we don’t head down the wrong avenue. This is particularly true if you’ve got primary and secondary objectives/targets – getting these switched around makes a big difference (millennials as primary versus boomers for example).
  • budgets and any internal changes that may impact these: for example, moving away from historic use TV and towards social? Knowing this drastically changes the strategy the agency will create. Similarly, share the full budget available even if it’s already allocated (such as pre-purchased media) as it impacts options.
  • on budgets, both sides need to be prepared to transparently discuss costs and realistic expectations of what a budget can achieve. It’s an opportunity for agencies to show their expertise in understanding current market rates and demonstrate where brands can truly get bang for their buck.
  • agencies need to talk less about the campaign and more about how it will achieve the brand objectives, namely engage the target audience, lift sales etc. It’s essentially proof of concept (as much as we can create one) and helps the brand marketer understand how it achieves their goals, which also makes it easier for them to sell internally

These are my suggestions based on working with agencies for years and now being on the agency side for the last 3 – what else would you add?

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