How to get better, faster, cheaper work from your creative agency

How to get better, faster, cheaper work from your creative agency

Imagine a client that wants to launch a new product that helps cats sit on mats.

The Marcomms Manager at the client briefs their agency.

After two weeks of locking themselves away, the agency turns up at the Marcomms Manager’s doorstep and unveil their meisterwork concept.

Visual: Cat sat on client’s mat.

Headline: “The Cat Sat On The Mat”

Bottom right: client logo.

Client’s reaction: “Brilliant! Brilliant! Bang on brief! Just got to get some approvals.”

A week later, the hapless account exec takes a call from the client.

“Brand team love the concept, but feel it’s a bit sedentary – we’re an active brand – can you change just one word? Change “Sat” to “Ran” – don’t change any other word, the rest of it is fine.

The agency meekly complies and resubmits the concept. But then, a week later, more client feedback:

“Product team love it, but forgot to say it’s a mat for dogs, not cats. Can you change ‘Cat’ in the headline to ‘Dog’ – don’t change any other word, the rest is fine”

Having been promised this is absolutely the only change, the agency again meekly complies.

Until, a week later…

“Got some more feedback. Marketing team love it, but feel that a bathtub would be more eye-catching than a mat, can we change the copy? They say don’t change anything else – the rest is fine”

Another week passes. Then, after the agency has re-worked the concept three times:

“Just got comments from Legal. They want to add an asterisk to show that ‘The product only works safely with certain animals – please contact us for further details’. They say “Don’t change anything else – the rest is fine”.

“Well an asterisk won’t kill a concept”, thinks the exec, and dolefully wanders through to the Creative department to give them the next instalment.

I’m guessing you can see the problem – each client department wants to change “just one thing” –  but if each of them has their feedback taken on board, the concept the commissioning client “loved”:

The Cat Sat On The Mat


The Dog Ran On The Bathtub*

*The product only works safely with certain animals – please contact us for further details’

And of course the original visual is now meaningless.

Granted, the headline is the world’s most plodding creative execution of the proposition, and the amendments are exaggerated for effect – but – I hope the point is clear.

If everyone with the right to comment on a concept is asked to approve the brief to the agency in the first place, then much of the subsequent running-around-in-circles gets avoided.

The inherent contradictions in the underlying brief are then exposed, and the Marcomms manager can attempt to resolve them before the agency even gets a whiff of the brief.

Why is this important?

Here’s the thing: the agency’s charges to the client will reflect the time they have to invest on the client’s business. The more the time the client asks the agency to spend reworking a mis-briefed concept, the more the agency will want to bill the client next time.

Clients who repeatedly ask agencies to rework a concept – not because it was off brief, but because the brief was incomplete – end up paying far more for their work than they need to.

It also takes far longer to produce than it need.

And a compromise of a concept rarely ends up selling the product effectively. Which is surely the key objective.

This isn’t just the client’s fault, by the way. The agency exec needs to be far more probing when taking the brief in the first place to head off these issues before they appear.

Having worked both client and agency side over the years, I’ve seen this scenario played over many times.

(Indeed in the earliest stages of my career I was that client. And subsequently to my shame became that account exec).

I’ll blog separately about how to write a good brief.

But the first lesson for a client looking for better, faster, cheaper creative work is that you need to get everyone who’s allowed to comment on the creative work to agree the brief first.

Simon Hayhurst

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