99 problems but a brief ain’t one

Grant Flannery and Chrissie Malloch challenge marketers to hit them with a business problem.


It’s no surprise that in our-tech savvy society our attention spans are diminishing pretty rapidly (you’ve probably got a thumb scrolling through Twitter as your read this). Whether hearing about how great someone’s weekend was or sitting in a meeting about a client’s next big thing, we all prefer short, sharp snippets of quality information. I once knew a marketing director who wouldn’t read an email longer than three dot points. Harsh because I used to make my fourth dot point the best.

So, if it’s these golden nuggets that we all prefer in everyday life, then why shouldn’t our client briefs reflect this? Surely it’s especially pertinent in this industry of ours that we should be provided with 99 problems rather than 99 planned marketing solutions. I am a little puzzled as to why we’re often presented with multi-page briefs full of text in Arial font that don’t address or even touch on real business problems. We agency folk are creative thinkers, so ideally we’d receive something that challenges us.

For us the ideal brief would consist of a clear and concise business problem – just one, not 12. That’s it. A list of directions like ‘this product’, ‘this event’, ‘this audience’, ‘this time of year’ just isn’t necessary, let alone all that beneficial, to us like it once was. While our ironic T-shirts, loafers and hoodies may not scream ‘Trust me, I’m an expert’, we would urge marketers to put just a little more faith in us and our ability to help solve business challenges not just marketing challenges.

In our agency we run what we call a ‘triage brief session’ (other agencies have similar processes to dissect briefs). It is these sessions that are invaluable to us as we need to bring some briefs back to life or actually inject some life into them (I’m sure I was guilty of writing briefs as a marketer that should have had multiple triages). During our triage, we determine the business problem, the best treatment and where the priority actions lie. This is an example of when we add the most value because we are addressing your issues through our creative lens. But be warned that it probably means we won’t do what you tell us to because if you just wanted that, no challenge, it would be much easier to do it in house or at another agency.

As digital experts, we have the tools to research your product, your audience, your previous executions, market trends and probably drop in something about multi-channel convergence too – oh and we also know how to be disruptive… but none of us know how to make something viral.

To us, a one-line business problem would be the ultimate brief – like driving and only getting green lights, like bonus tracks that aren’t listed on Jay-Z’s latest album or like buying a ‘replica’ Banksy piece for $50 only to discover it was the real deal. Basically, it’d be pretty great.

So when you are writing your next marketing brief, hit us with a problem – we can make a brief template that has one line for your business problem, Twitter style. Not only would a world of creativity open up for us but also we might actually be able to help you solve it and in the process ensure your customers notice that you provided a solution that helped them in their everyday lives. If you tell us your business problems we can partner together and make a solution for them together.


Grant Flannery is senior lead strategist – innovation, and Chrissie Malloch is a strategist at The White Agency.

Grant Flannery
BY Grant Flannery ON 2 December 2014
Grant Flannery is digital planning and social media director at The Monkeys. An award-winning advertising strategist, he helps clients realise what it takes to create a world-class interactive experience that influences online and offline behaviour to drive business revenue and innovation. For more frequent updates follow him on Twitter @grantpat.