Keeping it brief: using ‘universal briefing’ to create convergent campaigns

This guest post is by Stieve DeLance, an award winning strategic planner and convergent media specialist at Reputation Australia.


Convergent media campaigns that reach all key objectives are the Holy Grail of marketing initiatives. That is, they are, for the most part, a mythological construct that never actually materialises and leaves all seekers ultimately disappointed with what they find.

The job description of a brand manager should read: chief cat herder, bollocks-translator and person generally tasked with delivering the undeliverable: integrated marketing campaigns that have convergent audience reach.

To create an average communications campaign, a brand manager needs to create around fourteen different briefs using different terminology in each, depending on the discipline the brief is written for. This fundamental flaw in the communications workflow processes means that any outcomes can never be convergent because different agencies or disciplines are simply not on the same page to begin with.

By combing an academically sound briefing analysis with relationship management strategies, universally briefing all agencies from a singular document can overcome convergent communication difficulties and increase effectiveness. Universal briefing creates documents that everyone (from client to production assistant) can read and incorporates academic reasoning to help bridge the language barrier that ironically exists between professional communicators because of terminology differences. A consistent approach also helps sell programs ‘up the line’ to management on the client side where presently brand managers must translate multiple reverse briefs into corporate style to justify expenditure, goals and outcomes of strategic communications plans. This is especially important in the healthcare and scientific sectors where creative endeavours could be viewed with suspicion because they appear to lack substantiation and research.


Translating the bollocks

Research and extensive communications agency experience shows the reasons there are problems achieving integration is due, in large part, to the over use of marketing communications language and taxonomy. In ‘Integrated marketing communications requires a new approach’, Dave Picton and Bob Hartley say that de-jargonising the communications industry to create more effective ways of working is a useful starting point to overcoming these (integration) problems: “Review how we think about integration… a mindscape of marketing communications is needed to create more integrated campaigns and that this should be fundamentally controlled at a core brand/project management point.”

Creative strategist Terry Stone says that creative briefs have always been necessary but are now more important than ever before because of changing media habits and the development of communications technology.

“With multidisciplinary teams (often virtual), the plethora of delivery media options, increasingly complex brand/consumer relationships and huge shifts in the business of communication, marketing, advertising and persuasion caused by technology, creatives need a road map,” Stone writes. “At best, creative briefs have always been a kind of mind map, leading creative thinking from problems to solutions, and they will continue to function that way if prepared properly.”


Quality not quantity

The quality of the brief determines the quality of ideas and work produced as a result of the requests contained within the brief. A good brief enables creative and professional communicators to take pride in unexpected, imaginative solutions that solve clients’ brand problems.

A good brief also enables professional communicators to create tactics that create meanings, messages and cultural capital to facilitate an environment where messages are taken, digested and transformed into vested interests. It takes a simple thing such as an image and transforms it into a powerful activator of consumer thought and behaviour.

Brand managers need to take a leading role through briefing management because each discipline (eg. production or media planning) has different ways of working and its own unique language. While doing/producing similar things strategically, different communications disciplines use terms or jargon singular to each discipline (some overlap) such as ‘customer off-ramps’ or ‘touch points’, which results in a poor understanding of other disciplines’ processes. These language barriers, varying workflows and processes create different briefing processes for each discipline and makes managing multi-agency or disciplinary teams difficult for the brand manager who is relying upon the expertise of the different disciplines to achieve effective results.

When all agencies and communications partners are given the same fundamental brief it establishes a common understanding and language from the beginning. Universal briefing makes agency management more effective and allows each discipline to thrive instead of relying on individual briefs that may cause one or more disciplines to underperform due to a lack of coherent information. It reduces repetition and therefore costs in billing hours spent deciphering briefs, conducting research and managing inter-agency activity.

Clients’ time-management capabilities also increase due to singular practices reducing the need for multiple meetings and document production. Agency integration offers enormous benefits to clients. By using integrated work processes agencies enrich a client’s brand value, in-house expertise and knowledge.

Problematic campaigns, however, occur when agencies and clients think alike but often believe they do not due to communication difficulties. Poor management limits outcomes and potentially damages client agency relationships limiting knowledge transfers between client and service provider.


The danger of reverse briefs

Reverse briefs are also a point in campaign planning at which managers are losing control of their brand. At best, the reverse brief could be described as a summation of the client’s needs from a different viewpoint, and an aid for eventual evaluation of a project to see if outcomes match initial briefings (Stone 2013). It could be argued however that reverse briefs exist because of a level of mistrust between agency and client. Often the agency or discipline managers may assume what is briefed is not what the client actually wants (Maloney 2012) and require an approved reverse brief before any work can progress.

A climate of mistrust and concern over levels of proficiency and understanding is a common agency irritation. Digital marketing director Chris Maloney says that clients think that they write good briefs but that usually they are written by, “overworked marketing managers with little, if any, training in how to write them.” He points to the poorly written documents passed to agencies as ‘irritatingly vague’ and says, “the agency then has to write a reverse brief just to try and decipher what it is the client actually wants.”

He goes on to say that clients need substantial amounts of training just to be able to brief the agency and understand its processes before an agency can successfully work with them.

If clients want really great communications, they must be as vested as their agencies in developing relationships. By working together each step of the way, both sides can arrive at a new creative, faster and in a more cost effective way while building the trust to carry out the next campaign. In The Successful Product Manager’s Handbook, Joanna Bernstein says that a misdirected creative is systemic of deeper problems. “Sometimes, clients don’t share their product positioning with agencies because they never created that positioning, or perhaps the company waited until the agency developed the creative before gaining buy-in from upper management for the campaign idea,” Bernstein says. “But at the end of the day, when frustrated agency executives are standing across from unhappy clients, both sides must ask: how did we get here?”


The wrap

The establishment of universal briefing practices is good agency management, cost effective and can increase productivity and effectiveness. It increases client knowledge creates an environment in which to produce effective convergent communications to target audiences that establishes cultural currency in the power relations dynamic within a complicated multimedia public sphere.

Convergent communications create a hegemonic communications environment that allows client messages to be perceived as ‘common sense’ rather than brash promotion. Convergent communications created by universally briefed disciplines also creates synergy in the frequency of message delivery and aids message penetration.

The adoption of universal briefing is a logical evolution of communications work process management to adapt to a changing media landscape in which tactical production must constantly develop to engage with increasingly sophisticated target audiences.


Stieve DeLance is an award winning strategic planner and convergent media specialist at Reputation Australia, Stieve has worked as a journalist and PR for nearly two decades in Australia, Asia and Europe. She specialises in healthcare, consumer and B2B communications with an emphasis on convergent campaigns and crisis issues management.