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Proof that the client brief is broken, and what we can do about it.

Truth Collective Truth CollectiveSeason 3Episode 4Nov 2, 2021

Planner Parley Podcast - Season 3 Episode 4 - Proof that the client brief is broken, and what we can do about it

Intro: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small-agency planning.

The client brief is inarguably the most important document in marketing, as it begins our work and should measure our success. So why is it often so neglected? Today’s guests, Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler had that same nagging question. So they co-founded BetterBriefs and ran the first significant global study in over 10 years to understand exactly what is at play, where the problems lie, and how marketers and agencies can close the gap to make briefs the workhorses they are intended to be. Join them and John Roberts, chief strategy officer at Truth Collective, to reveal how we can help the client create better briefs, and what it means for small agencies.

Pull up a chair and listen in…

John: Today, uh, I’m delighted that we’re gonna be talking about something that’s near and dear to every planners heart; the brief. The client brief. Or marketed brief. The one that, uh, originates the work and brings us all of our joy and all of our heartache and pain as well.

It’s been five, six years since the last substantial study was done in terms of the client briefs and- and some of the stories behind them. And today I’m delighted to be joined by two drivers of a fantastic new piece of research into building better briefs from the client perspective. So welcome Matt Davis and Pieter-Paul von Weiler. I’d love you to say hello, introduce yourselves to the- to, uh, the Pod here, and tell me what on earth made you want to do this? Matt, let’s start with you.

Matt: Thanks, John. Lovely to be here. And- and thanks for having us. Um, yes, as you can possible hear from the accent, I’m from Australia, from Melbourne specifically, and I’m, you know, I’ve- I’ve worked in the industry for over 15 years and, uh, have seen briefs of all shapes and sizes, um, come over my desk. And, um, we, in partnership with Pieter-Paul, uh, he’ll introduce himself in a second, uh, we worked together for- for a number of years and, um, we thought enough was enough. Um, let’s have a look and- and see what the current state of- of marketing briefs is a- across the world and see if we can do something about, um, a hunch we had that, um, maybe they weren’t up to scratch.

John: Look forward into digging into that. How about you Pieter-Paul?

Pieter-Paul: Um, my first name is Pieter-Paul and the accent you hear is Dutch. Um, I was born in The Hague, worked in Amsterdam for a while, and then moved to London to really understand planning and strategy better. Um, so spend a lot of time with the APG there; very grateful what the APG taught me. And then I ran into an Aussie girl and what happens is, they take you to Australia and now I’ve been in lockdown for two years, and I got a house and a mortgage and two kids.
I guess how this all started, so I’ve been in the industry almost 20 years, um, having worked in three countries, I saw, uh- uh, uh, uh, a big difference between different clients and- and- and different [inaudible] quorums and d- different briefs that I was given. And I guess Matt and I were sitting in a pub somewhere in March this year and- and that old topic of briefs and- and poor quality marketing briefs came up. And instead of the normal rant and rage, uh, as alcohol, uh, uh, consumption goes up-

John: (laughs).

Pieter-Paul: … for some reason it began with constructive conversation and- and the next morning we actually started digging, and as you alluded to, there- there was very little research done. Um, (laughs), and then we thought ins- instead of just ranting and raging, let- let’s do something about this. May- maybe we can just so some research on it and- and see what comes back.

John: So tell me a little bit about the closeness and the scale, ’cause I know that, uh, we’re gonna share all the links to so people can see the report themselves. But talk to a little bit about what happened after you had a drink and starting building out the scale to build, uh, what is a substantial global study into the market of briefs.

Matt: Well, I guess we started, um, as- as to your point, looking to see what was available and what research had been done. Um, what tools were available and, uh, was this something, uh, substantial that we could put in front of our clients and say, hey look, this is something that we need to listen to and- and take note of and- and a way forward to help making briefs better.
So we- we had a look and there was a study done by the IPA, uh, back in 2003, uh, which was really the only dedicated study on the topic. Um, and it had about 270-odd in- in its sample and it was UK specific. Uh, the [ANA], uh, obviously in the States-

John: Yeah.

Matt: … uh, did, um, something on client agency relationships back in 2015, which had a few questions on- on briefs. So it wasn’t necessarily dedicated to- to marketing briefs or client briefs. There was, um, some further work done on credit briefs, which was interesting. Um, there was a- a literature study done by [SWAK], which is a- a Dutch, um, organization. It’s only available in Dutch. But that was a really great in depth look at briefs. Um, you know, did a- a- a call study with about 30-odd, um, marketers and agencies then. But, um, a s… a substantial literature review, which Pieter-Paul has read. I obviously have not.
Um, and then the WA… FA did, um, a study a few years back. But again, the sample size was really small. So, we thought, there’s nothing really out there that quantifies the magnitude of the problem. If there was one. Um, and also looks at, you know, what are the implications of that problem. So, that was our starting point, to understand what was available, um, and if there was nothing available, what could we do, um, to start getting that information.

Pieter-Paul: So you’ve got the most important document in marketing that exchanges hands from marketeer to agency, barely researched. [inaudible] it seemed like, it- it… not an opportunity, but it seemed like a… almost an issue.

