Demand Better Briefs From Your Clients


Because If You Wait Around for Them They Might Never Come

By: Matt McDermott at Ad Age

The best advice I ever got about advertising wasn’t about advertising. During a company paintball outing, the referee offered this: “Don’t hide behind a rock and wait for someone to stumble into your sights. While you’re doing that, they’ll sneak up behind and shoot you in the ass. Go find them. Shoot them first.”

It reminded me of Casey Jones’ take on marketers who fail to provide their agencies with competent briefs, which generated a wealth of discussion earlier this week on Ad Age.

He’s right to point the finger at clients for shirking their responsibilities. But he’s only half right. As easy as it is for marketers to blame us agencies, it’s a two way street and blaming marketers is easy too. It’s the agency world’s national pastime. However, it’s also lazy and self-destructive.

So here’s my take in response to Mr. Jones’ argument. Agencies shouldn’t wait around for a brief that may never show up. They should go find it.

Nothing gets accomplished if all we ever do is nod our heads in client meetings, then bellyache about them at the bar afterward. It exposes the real problem: we don’t have the stones to expect and demand more from the client.

At every level of the agency, we have a responsibility to speak up. Account execs need to press clients for the information the team needs to do the job. Strategy and creative need to push back when a project’s missing the insight from client we need to focus our efforts.

If we’re not challenging marketers to be better, we’re wasting their money. Often, it’s our job to save them from themselves. To pluck them from their brand’s warm, solipsistic womb, shine a light in their faces and spank their bottoms to get them to breathe.

We need to be willing to stop a project in its tracks, and ransom it for a decent brief. If you have to, hold their hands. Baby-step them them through the brief. I’ve done it. Sometimes it can be surprisingly revealing. And, yes, other times, it’s just painful. But not as painful as being on the business end of a client tirade because your team blew threw a budget pursuing answers to questions that no one had the sense (or guts) to ask.

I was in a kick-off meeting with an art director not so long ago. She stopped the AE before he even had a chance to sit down. “Do you have the brief?” she asked. He had a pen. He had bagel. And he had a look of confusion. “This meeting’s over,” she said, standing up and walking out.

Now she had balls.

Admittedly, it’s all easier said then done. Persuading colleagues to stand up with you is daunting. You’ll need to sell them on the value of demanding more: When we challenge our clients to give us better insight, we ultimately save them money. We equip our team with the intel it needs to chase down relevant ideas, instead of scampering around like harried parents trying to appease a crying baby. And we give our ideas something to lean on in the pitch when the client scratches his head and asks why the hell we did what we did.

So let’s stop flinging low-hanging fruit by blaming clients. Instead, stand up and be better by challenging them to be better. If your clients wanted a pushover, they would’ve hired your competition.