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Research reveals major gap between client and agency perception of briefing process

Research reveals gap in marketer and agency perception of briefs

Clients and agencies are on different planets when it comes to how they perceive the effectiveness of the briefing process, according to research.

The study, a collaboration between leading Australian strategists Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler and research partner Flood + Partners, is part of the BetterBriefs Project and was revealed at the IPA event EffWorks Global 2021 last week.

Overall it revealed a staggering difference between how marketers perceive their briefing process and how agencies perceive the same thing. Some 80% of marketers think they write good briefs, and only 10% of creative agencies agree, according to the study.

The Drum spoke to von Weiler and Davies ahead of the survey launch earlier this year about the background of the project. They have now launched the results, claiming the survey is the largest ever done on this topic representing the opinions of over 1700 marketeers and agency staff from over 70 countries.

As to what’s driving this topline result of a discrepancy between client and agency, von Weiler and Davies, explain, “​​Simply said, lack of communication. Agencies don’t push back on marketing briefs that lack strategy, objectives or are filled with a language they don’t understand. However, they don't flag with their clients what’s missing or unclear. Marketers assume their briefs are clear because there isn’t a productive conversation being had between them and their agency that clarifies their marketing brief.”

In terms of the other findings that they believe are crucial for the industry to understand, they highlighted that an estimated 33% of marketing budgets are wasted due to poor briefs and misdirected work. Likewise, three in five marketers admit to using the creative process to clarify the strategy.

“As strategists having worked on countless briefs in multiple countries over 30+ years, we started BetterBriefs with the hunch that things weren’t great between marketers and creative agencies when it comes to the brief written by a marketer for the purposes of inspiring and directing creative thinking. Not only were our hunches correct, but the extent of the problem was far greater than we ever thought possible,” they explain.

“Getting objectives right is critical to the direction and clarity provided in a marketing brief. Our data indicates that 71% of creative agencies and 61% of marketers think that ‘objectives’ are far and away from the most important element of a marketing brief. However, objectives are absent or ill-defined in too many marketing briefs. Now it’s time to do something about this, rather than waste more time, money and energy on poor briefs,” they add.

As to what can be done to fix this, they add, “Two things. Firstly, sit your agency or your client down and have an honest conversation about marketing briefs. Secondly, invest in training.”

What the industry has to say about the research

Eve Williams, chief marketing officer, eBay

The briefing process is a crucial part of enabling you to get amazing results from the work that you are doing between marketing teams and agencies. Bur briefs should never come as a surprise. It's really important from my point of view that you've always had discussions before the brief, during the briefing process, and afterward.

Before the briefing process, try to understand and align ultimately what you are trying to achieve, what the ambitions are, what's the scale of what you are trying to address. Once the brief is in it’s about ironing out those questions, making sure that the marketing teams are accountable for what has been submitted, and that the agencies have all the information they need to produce something amazing. And then afterward, reviewing it and thinking what could have been done better so that you can really ensure that the next stage of the process evolves and that those briefs keep on getting better and what you produce keeps getting stronger.

Jo Royce, chair of judges, IPA Effectiveness Accreditation and global director marketing learning and capabilities, Unilever

Be empathetic and challenging of briefs - because behind every crappy brief is somebody who needs some help and somebody who might need a greater gathering of insights.

A crappy brief, if you are agency side, is so frustrating - I know I've been there - but it's also really frustrating if you’re client-side sometimes. Particularly if you've got 1000 stakeholders who all have a slightly different perspective over what the problem is, let alone how you are going to solve it"

So when it comes to briefs be curious, be empathetic, be persistent really early on in the process when it comes to asking those tricky questions. And if you think the brief is rubbish, challenge it. Because rubbish in rubbish out - we all know that. It doesn't have to be critical in challenging a brief - politely and respectfully - doesn't have to be personal or belittling or outmaneuvering - just means that you are trying to get to the nub of the issue and the challenge you need to answer - because we all know that with a rubbish brief it's going to be really hard to prove results and you're lucky if you get great outcomes.

Jason Lonsdale, chief strategy officer, Deutsch Los Angeles

The BetterBriefs Project is the wake-up call that the whole industry needs. The results are hardly surprising. We all know that, overall, the work is getting worse. Just look at a screen - any screen - near you. Contrary to what the vendors of adtech preach, we are not enjoying a gilded age of marketing effectiveness. We are all, professionals and consumers alike, just valiantly trying to survive the seemingly unending maelstrom of precision-guided tactical turds.”

My hope is that the shock and awe of this report will create a period of pronounced introspection whereby both marketers and agencies can drop their egos and have real and undoubtedly hard conversations about where and why it is all going wrong. As the great Paul Feldwick says, the quality of any creative endeavor is directly related to the quality of the conversation among those who created it. And the heart of that conversation, between agency and client, is the briefing.

After all, in agency relationships as in marketing overall, the truth will set you free.

Andreas Krasser, chief executive officer, DDB Group Hong Kong

The findings certainly reflect what I can see on a day-to-day basis. I’d argue that the brief is one of the most important documents in our line of work, yet it seems to also be the most undervalued, disrespected, and unloved one. Given everyone’s obsession with agility, we have collectively come to ignore the fundamentals of our work.

I think it all needs to start with dialogue – clients and agencies clearly have different perspectives on what constitutes a good brief, so there needs to be a common language first.

Next, I believe we should all allow more time for the development of the brief. Rushing the development of the brief almost always results in a shitty one. This in turn means the creatives will have to spend extra time refining or even cracking the strategy themselves, instead of focusing on bringing it to life.

Lastly, until we have found a common language, brief writing should be as collaborative as possible – clients, planners, creatives, and business leads working together to align on a strategy that is concise and inspiring. This also means we need to have tougher, more honest conversations about the brief, challenge assumptions and demand deeper insights.

Janet Hull OBE, IPA director of marketing strategy and executive director IPA EffWorks

How can you say what you mean if you don’t mean what you say? This is precisely the issue that this thorough research brings to the fore: you can’t produce good work without a good evidence-based brief with realistic outcomes and sensible budgets. They are the building block of the client/agency relationship and the campaign outcome.

Bad brief results in wasted time, money and patience all around. But let’s turn a negative into a positive here. Now we know the extent of the problem, we are also presented with an opportunity to improve the briefing process and reclaim the third of the marketing budget lost to bad briefs – which is why we will be adding this to the list of our EffWorks R&D priorities for 2022.

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