John: Yeah. For sure. So having, um, surfed through the, uh, as we were chatting earlier, the- the new report that you’ve published. I want to jump straight in if that’s okay, to, um, what I love about it. It’s… it gets very, very clear very close up [inaudible]. Okay? What’s the fundamental problem that you’ve identified? Why don’t you talk about that for a minute?

Matt: Uh, I- I think bef- before we do, I- I think it’s worthwhile, um, just talking about the- the methodology before we kind of [crosstalk]-

John: Oh, yes. Go ahead.

Matt: But- but only- only, um, in- in that context as well, because we didn’t want to necessarily bring, uh, as Pieter-Paul mentioned, that- that- that rage and- and- and ranting-ness, um, to the study. Um, so we worked with a- a company in the UK called [inaudible] Flood and Partners, um, whose ac- actually just won the most innovative… innovative research agency, uh, in the UK in 2021. And they have, uh, a really fantastic methodology and I- and I- and I encourage everyone to check it out, um, which is designed to elicit more emotional responses. So it uses a bunch of swipes that you would typically find on apps like Tinder, um, it look… it uses Emojis. So it’s not just, you know, radio buttons and- and check boxes.
So, um, what that allowed us to do, um, and working with [Von Flood] in particular, um, was having a really unbiased, nuanced, uh, look at- at the problem and to really uncover, without bias, um, you know, what that problem was.

Pieter-Paul: So, most research, as planners know, is absolutely shit and should be ignored; unfortunately, most marketeers embrace it as thoughtful.

John: (laughs).

Pieter-Paul: Um, this is proper research with a lot, as Matt said, a little of m… uh, uh, um, eh, more intuitive approach and a lot of [inaudible] quo to back up what we find in quorums. And what was interesting to see is that the people really took the time to write, uh, lots of comments and, uh, really explain their perspectives. So that also told us that both marketeers and agencies are really really passionate about this topic.

John: Did you find that it was the marketers and the agencies that were passionate about this?

Pieter-Paul: Yes. Absolutely. We found it in [inaudible] and we’re seeing it, uh, happening now on discussion on LinkedIn and other places. So, we even have more marketeers taking the survey then, uh, agencies. And that- that was a surprise to us, we weren’t expecting that.

Matt: So we ended up at a sample of over 1700 respondents, um, from 70 countries, um, which is all outlined in- in the report. Um, and yeah, there was over, you know, around 950 marketers, uh, and it was just under 800 agency folk. So yeah, there was- there was huge passion for it. And we were s… we were super surprised as we- as we went in and- and as- as- as the train started gathering (laughs) momentum, um, how- how close this topic was to people’s hearts and how passionately they felt about it. We didn’t- we didn’t pay anyone to do this. Um, the- they took the time, um, to complete the survey themselves, which is fantastic.

John: That’s interesting, what you’re saying, ’cause when we dig into it, okay, there- there’s a lot of hard truths in this report that, uh, I want to get your perspective on. Uh, it’s funny, when I actually did the survey myself, I tracked down Von Flood, ’cause I was so impressed with the methodology as something of actually teasing out the, uh, as a- as a bitter, jaundiced agency cre… strategist, I didn’t want to give bitter, jaundiced, pat-answers. And so it really provoked me to think harder about things. So it’s really- really inventive.
So let’s come back to the problem, ’cause I love the way it’s summarized: Marketers and agencies are on different planets. Brilliant snapshot. Talk about that some more.

Pieter-Paul: It’s basically, we’re all experts in communication and our communications suck-

John: Right.

Pieter-Paul: … when it comes down to the brief.

Matt: (laughs). There are some things we agree on, however; which- which is- which is also (laughs) really worth noting. Um, so both sides agree that it’s really difficult to produce creative work without a good marketing brief.

Pieter-Paul: Yeah.

Matt: So, there’s a good starting point there. We- we know that we can’t get to good work unless we are in agreement on that document to- to start with. Um, we also know that, um, that document is one of the most important and yet paradoxically most neglected tools marketers have to create good work. Um, so, on- one one hand we think, this is really important, but we’re also neglecting it. Um, uh, it- it, again, it’s, it is that- that paradox that was kind of at the heart of what we were thinking going into this. Um, and it- it’s really been un- been uncovered.

John: When you think about what you’ve learned, what are the primary reasons why it’s been neglected?

Pieter-Paul: Uh, there’s so much there and I think- I think that’s one of the one th… next steps we were gonna take to really-

John: Right.

Pieter-Paul: … deep dive on- on the root causes. I guess, I guess it’s very basically, and unsurprisingly, taking the time, both parties, marketeers and the agencies, to understand each other what the brand needs. So, on the one side, the marketeer taking more time to briefing the right objectives. Taking the time to craft and taking the right people across the brief, and getting sign off on the right people, one of our findings is that only 50% of the time we have the right people signing off on the brief.
And then agencies, also, not pushing back when they don’t understand stuff. Not pushing back on, hey, the… what your- what your- what you’re asking me here is unclear when it comes down to objectives; or the language that you’re using in your brief is unclear to me. From an agency perspective we’re not speaking up enough when things aren’t clear and- and it’s one of the things we want to dive into now. We’ve got a hypothesis but we can’t prove this now. But one of the hypothesis is, there’s more tools than ever before in marketing. So, we are spreading ourselves, and especially marketers, are spreading themselves thinner and thinner and thinner across more activities and tools; therefore, there’s less time to invest it in the most important thing in marketing, which is the brief.
Um, and then there’s the master/slave relationship. Uh, during the pan- pandemic especially, I think, it’s been accelerated. Let’s hold on to our clients, let’s not upset them. Oh, let… we’ll push back on the brief that I don’t understand because we don’t want to upset the client, let’s just try and guess what he wants. But as we all know, that doesn’t work.

