Why clients shouldn't be allowed to brief agencies

Posted on:27. 08. 2014

By Cliff Findlay, Managing Director

Have you ever been briefed badly by a client? Have you ever looked at what they have proposed, told them to do something different and been ignored? Have you ever done work you know won't create the results the client expects? No, don't answer that last one, of course you haven't! Perish the thought.

After 20 odd years in the industry the more I look at the process of clients briefing, or more to the point, telling marketing and design companies what they want the more I see that it is fraught with disaster.

My thinking is as follows. The client wants to win new business but isn't necessarily sure how they can achieve this. They have probably tried a number of things before with varying degrees of success. They have added services, attended exhibitions, networked a bit and had a young 21 year old ‘review’ their social media and online strategy. At a point of exhaustion they finally decide that they need professional help in order to come up with new ways of winning the business they’re after.

Typically they then have an internal meeting and between them decide what it is their marketing agency should do. First flaw. How can they tell us, the marketing professionals, how they should market themselves? If they’re asking for the help and advice of a professional, how can they then lay claim to telling them what they need? It's the equivalent to wanting to make your car run more efficiently to save money on petrol and telling the mechanic how he should be doing it, even though you know nothing about engines.

They’ll also have a budget in mind but generally they don't like telling agencies what it is because they expect they’ll just run off and spend it all for the sake of it. Second flaw. How do they know how much it will cost to generate the desired outcomes? Have they even specified these desired outcomes? Sound mad? You wouldn't believe how many clients haven't even thought about what success looks like.

Often they’ll ask for a beauty parade where they invite 3 to 5 agencies to pitch for their business. They’ll probably end up choosing the one which shows the most amazingly creative and sexy piece of pitch work before then haggling them down on cost. Third and fourth flaws. Firstly, the creative work that’s being presented has been designed to blow THEM away but in reality will have little to do with what their market will actually respond to, making it a completely pointless exercise. And by then trying to get a discount they just piss off their agency from the start, meaning they won't do their very best because they’re annoyed that they’re being undervalued.

But let’s say the project or campaign goes ahead and it manages to generate a response and wins some business. That’s great, isn’t it? Wrong. It’s flaw number 5. Why? Because the agency was probably ‘briefed’ to create a campaign that would show results instantly in order to justify the marketing spend, while they should really have focused on building a brand that can generate continuous sales going forward. Therefore the campaign only has a short lifespan, sales will slow to a trickle again and because nobody’s bothered to think ahead they have to start the whole process again: Spending vast amounts of time, effort and money trying to figure out how to get a little bit more business.


And it only gets worse when you look at it from the agency’s point of view. We waste our time pitching for business that we may never win and even if we do, aren’t allowed to do what we’re good at! We end up working at discounted rates and for people we don’t really want to work with. We’re creating our own feed or famine structure that means if we get the slightest sniff of business we run around like desperate idiots to win it!

Isn’t there a better way? You bet. Don't do it! Let some other fool take on the ’bad’ clients while you spend your time finding sensible ones who understand that building a brand is a long game, that it’s not about chaotic wins and that your advice and expertise is a thing to value rather than expoit.

Makes sense to me.

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