Is the briefing process broken?

Clockwise from top left: Jenkins, Warren, Bentham, Tamsedge, Evans
Clockwise from top left: Jenkins, Warren, Bentham, Tamsedge, Evans

Largest study of its kind painted a disturbing picture of the agency briefing process.

A sorry story of mismanagement and self-delusion emerged in adland this week.

No, Campaign hasn’t uncovered the failure of a weirdly named lockdown start-up, this concerns new global research stating that an eye-watering 33% of marketing budgets are wasted due to poor briefs and misdirected work.

The study, which is the largest of its kind, claims to have found “staggering and uncomfortable truths”.

Launched at the IPA EffWorks Global 2021 festival, the work by research firm Flood & Partners and the BetterBriefs Project, an initiative run by Australian strategists Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler, revealed a sizeable gulf between brands and their partners.

Taking in the opinions of more than 1700 marketers and agency staff across more than 70 countries, the survey uncovered that while 80% of marketers believed they write good briefs, only 10% of creative agencies agreed with this.

The gap is even wider when it comes to opinions on whether the briefs provide clear strategic direction. More than three-quarters of marketers thought they achieved this but, on the agency side, only 5% thought this was the case.

The majority of marketers (69%) and agencies (73%) agreed that rebriefs happen too often, leading to “loss of time, money and fuelling frustration on both sides”, the report’s authors said.

Given that nine out of 10 respondents across both cohorts thought the brief was one of the most valuable tools marketers have to create good work, the situation is a dire state of affairs.

The IPA has pledged to add the improvement of the briefing process to its EffWorks R&D priorities for 2022, but in the meantime is it fair to conclude that the briefing process is broken?

Mark Evans

Managing director, marketing and digital, Direct Line Group

The briefing process is definitely not broken – although it's only as good as the TLC put into it. "Garbage in – garbage out" is a cliché but the annoying thing about clichés is that they're typically accurate.

For a brief to drive amazing work it needs to have something to challenge, inspire, provoke the genius in the creative team. Also, the client needs to be clear on the "sort of work" that they want – how epic, bold, entertaining, hyperbolic, emotional. Without this clarity on what good looks like, it's no surprise that work falls short, since any road will take you there.

Jessica Tamsedge

Managing director, McCann London

The best briefs are built on a genuine business problem, a shared understanding of the brand's purpose, and a trusted agency partnership. Conversations, not mandates. Ambition sessions, not emails. The past 20 months have made all of this harder.

But this isn't a formula for frictionless creative delivery. We are a human business, creativity takes time, and the context of any brief is constantly evolving. We pride ourselves on moving at the pace of culture and commerce, so how could we reasonably expect a single piece of paper to capture, immovably, every aspect of a client's brand, business and consumer.

The bid for right-first-time efficiency is not only overrated, it is unrealistic. A brief should be an intention, not an end point.

Richard Warren

Director, marketing communications, Lloyds Banking Group

Definitely not. This research seems to speak of a more formal, set piece, facing each other across the table world. The way we work with agencies is far more fluid and organic. We garner the insights together, write and agree the brief together, develop the work together, see how it works, and tack and evolve as we go. We will be clear on budgets, timings and alignment with the business strategy. The agencies will be clear on what's practically possible. Everything else we do together.

Sarah Jenkins

Managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi London

No. But it can definitely be improved. We are working closer than ever with our clients, often in lockstep and often at a lightning speed, so what we are probably seeing increasingly is the client brief and agency brief processes merging. Yet the client brief is critical. It's literally the client's brain trust on one page, it sets the north star, it forces priorities within the client's business and perhaps most importantly of all, it's a foundation that you can then build on, have a point of view on and sometimes have a healthy argument on. All of which leads to better, sharper work.

Anna Bentham

Director of marketing, Nationwide

Not at all, although perhaps the art of collaboration with agencies to co-create a brief seems to happen less often these days given the ever shorter timescales and the lack of opportunity to work face-to-face over the last 18 months. Writing a brief should be something that is given time, focus and thought given how much there is to consider, such as outlining the objective, how to engage consumers and inspiring agencies to do their best. Our best campaigns are often the result of briefs that are worked on together and where there is clarity and openness and the ability to challenge because by doing that you’ll be able to strike the right balance between creative ambitions and commercial objectives.

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