John: I hear you. Matt, did you want to add anything to that?

Matt: Um, something, I think the- the biggest issues we’re seeing is, as- as Pieter-Paul ha- has said, is the disparity between how marketers and agencies are- are viewing the brief. So it’s not necessarily that one parties right or wrong; it is that there’s such a big gap between the two. And that’s almost reconcilable at this point, or it has been in the past. And at a la… and, uh, at- at least now, um, we’re- we’re hoping these findings can help marketers and agencies have better conversations about what true partnership means when it comes to the information that’s transferred between the two of them.
So things like, um, you know, does a brief provide strategic direction? Um, marketers think that most briefs do, uh, almost 80%; whereas creative agencies are- are very very loyal on that scale, it’s- it’s only sort of 5% of the briefs they receives think provide clear strategic direction. You go, okay, well, is that not the fundamental reason the brief exists?

John: Right.

Matt: Um, and- and if we’re not getting that stuff right, it’s not to say that creative agencies aren’t, um, are- are- are solely right in this. You know, again, if- if they’re not seeing that strategic direction, what is happening as a result? Are they just passively accepting that brief? Um, and not pushing back on their clients?
So- so all that stuff has to be taken into consideration and we were very careful not to add any seasoning to- to the results because it doesn’t need it. There is such a huge disparity now the chil… the opportunities for us to have conversations to- to reduce that disparity.

John: What’s interesting Matt, just picking up on that and- and Pieter-Paul, were just talking about the master/slave environment that, you know, I know everyone in the agency’s been thinking about, not just pandemic time but also prior of. Questioning the brief in order to get to a better place is f… it’s definitely an output that I took from this. Okay? That we need to speak up. Agency… agencies, strategists and agencies, need to speak up and, uh, make sure we are clear about what we’re trying to achieve and agree. And too often I think it feels almost as if there might be a relationship issue as to why we don’t. Do you sense that as well?

Pieter-Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. What… I guess it starts with the meeting time, right? The meeting time is scheduled for a brief just for the brief to be briefed in and maybe- maybe there’s-

John: Right.

Pieter-Paul: … [crosstalk] time, maybe not. And then it’s basically straight into reverse brief or creative brief, whatever you like to call it, um, instead of, uh, having a bit of a feedback session on the brief. Or even better, I’ve worked with some clients where I get to see the marketing brief before it’s briefed into me, so that’s maybe a tip here. Work a bit more in lockstep- step with your marketeer or with your agency and don’t let the brief come as a surprise; start talking about the brief before you brief it in.

Matt: Yeah.

John: And I think, I- I certainly have been, you know, subject to this in the past, of- of not asking enough questions to be really really clear about how will we know if we’re successful? Okay? Setting really clear objectives and- and- and measurement criteria. Do you get a sense for that as well?

Matt: Ah. Don’t- don’t get him started on that one.

John: (laughs).

Pieter-Paul: (laughs).

Matt: I guess, I guess, mar-

John: Well, just to be clear, having checked, okay, you guys are [inaudible] up. So, knowing that the role of an [inaudible] is to really ensure that the powerful work that is successful, that has to start back at the… in the client’s brief, right, of making sure we’re really really clear about what we’re trying to achieve.

Pieter-Paul: Absolutely. Um, and it start- it starts with translating the marketing strategy-

John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pieter-Paul: … in your objectives for the marketing brief. Now marketing strategy is- is not hard. Right? We need to shift some attitudes in peoples brain to evoke a certain behavior, buy something, try something, or stop doing something. And that will drive a commercial result. Even if you’re the government and you’re focusing on behavior change, you’re driving a commercial result because you’re saving the healthcare system billions of dollars if you help people quitting smoking or if you helped them move a little bit more.
That linkage of what needs to shift in peoples brain, what behavior is required, and what’s the commercial outcome, that’s what we’re not seeing coming through enough in briefs. Uh, the pinnacle sits in the UK, when you work with, uh, uh, some- some big U- UK [inaudible] and- and- and alcohol, um, alcohol brains there. I’m not taking only from personal experience, They got that stuff down pat. They know that linkage really well. And therefore, they write intimidatingly good briefs. But most of the time the attitudinal objective, 10% growth in awareness of consideration, doesn’t link to behavioral objective. And that is basic marketing 101. And without that, where are we to start as creative agencies, because it’s not us writing those strategies, it’s the marketeer that needs to write those strategies. We are to build on those strategies and add creativity to it.

Matt: Yeah, the objective’s, um, box on a brief, um, is the first one I would look at. Um, forget about everything else, does- does the rest of the story, once you’ve looked at the obje- objectives, does the rest of the s… uh, the story make sense, um, from those? Uh, too often, as Pieter-Paul says, we get objectives that are increase sales and that’s it. Or, um, there’s a attitudinal statement taken from a research report, um, or a number of those statements, um, just dumped into the objective section that are completely unlinked. Um, so as- as- as- as we’ve s… talked about, that the role of those objectives in creating a backbone for your story, um, in the brief, is- is really important.

