Each month as part of our GO! Figure content series we will be spending time speaking with agency owners and leaders to get their opinions on a different topic directly affecting our industry.

This month for our inaugural Agency Q&A we sat down for a chat with Alistair Fitch, Director and Co-Founder of Creative Content Agency, Digital Natives to discuss the foundation of any Brand-Agency relationship – The Brief!

GO!: Alistair, welcome. Let’s start at the beginning, should we? What do you immediately look for when a brand brief comes in and why?

AF: Realistic expectations when it comes to time, budget and deliverables. If these elements are out of kilter or missing then we can’t even begin to accurately respond.

GO!: Talk us through the process you have developed to qualify briefs that come into your agency?

AF: When we receive a brief we will read it and make sure we have all the necessary components including; clear outline of; objectives, messaging hierarchy, deliverables, timeline, KPIs & budget. We also like to ensure that we have clarity on what our role and scope is within the wider agency ecosystem (if there is one). It helps us to see where there are gaps in the process and how we can help the client to understand the impact of when elements are missing.

GO!: In an ideal world, what does a best practice briefing process look and feel like for you as an agency?

AF: Our perfect briefing process would involve;

  • Being sent a brief that clearly outlines the micro and macro objectives, messaging hierarchy, deliverables, timeline, KPIs & budget
  • A call for the client to set the business and marketing context for the brief (if not included above), the existing agency structure and an opportunity for us to ask any pertinent questions like who the key stakeholders are in the decision-making process
  • Client to provide any existing brand/campaign collateral to help support strategic thinking and creative development
  • On occasion tissue/review sessions prior to the actual pitch can be useful – but only provided key stakeholders are involved!

GO!: What percentage of briefs that you have seen in the past 12 months would you consider adequate enough for you to respond to without asking questions?

AF: I would say probably 25% of briefs we’re able to respond to without asking questions mainly because they are from retained clients who we have a deep understanding of their requirements and know the clients well. For new briefs, we would almost always seek clarification via phone call.

GO!: What additional information do you tend to request outside of the briefing document?

AF: As above really, wider business and marketing context, and our scope of work. We also like to try and get to know the stakeholders and their motivations behind commissioning such work. We find it helps to shape our response by focusing on elements we feel add the most value.

GO!: Are you for or against providing a creative response for free and why?

AF: It’s a hot topic in the industry at the moment and as part of the Harbour Collective, we can see first hand the frustration from agencies big and small. The age-old model of doing the pitch work for free and trying to recoup via production and media fees is fundamentally flawed and I applaud those seeking to change the status quo.

The unfortunate reality is that in the main, the pitches we undertake are still all won or lost on the strength of the strategic and creative work. Taking a stance and not participating in the process limits an agency’s new business opportunities to progressive, like-minded clients who are willing to pay upfront.

I think the clients are the key to breaking the cycle, but whilst they are still able to find agencies willing to spend the time and effort producing the creative work for the pitch for free, there is no incentive to change.

GO!: What is the best way that a brand can ensure they are getting the best response from you as an agency?

AF: Follow the steps outlined above! Be as collaborative as possible, offer up their time when asked for clarification on something or further information, as it will only result in a better outcome for both parties.

GO!: What would you most like to know regarding a brief or pitch process but that brands rarely or are unlikely to share?

AF: Number of and types of agencies involved, and also candid feedback on failure to win a pitch.

Again by having wider context of the number and types of agencies pitching, we can use this information – coupled with what we already know – to make an informed decision about both a) whether we feel it’s appropriate for us to pitch and b) what our point of difference is from the competitors.

Over the last two years, there have been a couple of large pitches which we have spent a lot of agency resource preparing for which we have not won and received no feedback. It just shows a lack of respect from the client for the time and effort spent on their brand.

GO!: Which areas of brand briefing documents have you traditionally found most difficult to respond to and why?

AF: Given the complex and fragmented world of digital and social marketing – the number of channels, formats etc. – it’s always difficult to try and strike a balance between the pricing and value add of the strategic and creative work vs the tangible output i.e. the deliverables.

The main reason for this being that on paper the value is always in the strategy, concept and ideas, but in practice, there are often people in the client business holding the purse-strings asking ‘what are we getting for our money?’ This is exacerbated in our world where the fast-paced nature of content consumption across multiple channels means there is an ever-increasing emphasis on volume.

As agency owners, it’s essential we fight for and continue to champion the value of ideas because that is our raison d’etre, and without it, the process just becomes a race to the bottom.

GO!: Which areas of a brand briefing document do you put the most value against and why?

AF: I am not sure there’s any specific focus over and above anything else, it’s more about what to exclude we find important.

We have a very clear response style that allows us to make sure we’re addressing all elements in the brief whilst also making sure we clearly distinguish ourselves from the competition. I suppose the focus is always on them, but the style and framework of our delivery response clearly defines who we are and why you would want to work with us.

GO!: What is the best advice you’ve been given in your career when it comes to answering a brief?

AF: It’s about doing what needs to be done to win. I don’t mean that in a Machiavellian sense, but more about the focus of your approach, and what you exclude. There are a lot of different elements at play when answering a brief, including; motivations of stakeholders, business climate, amount of information needed to explain concisely in the time frame etc.

I think the way to achieve this is finding a framework that works for your agency that allows you to clearly articulate your response in an exciting way, whilst also differentiating your agency proposition.

GO!: What advice would you give to brand and marketing managers when it comes to writing an agency brief?

AF: For us, the devil is in the detail and the more of it we can have the better. We would much rather be drowning in info than making assumptions on behalf of the client.

It’s important to challenge your agencies during a pitch/briefing process but doesn’t lose sight over the fact that the whole process needs to feel collaborative from the outset. Ultimately you will end up spending a lot more time with the winning agency and hopefully build a successful long- term partnership.

GO!: Alistair, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.