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How to be better at briefings

I have spent this week working on brand strategy and brand briefings. It is a topic near and dear to my heart because we are all so bad at it.

We are bad at strategy because we either overcomplicate, or oversimplify, or refuse to make choices. And we are bad at articulating what the task at hand is because of the same reasons.

If I had to make a choice, I prefer simplification over complexity, but not at the cost of losing the articulation and support or evidence to the core of the challenge. And that is what makes it so hard.

Albert Einstein famously said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” The great news is that as an advertiser, you can spend the full 60 minutes on assessing the problem. The agency is tasked with translating the problem into a communication strategy and plan that has half a chance of offering some kind of solution.

So, lesson one for advertisers is to spend time understanding and articulating the problem. That requires a smart group of people, who will need to analyze the data, a few people that understand the history of how you got to where you are, some visionaries that can dream big about what could be in the future and some nay-sayers to keep everyone grounded. Do not underestimate the role of the dreamers and the nay-sayers, as you really need them both.

And also don’t underestimate the value of the team members that bring a good few years of experience. In a marketing world where we constantly experience “let’s completely change direction because I am the new Brand Director” or “new CMO”, it is useful to know what has been tried before and how that worked out. Not because a failing score in the past means you should never ever try that strategy or tactic again, but because the learning and experience of the past can help doing it better (or, in the eyes of the new team leaders, “completely different”) if the idea merits repeating.

I personally do not care who actually writes the brief. If you have an in-house team that is great at analysis of what the problem is, what the opportunities are for growth, but you have no clue how to write that in a way that brings fact, challenge, inspiration and context to the agency, then please do not write the brief yourself. The agency most likely will have a couple of smart strategists who can take your work as input, blend it with data points they have themselves, throw in some pop culture references and other trendy stuff and you will have an awesome brief. If you feel you have the bandwidth and capabilities to take this task on in house, more power to you. Regardless, always sit down to align on the desired outcomes of the brief.

A few final thoughts. Do not ask for “Blue Sky plans” when you know you do not have the budget to execute that plan. Creating it is a waste of time and money, and it demoralizes everyone once it becomes clear that “yes, that is the direction we want, but then at 10% of the budget you are proposing”. Rather, give the agency very clear parameters and mandatories. It does not limit their creativity, but in fact will trigger them to be creative within what is possible. Job done.



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