Pieter-Paul: I’m- I’m, uh, really concerned about the state of the advertising industry at the moment. So we’re coming out of this pandemic, we’re redefining everything, and we’re sealing… we’re seeing, not sure if it’s all over the world, but definitely Australia, we’re seeing a big, uh- uh, transition from lots of people moving out for the industry-

Matt: Yeah.

Pieter-Paul: … and starting to get jobs at- at brands and in-house agencies and all those kinds of things. So, on the one, we’ve got all these briefs that are pretty poor and confusing, which leads to a poor and- and mediocre relationship between, uh, marketeers in creative agencies. Ultimately, it will frustrate people, it will frustrate relationships, and people are leaving our industry. So, I honestly think that this is the biggest issue currently that is crippling our industry, and especially the advertising industry, and it- it will have an [inaudible] effect on talent.
So, um, when you look at money, there- there’s different sources, right? So, the marketing industry is- is estimated between $900,000 Billion US dollars and $1.1; depending where I look.

Matt: Right.

Pieter-Paul: Let’s just say it’s a Trillion dollars. Now, we had a question in our survey that stated, “Of the marketing budget, what percentage do you think goes to waste due to poor quality briefs? And people have estimated that it’s about 33%.

Matt: That’s terrifying, right, when you think about the scale of the impact we could have if that money was actually spent where we all want to spend it, right?

Pieter-Paul: Exactly. So, it’s a little bit hard for marketeers, 37%; it’s a little bit lower for creative agencies, 30%. It’s pretty consistent all over the world. So that’s why we’re coming out with that number. That is… so when you apply that to a trillion dollars, we’re talking about over $300 billion dollars could potentially go to waste due to poor marketing briefs. So we’ve got a talent issue and we’ve got a massive wastage issue. And the IPA study back from 2003 already flagged that this was happening. So this was flagged 20 years ago. And what we’re seeing with some of the proxies we use from the IPA, that things are getting worse.
So that’s why our call to action with this- with this project is to everyone to spread it… spread the report far and wide, and sit down with your agency, sit down with your marketer, bring some of the steps of the re- report in and say, “This is not about us, right? But hey, let’s just have an honest conversation about what you think is working and isn’t working about how we brief each other and how we go about our briefings.” That’s the only thing we want out of this. And if everybody does that between now and the end of the year, and spreads it wide and far, and it’s- it’s- it’s about the step and it’s about the conversation that we want to ignite.

John: Pieter-Paul, it’s- it’s funny. I- I was having exactly this conversation about the report with one of my planners half an hour ago, before we jumped on this. So, we have to find a way to have those honest conversation beca… but I had- I had, I began it by having a limiting belief that my client wouldn’t want to hear it. That it’s a poking thing, that pointing blame at- at people. And actually what you’ve just said is, to reframe, is it’s not about pointing fingers and blaming one person, it’s about collectively thinking about how can we get better at what we do together? Right?

Pieter-Paul: And how do we- how do we leave less sta… uh, less money laying on the table. So framing is an opportunity. So supposedly a third of our marketing budget could be optimized. Let’s talk about and let’s talk about how it, how we do it. Let’s- let’s take the learnings from- from- from this report and go through, uh, uh, some of them. Am I using clear language? Am I using the right… am I giving you clear objectives? Um, is there enough [inaudible] direction in the brief? Are we having too many rebriefs? What can we do to make things better to, in the end, drive a bigger commercial result. Because marketeers are- are ultimately responsible for driving commercial results. That’s why it’s called commercial creativity. If you- if you don’t like the word commercial in creativity, go and be an artist. Fine. But we are in a business of commercial creativity.

John: Yeah.

Matt: And just- just to build on that point. The- the commercial, the- the output of creativity has been under the microscope for years and years. Performance based marketing, all this sort of stuff. How is my marketing performing from an outlook perspective? Why don’t we take that back and look at the input for a second and actually take it, you know, have a- have a- have a conversation about the way that creativity is- is briefed and- and how we go about creating better results from the start. Not from how we optimize banner ads and- and whatnot but, again, look… let’s look at the input rather than the output.

John: Really good context. So what did… what surprised you from the findings?

Matt: What- what surprised me was, um, our respondent’s, especially on the marketing side, willingness, um, to admit to their faults. So you mentioned that marketers may be confronted by this, that there may be some home truths that- that- that, um, you know, that- that set in. Um, but there’s a- there’s a stat that- that… what the one thing that really, um, blew me away was that 6 out of 10 marketers admit to using the creative process to clarify the strategy. So what that suggests is that they’re going in with, you know, wishy-washy briefs. And- and that can be, um, you know, a systemic issue within their organization, not necessarily them as, um, as brief writers and the quality of briefs they could potentially produce individually. But it could be an organizational issue. Um, but 60%, um, suggest that they don’t have the strategy pinned down and they use, um, rounds of concepting, um, rounds of approvals, um, to actually clarify what they want. Um, and- and for me that doesn’t allow, um, the creative agency planners, creatives, to do the best work they can.

John: Pieter-Paul, what surprised you?

