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B is for...Better Briefings
Lose the ability to slip out of briefing meetings, unnoticed
As someone once said it’s better to be thought of as a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt.
Especially when clients are involved.
When starting out in advertising the meetings I enjoyed the most were client briefings. Why? Well the clients were the ones doing all the talking.
I could sit back and listen, look bright and engaged – take copious notes and take in every word. Very low risk of mucking anything up. Anxiety levels low.
Unfortunately it didn’t take long to realise that the most skilful of operators weren’t the ones who could present their own charts well, but were those who could present themselves well when the client was in possession of the slides.
Whilst a briefing document and the associated meeting with the client will transfer 90% of the relevant information from a client to their team; the intelligence and perspective that clients have built up in their careers, their role, or across their business is rarely captured on a couple of sides of A4.
Or it can easily be lost in the noise of the accompanying 95 slides of PowerPoint.
It’s our jobs to coax it out of them.
To ask for their perspective on things.
To access more of their knowledge, their (professional) hopes and fears.
To get to more of the why, behind the what you’re being asked to do.
To lose that ability as per The Economist ad above, of slipping out of meetings unnoticed.
Because if you can you’ll build up trust between you, your client and your following recommendations. Both you and your team will be 2-0 up before you’ve even done any work responding to the brief.
This is especially important when creating first impressions, either with new clients or in new business.
Hence whilst a client might be in possession of the slides in a briefing meeting, the onus is on you to extract the full meaning from them.
Which as a young media planner can be daunting as you’re still building up your understanding of how marketing works, the role of media within it and what the potential avenues the response to brief might progress through.
So I’ve put down the rules of thumb and go-to prompts and provocations I use to get to a better understanding of their world.
B is for… Better Briefings.
These prompts start broad and then get more specific to what a brand and business might be wanting to achieve in relation to the media plan itself.
PROMPT #1 “So…what’s going on?”
Not with their morning, or the weather outside, but in their business and category they’re trying to win within.
In an ideal world the client will share some analysis on the state of play of their brand, their competitors and the category at large – both in the immediate sense and how they see it evolving over time.
However sometimes that context can be missing, or condensed so much that it loses its meaning.
I often subconsciously have this 4-box in mind when clients are talking about what they want their marketing to achieve.
I first came across it at Uni, then again when Richard Hartell built it into his Space for Ideas card deck he launched as a set of planning prompts at Starcom MediaVest in London before he headed up strategy for Publicis Media in New York.
Where with a relatively simple piece of mental gymnastics, either with real numbers before a meeting, or with your intuition in the meeting, you’ll have a fair idea of what a brand needs to do to grow and what the shape of a media plan might need to look like as a consequence.
It’s a simple and powerful diagnostic tool, but also a great conversation starter.
That I’ve illustrated through the lens of Apple.
Let’s deep-dive into the first quadrant – taking a trip down memory lane to 2003 when Apple weren’t in that many hands or homes and MP3 players were still to come and go.
That all changed with the launch of the iPod.
A brand and product with low penetration, in a market yet to be established beyond the earliest of adopters, was launching this brave new product, and ultimately a category, into our collective consciousness.
At that point in time this project and brief would have sat firmly in the bottom left-hand box.
They then went on to establish the proposition in a simple, bold and super distinctive way with one of the most famous sets of ads of the 21st Century.
In doing so helping to lift the MP3 player out of subcultures and into popular culture, de-positioning the incumbent mini-disc and compact-disc players as relics of a bygone era.
Achieving everything someone launching a new category might want to achieve.
Establishing the proposition of 1,000, 2,000 or 10,000 songs in your pocket.
Generating significant trial not just amongst newly smug owners of this new device, but by their friends who were intrigued by its sci-fi stylings and wizard-like promises.
Growing penetration though this newly formed category they went on to lead - adding smaller ones for runners, bigger ones for musos, brighter ones for fashionistas etc etc
Each quadrant acts as a brilliant conversation starter
I find these quadrants act as a really helpful shorthand to prod and probe where a client’s brand sits at the moment, relative to its competitors, what the implications are and what the resulting role for communications and subsequently media might be.
They’re also great at getting the conversation going.
For example, if we’re launching the category… you can start to ask about who are we launching it to, who or what is meeting their needs at the moment, but also who will need to lose for us to win.
