Client/ agency relationships: It's all in the brief ​– Why ANA wants to help "clean up the garbage"

ANA recently conducted parallel surveys among ANA members and agencies on issues related to the client/agency relationship, and the result is the new ANA white paper, Enhancing Client/Agency Relationships.

Bill Duggan

Perhaps the biggest opportunity identified in this new work centers around one of the most fundamental aspect of the client/agency relationship – assignment briefings that clients provide to agencies.

Clients and agencies are not in agreement on whether clients provide clear assignment briefings to agencies. Only 27 per cent of agencies believe clients do a good job (and zero per cent strongly agree). However, 58 per cent of clients think they perform well on briefs.

The brief is the foundation of the agency work product. Over the past year, there have been numerous conversations in ANA committee meetings regarding subpar assignment briefs being developed by clients which, in turn, lead to disappointing work from agencies. Initially, this was a bit of a surprise. The briefing process has been around forever, therefore shouldn’t best practices already be well established and in wide use? Apparently not.

Briefing may be more complicated now than ever. Media is hyper-fragmented, clients are working with multiple agencies, there is more project work, the pace of change is faster than ever, and agencies have been disintermediated to some extent (due to factors including clients using more in-house resources, production decoupling, and clients working directly with media companies).

Agencies emphatically believe that clients do not provide clear assignment briefings. Not a single agency respondent (out of 105), “strongly agreed” that clients provide clear assignment briefings to agencies! Clients must take note of this and commit to change. Bad briefs are frustrating to agencies and cost clients both time and money — for agency rework and the resulting agency fees — not to mention the opportunity costs of subpar creative in the marketplace. Both clients and agencies agree on the importance of better briefing to foster a more-productive client/agency relationship.

ANA will focus attention, going forward, on helping the advertising community improve the assignment briefing process. We’ll work with the 4A’s to strongly incorporate the agency perspective. Deliverables are to be determined but could include:

  • Conducting additional research to get a more-specific understanding of what’s currently wrong with the assignment briefing process.
  • Identifying clients with 'best in class' briefing processes (perhaps doing that with strong input from the 4A’s) and identifying the characteristics of such briefings.
  • Holding ANA committee meetings (specifically, the Agency Relations Committee) and/or School of Marketing classes that focus on assignment briefings.
  • Asking 4A’s to share their learning and perhaps developing some joint ANA/4A’s guidance on assignment briefings.

'Garbage in, garbage out,' is a saying in the industry related to briefs. Bad briefs usually lead to bad work. ANA looks forward to helping to clean up the garbage.

ANA perspective

The brief is the foundation of the agency work product. Agencies emphatically believe that clients do not provide clear assignment briefings. Not a single agency respondent (out of 105), “strongly agreed” that clients provide clear assignment briefings to agencies!

Clients must take note of this and commit to change. Bad briefs are frustrating to agencies and cost clients both time and money — for agency rework and the resulting agency fees — not to mention the opportunity costs of subpar creative in the marketplace. Both clients and agencies agree on the importance of better briefing to foster a more-productive client/agency relationship.

ANA will focus attention, going forward, on helping the advertising community improve the assignment briefing process. We’ll work with the 4A’s to strongly incorporate the agency perspective.

A related “pain point” identified in the survey is the client approval process. As we move forward on our work to improve assignment briefings, we’ll also incorporate learning along the way on optimizing the client approval process.

You can find out more information about the survey here, or visit this pagefor the full white paper.

Bill Duggan is ‎group executive vice-president at ANA

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