Pieter-Paul: What’s surprising me now is the reactions in the marketplace. I think there are mixed. I think, um, I think some people are really running with it, which is really good. And I’m seeing certain pockets in the market being… gone a bit quiet and shying away from the problem. So, that tells me that there is- that there’s… I think there’s a couple of different categories when it comes down to marketeers and their briefs. There might be-

John: Yeah.

Pieter-Paul: … there might be the ones that try really hard. Um, there might be the ones that, um, don’t really know what to do. And there might be the ones that still think, ah, a brief and the agency stuff is just 10% of what we do and I’ve got other stuff to do. The political marketeer, if you- if you like.

John: Yeah. Okay.

Pieter-Paul: But the problem is that the political marketeers are usually in charge of very large budgets and companies. So that’s why we need to light and fuel this fire as much as we can so the really good ones and- and, uh, um, confront- confront the ones that are in denial, if you like.

John: And it’s interesting when you pick up on that, I- I feel, like, uh, from experience as well, I’m sure you’ve seen this, that there’s a difference, as Matt, as you’ve just said, whether there’s an organizational inhibition or structure that- that avoids creating great briefs as well as a personal level. So certainly I know I’ve worked with clients who are personally really driven on doing that. But just structurally, organizationally, everything turned into amorphous Jell-o where multiple clients wants to contribute but at different stages. No one wants to be definitive.

Matt: Yeah. And- and this is as much about the briefing process as it is about the brief. Um, uh, that’s impor- that’s important to note, um, that the study didn’t just look at the- the document, it’s, um, it’s discussed, or should be discussed, actually it looks at- at the process as well. And, uh, most marketeers admit or agree that, um, the process could benefit from more structure. Um, and so that structure has to be in place, um, you know, in a way that permeates the organization that they’re working with [inaudible] perspective.
Um, and what that means is, is because organizations aren’t always… um, not everyone in the organization is a sophisticated marketer. Um, you’ve got… you might have people who feel it’s their job to sign off a brief, um, because they have a point of view on what marketing should do or be. Um, whether that’s the right thing, that’s up to the individual organization, but marketing often gets put at the end of the food chain within organizations as well. Um, so how do we help marketers have more, you know, financial conversations, more commercial conversations within their organizations? And we hope that the Better Briefs Project and Study allows them to do that, say look, “We’re wasting money. And don’t just blame me for that. This is an organizational threat, um, and how do we collectively combat it?”

Pieter-Paul: So I- I- I- I was making, along in 2016 at the IPA at- at F-Week, the first F-Week, I was walking off because, um, for some reason that… they were gonna give me an IPA Effectiveness Award, and there was a guy on stage giving a talk on decision making. And it was a mountaineer and his name was Kenton Cool. And he had climbed Mount Everest twice. And, um, he talked about what it means to be a mountain guide. So, and I vividly remember this, so he talked about absolute decision making. So when you’re halfway up some dangerous mountain with clients, and you can- you can clearly see that one of those clients is struggling and others are still fit enough to reach the top, you need to make absolute decisions because it’s about life and death up there. It is… decision ma… absolute decision making is one or zero; black or white.
So, when you’re on top of a mountain, or when you’re in a- in a- in a… as an army unit in a hostile situation, you rely on absolute decision making. Fascinating s-subject, by the way; it’s decision making, um, from- from a- from a- from a mathematical perspective. And that- that’s what I would encourage more marketeers to do; take absolute decisions. Stay away from this objectivity when it comes down to brief and when it comes down to accessing the work. Absolute decision making; black and white: Who is my target? Whose in? Whose out? What’s my growth strategy? And if you don’t do that, you end up with those briefs that, where- where the target is described as, ah, um, ju- just, uh, based on gender dynamics and age. We need more absolute decision making when it comes down… what… when it… what… in marketing and especially in briefs.

John: That’s great content. And again, uh, uh, it’s funny, I- I- I’ve been talking with people about trying to learn to be more deliberate. Okay? So to- to- to, pun intended, uh, they… to deliberate means to spend time thinking about and considering, but then eventually to be deliberate; be very, very specific and clear. And you said it even better, that absolute decision making.
So, personally, I was impressed, surprised, um, and yet it also made sense in some way when, uh, you talk about what can we do more? And you were talking about being very clear on the strategy before writing the brief, that creative agencies are twice as energized to work on a brief if it has a clear strategic direction. That’s really compelling, both internally for my teams; but also externally, with clients, to have that discussion right?

Pieter-Paul: And you should’ve, uh, and you would- you would’ve noticed that, um, in the reports there is… we ask people, um, to- to give their gut feel, uh, about how they feel about marketing briefs coming in. And- and we saw that, uh, agencies are feeling a lot more negative about it compared to marketeers, who feel a little more positive about it. But when you then drill that down further, um, and you focus entirely on the agencies, you saw that account management, in- in comparison to the strategists, just felt much more positive about, um, marketing briefs coming in compared to the strategist, who were the lowest and the least (laughs) positive about marketing briefs coming in.
So that’s… that [inaudible] carried away with that step for a while. It’s, uh, it is the most important document we work with and we feel least excited to work with it. So, in the micro… in- in the micro world of strategist and planners, that is an insanely big issue. So we don’t get excited-

John: Yeah.

Pieter-Paul: … about the one document that starts our thinking.

Matt: Can I- can I ask you a question, John? What- what was… what did you find, um, ’cause I know that you said, uh, uh, some of it is confirming what we thought and- and other things are- are maybe, um, highlighting, uh, a worse situation than we even thought. What was- what was surprising for you, if anything?

