Marketing: Finding that Perfect Pitch

Feb 01, 2012

A meeting to review a new campaign, a new tactical program, or a new approach to developing content for your brand should be the most interesting part of your week. And it often is.

Your agency is in full presentation mode. Concepts, sales aids, ad programs, and digital ideas are dramatically revealed. Full-blown campaigns are shown with a flourish. Compared to the detailed slide presentations of research results and sales projections, this is exciting and fun. But it can often be frustrating at the same time.

Why? Because a lot is at stake. The right creative has economic impact. But the decision process to get to the right creative—obviously critical to the brand's success—isn't always that obvious.

So It Begins

After a polished, thoughtful creative presentation (which includes some pretty great ideas) the room suddenly goes silent. What follows can be a complex form of corporate theater: industry kabuki without the white face paint or fancy robes. Who speaks first? Does anyone risk committing to an opinion before more senior executives voice theirs? Sometimes a middle manager boldly speaks and sets the direction for the comments to follow. Sometimes the group waits to see if "Mr. X likes it," and then piles on.

Even after someone jumps in, the discussion that ensues is anything but objective. All the research, strategizing, and thinking that went into the creative are cast aside and the subjective opinions disguised as objective thinking begins: I just don't see the sales force using that ... I know physicians, and they won't go for this ... The logo is too small ... We have to show patients ... Everyone shows patients ... Where's the MOA? ... Is that a dog or a horse?" ...

Hope—In Brief

Yes, this is a subjective process. We're all influenced by our own experiences, prejudices, personal preferences, and more. But the agency and brand team can preempt a subjective free-for-all by agreeing to some basic ground rules and steps, starting with a good creative brief.

By starting with a good brief (that's been signed off on by all decision-makers on the creative team), you agree on the foundation for the creative development. Good, clear briefs result in good creative. Poorly written, aimless briefs result in confused creative (and irritated creative people).

Creative briefs come in many formats, but no matter which you choose, the sole purpose remains the same: to inform and inspire the creative team. It's not to detail every product feature or report every research result. It's not to show you how much your agency knows. It's not to be rubber-stamped.

So what makes a creative brief work? While there are numerous theories, here are four basics that keep it objective, inspirational, and functional:

Insight versus information. It's not enough to just lay down facts and team desires. A good brief takes raw information and makes it come alive. It provides insights on the customer's needs, the dynamics of the market, and gaps in the competitive offerings.

Clear objectives. Briefs should outline reasonable and achievable objectives for the creative—not objectives of the overall marketing program, but what you want this specific tactic or program to accomplish, and what you want the customer to do once they are exposed to it.

Focus. The brief must lead us to an "ownable" point of view. That means addressing a specific communications problem or opportunity, arriving at a meaningful selling proposition, and limiting the objectives. A campaign can't do everything at once or squeeze every feature and benefit into each tactic. It's the agency's job to keep the brief focused on what's important.

Brevity. This is the hard part. The best and most useable briefs are to the point. Too much information without direction and priority is worse than not enough. The key is limited—but insightful—information. Remember, it's called a "brief" for a reason.

Once the brief is approved, it stands as an objective document by which creative can be judged. Bring it to the agency presentation. Expect the agency to review parts of the brief as they present. The first test of the creative should be, "Does it reflect the brief?" It's not fair to expect creative to communicate ideas that aren't in the brief, or to accommodate shifts in direction that came up yesterday. If an idea aligns with the brief, it's valid; you may not like it, but it's still valid.

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