Took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising.
There are mountains of it, even in this age of informed metrics and marketing ROI.
As an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of direction.
After a few rounds of constructive criticism and outright rejection, we either had to come up with a strategic nugget of our own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick. Not a good arrangement, for either party.
So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work efficiently with your ad agency. It’s not rocket science. If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.
Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.
Avoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.
Every agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.
Jon Steele, Account Planner, account planner on “Got Milk,” says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:
“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.
Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address.
And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”
In a nutshell, he says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”
Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.
Perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the good stuff, ASAP.
Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people — the researchers, creatives, media planners, programmers and AEs — heading in the same direction.
Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”
Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions. In the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.
So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free, in the right direction.
Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?
Don’t overwhelm them with data.
Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.
You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms. Before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”
Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy. But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.
Remember, advertising people are specialists.
Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”
If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.
It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset. It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.
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