John: I found, from my perspective, there were… it was affirmation that we know that there’s a… the- the client brief to the agency is broken and we haven’t spoken up enough. And I’m saying we, is because this should not be about pointing fingers. It’s easy to- to blame the client brief. And I’m sure anyone listening to this or we, ourselves, we’ve all nodded at times where we said, well, what do you expect? Pieter-Paul, like you were saying? What do you expect me to do with this? Okay? I can’t create magic in a creative brief if I haven’t got something in the client brief. And I think we need to change that. Matt?

Matt: And- and further to the point we discussed earlier around, you know, account management maybe being, you know, more exciting and energized by briefs coming in than planners, um, so again that speaks to an internal struggle that even happens within creative agencies. If account management, who controls the relationship, um, suggests that, “Actually guys, this- this brief is great, this brief is good. Let- let’s, you know, let’s all get behind it, let’s start, let’s- let’s start. We’ve got tight deadlines, um, let’s get moving.” At least now, a planner can say, “Actually, hold a second. I’m not excited about this brief. I’m not energized by this brief. There is an opportunity for us to make it better, um, because it’ll strengthen the relationship, it’ll waste, um, less time and money.” Um, so again, there- there are internal, um, nuances that are being drawn out by this that maybe we haven’t considered before.

John: Yeah. I think that- that struck me, I mean you asking about the question, that struck me about that distinction, because I don’t look at it and say, it… “The account exec or account management is just bringing- bringing work in and all they care about is bringing work in.” I don’t… I didn’t take that from the report at all. But they have a different perspective. All right? So, we have to- we have to figure out what’s the role of a strategist, the account manager, and quite frankly, the creative director as well, of how do we work with clients to say, “This is the starting point.” Pieter-Paul, you’re… you’ve, okay, you’ve said this a number of times. This is actually what’s gonna inspire, okay, the- the potential for great work within the agency across all of those specialist skills. So how do we make sure working with a client, we can get strong enough platform?

Pieter-Paul: And- and help your marketeer’s to brief you in the best possible way. So-

John: Yeah.

Pieter-Paul: … let- let… when I think back in my career to the best briefs and briefings I had, it- it was when- when the brand went above and beyond to immerse me in their product. So, I remember flying to Denmark to, uh, the [Lurpak] Factory. Lurpak is butter.

John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pieter-Paul: But it’s quality butter, so you pay four times as much for it and… then- then other butters. And I was in the butter factory and I’ve been in a fair few factories, worked a fair bit in [inaudible]. Every factory is basically the same; a whole bunch of pipes and things you don’t really see, and then there’s this sexy thing where- where they package everything up. And that’s it.
So, it’s… there’s nothing sexy there. But was a… what I will never forget about the Lurpak tour is that it have three professional butter tasters that literally take, uh, not- not a teaspoon but a normal spoon of butter, and of every packs they make, they put in their mouth, swirl it around, taste the butter, spit it out, and- and judge the quality on- on- on, uh, uh, several, uh, uh, quality standards.
With the client, investing the time for me to see that and, and I think we even flew in a [inaudible] thing. We were utterly convinced that this was the best butter on the planet. And we were gonna- we were gonna fight so hard, uh, from- from a- from a ideas perspective to justify the premium price of their butter. So, it’s not about flying people halfway across the world, it’s just taking time and getting carried away with the product or service you’re- you’re- you’re briefing in. Just- just start with that, just love- love the product. And- and- and- and if you can… if we can bring in bit more of that to the briefing, I think things will already improve.
So, if we can do that with butter, right? Um, I was at the [inaudible]. I was at a- a- a vodka brand factory and- and we’re standing in… And this is a premium vodka, right? And- and they’re telling me, this- this is like the owner of- of this vo- vodka brand, and he’s telling me it- it doesn’t matter which vodka you buy, because they all taste the same. It’s just the order that you taste them in that makes the difference. And everything else is the brand. And that is your responsibility. So we were walking around and we found, we- we were looking at this, all this distill that- that the entire story is built on, and- and I was thinking that, so it’s my job to- to maintain this brand at its premium level that it is with… by telling stories. So we, even by- by just immersing yourself and getting carried away with that product or service, that is so important. And I don’t think that happens enough anymore. Uh, it happened 10 years ago a lot more than it happens now. Just get, get absolutely under the [inaudible] with the client on what is amazing about the product.

Matt: As you say that Pieter-Paul, that clarity, um, so you are understanding exactly what the client believes in, in his product. So looking at that, you know, that ancient still and saying, “This is the story that I need to tell.” Um, at least there- there is clarity there and understanding, shared understanding between the two of you, um, that is too often missed. And if you don’t take the time to immerse yourself and… And often we think we know our clients businesses and- and maybe that assumption, um, that we do know our client’s businesses is- is taken for granted. Um, maybe we do need to regularly refresh how we immerse ourselves in our client’s business. Um, and to make sure that we get that shared understanding.

Pieter-Paul: But- but Matt, it’s about doing it with the client because we as planners immerse ourselves constantly all the time, it’s doing it with the client and it’s doing it with the client at briefing states and convincing the client that it’s important to invest time in it.

