October 15, 2019

Client briefs are demanding, time consuming, uncertain and often very untimely… which is exactly why I love them!

In these times of Faster, Cheaper & Better, agencies and clients are constantly pushing and squeezing the boundaries of what is necessary in a process and what isn’t. This has led to some very successful systemisation of tasks that require very little thinking, are more logistical and better done by robots. This thinking, in the wrong hands, can lead to shortcuts being promoted on the critical elements of project development that are key to the successful discovery of actionable insight.

Automation is attempting to streamline everything, and it is our duty as researchers to manage what is and isn’t possible. Human insight teams are winning the war on static, closed, automatic surveys and we have to be just as diligent to protect the other side of research - the thinking before the project happens, the collective thoughts and experience surrounding an opportunity - that presented to the right people, can lead to genuine discovery.

I struggle to relate to the thinking that a brief is a problematic element of what we do. It is the starting point of a rich, challenging process that brings the best out of researchers, client and agency side, and leads to innovations that mean something and will improve the quality of the service we deliver.

This got me thinking about the success stories we have had at Blue Yonder, and how critical the briefing element was, so I thought I would highlight why this process is so important and very necessary.

Briefs aren’t always a digital document attached to a formal email, they can be a 2 minute corridor meeting, a 30 second phone call, but ultimately they are direction from your client that they need some help, they have a need, which is why agencies exist. Regardless of the scale of the brief, the real work behind it is the months that the client has invested thinking about what they need, and who best can deliver it.

This is the opportunity agencies should be waiting for. Our proposals are our shop window and knowing that your clients want to stand in front of it, should be embraced with your full energy and resources going into making it a memorable experience.

Yes, briefs are demanding, and a good brief demands a time-consuming proposal that meets objectives and exceeds expectations - taking up lots of senior time to assist and coach young researchers to hone their skills on how to deliver rich, game changing insight, but this is how agencies grow and get famous.

There are no guarantees that you will win the project, or that the project will happen, the latter probably holding more frustration, but the fact remains that you were considered to help with a problem and that is a compliment to your agency and the team within. And of course, project briefs always turn up at the wrong time, but when prioritised properly, and recorded and measured internally as a KPI, the process becomes as important as the projects you are already working on.

It is important to look at the brief through the eyes of your client - they have gone through an entire journey within their own business and with key stakeholders long before your involvement and will have pressures and anxieties already happening. Their brief is likely a response to discovering an unmet need, which creates a fantastic opportunity to discover fresh insight together and create continuity for the remainder of the journey.

So this process should be celebrated and nurtured to enrich relationships and deliver excellence, not seen as an unpleasant, combative process. I shudder to think of an industry searching for real insight that doesn’t have this process in place, the consequences are unthinkable, it would affect the quality in every element, not just the research, but the development of young researchers who are the future of our industry.

Automating the briefing process would save time in the short term, but at a cost. It will lead to more unusable, confusing, low quality, flat data, with no insight. So the research will need to be done again, losing the initial time saving benefit and requiring more budget to fulfil the stakeholder business needs, and who wants Slower, Worse and Expensive!

There is a balance - endless documents that are dictatorial and control methods and reporting, can be just as harmful to creative processes and block the insight, so this process relies on strong, trusting partnerships where clients and agencies can work together to get what is best for both businesses.

Don’t get me wrong, we have all been guilty of rushing a proposal when we are being pulled in all directions, cutting and pasting to save time, but that should lead to regret and improve your attitude and approach to future opportunities.

So the next time you see a client brief, remember what has happened so far and excite yourself that you could be a key part of an amazing story!

Jonathan Million
Founder & Chief Innovation Officer