‘The planning process has gone out the window’: Confessions of an agency exec

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The need for more marketing content to fill more channels — due largely to the rise of social and digital — has shortened timelines and decreased budgets. According to the co-founder of an independent agency, that’s meant that agencies routinely have to do more with less and to do so faster. In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from the co-founder about how this need for speed has led brands to omit the planning process, leaving out the briefing process for agencies, which has caused chaos for agencies as they create the work.

You said agencies often talk about the lack of briefs from brands today. What do you mean by that?
The art of the brief and the value of the brief has gotten lost amidst the explosion of omnichannel marketing. The more channels that have emerged over time with social and digital, the more it seems that brands have begun sidestepping the need for a clear brief. It means that projects become pin-the-tail on the objective and deliverables, which is a time consuming and inefficient exercise. Without a communal rallying point, scope creep is inevitable.

Could you give us a concrete example of what happens?
They often aren’t clear on who their audience really is, what their messaging should be, what their KPIs are or what the deliverables would be. If they don’t have those key inputs, it puts the responsibility on the agency whereas the agency’s time would be better spent innovating within the predetermined parameters. There are so many possibilities and so much competition that they don’t know exactly what they need. But that’s what their internal marketing teams should be figuring out.

What do you want to happen?
If in-house teams at brands spent a little bit more time in the beginning planning they would get so much more out of their agencies. They aren’t focused. If they come to their agencies disorganized it takes the agency at least 30% of the entire project effort in a development phase of just trying to figure out what to do so they’re that much further from the finish line in delivering something because the agency has to do all this work to figure out what the brief even is.

Does it change anything else?
It’s a problem when you’re in production because there’s nothing to reference. It’s been a bunch of conversations and there’s no documentation to refer back to. It’s also easier for the client to just flip the script because they’re not accountable. There’s a lack of client accountability. And most clients don’t know how to brief. Most people being hired in marketing aren’t trained in that discipline.

What happens to your job?
The agency ends up having to write the brief for the client, which isn’t the agency’s job. It’s the only job the client has but it’s become so competitive and agencies are grinding so hard to keep the work or win the work that they’re like, “Fine, I’ll do the client’s job.” Sometimes things are moving so fast there’s no time for proper brief writing because you’re given four weeks to get something to market in what should’ve been an eight-week timeline. When they want to skip the planning phase and the briefing phase, inevitably in the middle of campaign production the client may want to change something fundamental and because they’re not accountable to a brief then the entire project is subject to their whim. Nothing was ever set in stone.

Why do you think this is happening now?
They’re so focused on results that they completely skip planning and understanding their audience as well as all the fundamental pieces of effective planning. The planning process effectively goes out the window because consumer behavior and technology is so rapid, so fast [that they want to be marketing to them wherever than can be]. The invisible work is the stuff that gets cut out and they don’t know what channels they want to focus on. They know their product, their product technology, sometimes they don’t understand their customer or their customer’s behavior but the timelines are shorter. It’s not just that they don’t have the brief but they don’t have the space, time or respect for the planning process. If you want to put the brief on us give me the extra time and pay me to do that work.

Do you tell your clients this?
Honestly, no. You acquiesce. You go, “OK, this is how these people work.” Then you decide if you want to help them be disorganized. The truth is you’re not going to change how an organization works. The disorganization usually starts from the top down and you’re not going to be able to change that. Oftentimes, there’s infighting on the client-side and they’ll send opposing feedback. Then it becomes your job to suss out who holds the political power and who should be listened to. There’s no calendar or timing planning so there are arbitrary moving deadlines. There’s a lack of respect for the planning process, a lack of respect for the role that has and it makes the job of the agency harder.


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