John: Yeah, I hear you. And guys, it feels to me as though it comes back to kind of where we began this conversation. Pieter-Paul, you were talking about the- the rigor of the [Qwant] in this report and study facilitates a client discussion, because all clients who have trust Qwant to give them some level of confidence. Right? But what you’re just talking about is actually what measure of inspiration we need in a brief, which is actually the other language of the creative agencies. Creative agencies need Qwant to get some sense of affirmation and confidence in the objectives but we also want to be inspired.

Pieter-Paul: Matt and I talk about brief shoot direct and that should inspire. Direct is what, is the objective bit we talked about before and inspire is the gut feel, that- that tingling, that, like, ah! (laughs). This is gonna be exciting.

John: So let me ask, how much of that needs to be in the client brief. I believe that the fundamental role of a creative brief is to inspire the potential for great work, but how much of that inspiration do you get, um, so did you… did he hear from the report needs to be in the client briefing?

Matt: I guess there’s different ways, um, and- and different ways to inspire. Um, and so, if- if inspiration comes from an inward looking, um, perspective when it comes from the client, as in what their product or service is hoping to- to solve or the problem that it’s hoping to, um, you know, address. That inward looking inspiration and making- making the creative agency feel like, yes, we are- we are motivated, um, to do- to do something on this. Then I think that- that outward inspiration, um, from the creative brief, um, so what is the role of this brand and culture? What is the role of this product or service in culture and- and how can we tap into that to make what we do really interesting, um, for the consumer and- and- and who we’re trying to target.
I think that their inspiration has- has different roles and different parts. We’re not- we’re not saying that there is not a role for a creative brief, far from it. Um, but what is interesting is, yeah, how- how are those roles different? Um, and- and of- off- off which brief, um, our clients and agencies is judging the work as well, is- is one of things that we’re sort of unpacking through, looking at more of the data that we- we still have is, is which is the right brief to- to judge the work off? Um, is it- is it both of them? Is it- is it one of them? Because too often, that’s unclear as well. And it- and it’s- it’s- it’s making the next process or the next part of the brief, the, um, and getting the work back really really muddied.

Pieter-Paul: So, I’ll have a go at this as well. Um, so, marketing briefs should direct and inspire. Direct, they need to be clear on what needs to be achieved. And inspire is about getting the agency excited about what you’re selling. So, we don’t, uh, we’re- we’re, we don’t expect marketeers to come up with creative ideas or creative directions, we just want the inspiration around the product or service that they’re selling. And I’ll give you an example.
I’ve- I’ve been lucky enough to win a fair few [inaudible] on an office supplies retailer. So when they first told me, “You’re gonna work on this brand called Office Works and it sells pens, papers and network cables,” I wasn’t too excited. But-

John: I can’t think why.

Pieter-Paul: (laughs). But even that I made exciting. I worked with the client, I got excited about the product. Because a pen is not just a pen; a pen is actually something… a tool that allows you to capture your ideas or to sign a contract. A network cable is not just a network cable, it connect… it helps you connect to the rest of the world. It helps you create a Podcast.
So, I honestly believe that every single thing that a marketeer sells can be made exciting, it just takes a bit of work. And- and if- if- if we, as agencies and marketeers, sometimes we need to help our marketeers maybe find a thing, but if we can get excited about the product or the services a little bit more, that’s the level of inspiration [inaudible] what I’m looking for.

John: So picking up on this, uh, big expansive nature that we’ve been talking about, about what we want from the client briefs. Did you learn… Is there joy in the briefs today? What joy did we find from the report?

Pieter-Paul: Just the nuance. It has four types of positive emotions that we’ve measured; two are passive positive emotions, two are active positive emotions. You want to hit your active positive emotions because they drive a higher motivation. Just a bit of clarification there. So now I’ve lost the question. Anyway, I would [inaudible].

John: So picking on those positive emotions, those positive active emotions, where are they in the briefing pros… uh, briefing process today? Do they exist?

Pieter-Paul: According to the data, no. Uh, not- not enough, not enough creative agencies are getting excited about the briefs, the marketing briefs they are receiving. Uh, that’s what the data says.

Matt: I- I can only- I can only speak from a selfish perspective, and a personal perspective, is that the joy that I- I’ve- I’ve found in (laughs), in this work is that surely the only way is up from here. Um, because it is a- it is a sad tale that has been told. Um, and it’s not necessarily one that we wanted to tell but we did want to highlight that problem. So, the only joy in whether that’s, um, from a marketing brief but I- I think it’s our role to- to put more joy into those briefs. Um, and that from- from this, what we can work towards is, is briefs that we- we- we feel are inspiring them and more directive.

John: Yeah. It does. I’m smiling because I- I have a belief that I think planners have to have an innate optimism, that there is a better way. You can find a better way. You can find a new solution.

Pieter-Paul: So there’s an- there’s an interesting thought, out of everybody in this, uh, uh, agency-client relationship, it’s- it’s the strategist that is most equipped to do a… to organize or design a working session or a workshop. So I would say, you’ve- you’ve got the facts, you’ve got the ignition, you’ve got the conversation topics-

John: Yeah.

Pieter-Paul: … so why not design a- a workshop or a working session where you go through the topics and you- you find where- where the biggest stumbling- stumbling blocks are, um, in- in your… the specific relationship between your agency and that- and that client. This- this is a weapon you should be using. And that’s how… that’s what it… that’s how we intended to.

