When it comes to briefs, marketers and agencies are on different planets: study

Marketers and agencies agree that a good brief is invaluable. That’s the good news. The bad news, according to new research, is that the two sides disagree about what a good brief looks like, and badly written briefs can waste as much as one-third of marketing budgets.

The research indicates there’s a gulf between how marketers and clients perceive briefs. While 80% of marketers think they write good briefs, only 10% of agency staffers agree. Nearly as many marketers (78%) believe their briefs provide clear strategic direction, yet only 5% of those working in agencies think that’s true.

The data comes from a new study for BetterBriefs, a project created by Australian strategists Matt Davies (left in photo) and Pieter-Paul von Weiler. Its goal is to help agencies and marketers improve the briefing process. They worked with research firm Flood + Partners to survey 944 marketers and 786 people working in agencies about briefs and the briefing process. Their findings were presented at the IPA’s EffWorks Global event on Friday.

“Marketers and creative agencies are on different planets when it comes to marketing briefs,” said von Weiler in an email to The Message. “Creative agencies are unhappy with the marketing briefs from marketers; however, they don’t verbalize their concerns.

“Marketers think they provide clear briefs; however, they admit they often use the creative process to clarify the strategy, and that rebriefs happen too often.”

The study showed that marketers (82%) and agencies (83%) agree that writing briefs is difficult, but while 75% of agency respondents said the last three briefs they received were not good enough, only 31% of marketers agreed with that assessment.

The most frequent complaints from agency staffers is that the briefs are:

  • Unfocused (83%);
  • Unclear (79%);
  • Dull (65%); and
  • Thoughtless (44%).

The result of poorly written briefs is often wasted time and money, said Davies and von Weiler.

“Every poor brief starts an adverse chain reaction. It leads to mediocre strategic thinking, creative ideas that aren’t right, and plenty of confusion and frustration between client and agency,” said von Weiler. “And it’s not just rounds and rounds of back-and-forth and concepting; huge investments are wasted on work that doesn’t deliver commercial results.”

The survey found that 90% of marketers admitted to changing the brief after giving it to the agency. And while 9% believe rebriefing can be positive or not be a problem for the agency, 43% believe it means time lost, adds to costs (18%); leads to confusion (13%) and is demotivating (10%). In addition, 60% of marketer respondents say they use the creative process to clarify strategy.

According to Davies and von Weiler, the overall net effect can be less effective work, less motivated staff, more time and money, mediocre ideas, and shallow creative thinking. They estimate that all those negative effects mean that as much as one-third of marketing budgets are wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work.

Among the suggestions to improve the process, Davies and von Weiler say marketers need to be clear on their strategy  before writing the brief, and provide clear objectives.

They also asked industry executives to provide reaction and response to the study findings.

“[W]hen it comes to briefs, be curious, be empathetic, [and] be persistent really early on in the process when it comes to asking those tricky questions,” said Jo Royce, global director, marketing learning and capabilities, at Unilever. “And if you think the brief is rubbish, challenge it. Because rubbish in rubbish out.”

“I believe we should all allow more time for the development of the brief,” said Andreas Krasser, CEO of DDB Group Hong Kong. “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.

“[U]ntil 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,” said Krasser. “This also means we need to have tougher, more honest conversations about the brief, challenge assumptions, and demand deeper insights.”

“The results [of the survey] are hardly surprising,” said Jason Lonsdale, chief strategy officer at Deutsch Los Angeles. “We all know that, overall, the work is getting worse… 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.”

David Brown