John: Excellent. And a perfect segue, ’cause I was actually gonna come on to talk about, um, Okay, there’s other ways ’til you can get the report. Okay, there’s the index report coming, so I can, uh, s- sign up for that. Talk a little bit about your intention of the- the brief [inaudible] auditing and training. And comp… obviously, competent speaking available, but what about the training? Can you help agencies with their clients?

Matt: Yeah. Just- just to cover on the in- in-depth reports. Um, there are extensive, um, data cuts available. There- there is so much data. Um, and so, we’re actually taking, I guess, um, you know, specific requests on what people are looking for. So we have, um, data cuts by, you know, network agency versus Independent agency by size of marketing department; by experience; by location; by… thr- there are so many ways that we can cut the data. So we’re not actually putting out in-depth reports unless they’re asked for. Um, and, um, obviously, that will en- encompass that time to- to start to- to- to create those as well. So just wanted to clarify that.
And in the brief, um, auditing and training, um, yeah, it would be remiss of us not to- not to use our experience to try and help, um, clients. I would say, obviously that’s a- that’s a paid for service. But as Pieter-Paul’s mentioned, uh, the… each client-agency relationship is so nuanced, um, that it would take, um, immersion for us into- into that nuance, um, to really offer something quite specific. So everything that we do in that space is really needs-based. Um, and it’s using the study that we’ve created, um, as a baseline to understand where our marketing organization sits against certain aspects that we’ve uncovered in the report. So on a marketing organization would- would, um, over or under index in certain areas, uh, and so what we would do within that audit component is then design a tailored solution, um, for that marketing department. And, uh, and really pinpoint, um, where things are falling down or where they’re succeeding.
Um, so that hasn’t been done before. Um, so there are lots of- there’s lots of kind of brief training, um, and- and workshops and- and so forth, but this is really targeting the problem that exists within individual marketing organizations.

Pieter-Paul: There’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes down to brief writing trainings. Um, we think it should not be a subjective thing, it should be an objective thing. Um, the audit in training is a product where we go in into a specific agency-client relationship, we measure above parties are thinking, um, we compare to the benchmark and, um, we then sit down with both parties and say where the over-index, where the under-index, and what do you think are the key topics we- we’re gonna work on? And then, um, we design a custom build, uh, training process. Um, and because we both, uh, are strategists and have dealt with so many briefs and so many templates, we- we believe we can help there.

John: So I can see that I can sign-up on the- the website for better briefs tutorials. Talk about those for a minute.

Matt: Yeah. So we’ve got two- two tutorials coming up, um, on the first and second of December. I think that’s the 30th of November is you’re in New York at 4:30 PM. Um, and we will be taking a, um, a class on- on what are the, um, the impacts of- of poor briefs and how- how we all move forward.

Pieter-Paul: Uh, it’s two hours of Matt and me; almost 40 years of strategists cramming in all of our knowledge on, uh, on how to write better briefs, uh, and how to help your clients write better briefs. Um, it’s more of us. So if it- if it- if you want more, it’s there.

John: Excellent. So should I bring my clients to this?

Pieter-Paul: Yeah, we, yeah, definitely. Definitely. I’ve… We believe that better briefs, uh, are written in lockstep; so clients and agencies working together. So, it is as much for clients, as much for marketeers as it is for agencies.

John: This has been, um, a fantastic near hour, guys, for me. So, seriously. So pick up on, uh, the study that as we began this by talking about, you know, the- the brief, the beginning of our relationship with clients about creating some great work that works is so important and is yet so unproven. And now, when you’ve dug into it, we identified so many different issues and challenges that collectively we can help solve. I love, um, what you were talking about earlier about, uh, if it’s one third of the marketing budget is an enormous dollar value that could be great but to actually spend it where we all want to spend it, on creating work that works.
Matt, you talked about the number one box on the client brief being the objectives. And I think, certainly from my own experience, it’s one that’s too easy to- to go gloss over and just keep moving in. Um, and Pieter-Paul, I- I scribbled down in my notes how I love this week you were talking about the absolute decision making, of helping collectively with the clients, to get to a point of being the role or the brief to be very direct and clear but also to inspire, to get the agencies to be excited about wanting to solve this problem with you.
Any other closing thoughts from you guys?

Pieter-Paul: How about more a call to action. Everybody, download the reports, have a read, but then use the facts and sit your client down or sit your agency down and have a conversation. Have a conversation about what is and isn’t working on the briefs and on the briefing process. And then s- spread it far and wide because on- only toge- only together we can eat the elephant.

Matt: For us, this wasn’t designed to be divisive, it was designed to be unifying. We’re all on the same side and- and- and we can work together to- to make briefs better.

John: Yeah. D- drop the mic time. I’m gonna make sure we end on that one there. All links will be in the, uh, the- the bios and then in the text as well, and then we’ll start promoting out. Because I- I agree with you, both, with the way you’ve said it, that this is a report that I do think agencies need to look at internally and then figure out how do we have it his conversation externally with our clients. And, uh, together find a better way. Thank you. I’ve loved it.

Matt: Yeah, thanks for having us, John. It’s been awesome.

Pieter-Paul: Yeah, likewise, John.

Outro: This has been a Truth Collective production.