As with the iPod, the initial segment would likely have been a cross-over between music lovers and tech enthusiasts, before stretching into other groups such as runners.
Apple’s original ads for the iPod establishing the proposition
Or if we’re entering the category or wishing to steal share within it, ask them for their opinion on who’s winning at the moment and why, what they’re doing well and where the chinks in their armour might be.
Is the category itself shrinking or growing? What is our point of difference versus the competition and is it compelling and who’s most likely to respond positively to it.
As with Apple Music, Spotify are the clear leader in music-streaming but Apple can bundle-up it’s Music product with its TV, Arcade & Cloud Services to create something differentiated to Spotify – and convince casuals to cross over and save money.
Apple’s bundling of Apple Music with AppleTV to compete with Spotify et al
Or if we’re growing the category, how might we re-frame what we have to offer to expand its relevance into new occasions or new audiences.
Like with Apple Watch’s latest executions that have moved on beyond helping you stay fit, to helping you stay alive, by sharing real-life stories of emergency service interactions facilitated by the Apple Watch.
Apple’s recent series of “Emergency” ads to extend and enhance the proposition beyond fitness
Or if we’re leading the category how do we maintain a position of strength?
Do we need to act like a leader by being bigger and bolder than a competition that’s heating up, or on the flip side of that is it more about reinforcing your position in more cost-efficient ways, that can free up resources for other endeavours.
It takes less fuel to keep a plane in the sky than to get it there.
Whilst Apple’s combined competition sponsor every property available and use influencers of all shapes and sizes to try and position themselves appropriately in people’s minds – Apple just showed everyone what its phone could do, when it was in the hands of the people you wished to be like, or be with, through its ongoing Shot on iPhone campaign.
Apple’s long running Shot on iPhone campaign reinforces its leadership position vs. a sea of similar competitors
Keep a scribble of this 4-box in your daybook and over time it will become second nature, but also become a great tool to help show a client you’re interested in their business, not just the business they’re giving you.
Once it’s clear what’s going on, you might wish to better understand the choices the clients are making about how they wish to achieve their aims.
PROMPT # 2 “So…where do you think your growth is most likely to come from?”
Ideally a client would clearly outline this, but if it’s a junior client that is briefing you, or a media specialist that may not be as fluent as their marketing director on the contributing factors that grow a brand and business, the levers of growth are mostly linked the below…
Most research points to increasing penetration being the most effective way to grow a brand.
Be that the outputs of Byron Sharp, or through Binet & Field’s interrogation of the IPA databank of brands that had delivered very large business effects, finding those that focussed solely on driving penetration were more successful in achieving those larger business effects.
Although don’t assume everyone knows that.
If it’s not clearly outlined in the brief, ask the client for their perspective.
If penetration is the north star in the brief, ask them if they know how many additional households they need to grow into to achieve their goals.
Make a generic aim, a specific target.
Whilst penetration gains are the most proven path to growth, their very nature will require you to reach more households, more often and more commitment from a budgetary perspective to achieve it.
Does what you’ve been briefed tally up with that?
If a client emphasises a particular source of growth, you can also ask whether there could be pressure on the other levers that might affect their ability to deliver their ultimate growth goals.
For example Increased Penetration or Increased Usage might be hard to achieve in a shrinking category where public opinions and behaviours are changing e.g. sugary drinks.
Or Increased Margin might be hard to achieve with the ongoing supply chain issues across the globe making it more expensive to do business.
No client has ever been offended by someone wanting to know more about what’s going on in their business, as long as it’s done out of curiosity, rather than ego.
It will lead to a much more interesting conversation as well.
PROMPT #3 – Kicking the tyres of the marketing strategy
Once you’ve got a sense of what’s going on and what ultimately needs to be achieved, then you might prod and poke the more standard elements of their marketing strategy and the subsequent brief into you or your team.
The key ones being…Targeting, Positioning, Objectives and Resources or PORT if you like a memorable abbreviation
TARGETING | “Who are you targeting and why?”
Who do they buy at the moment, in which occasions, for what reasons
I dedicated a whole topic to audiences and how they differ at different points in the planning process.
Design your plan with the attitude of the target audience in-mind, but deliver the plan to the collective segment or category buyers.
POSITIONING | “How are you positioning the brand to meet their needs?”
Be those rational or emotional …and do you know how well positioned you already are in people’s minds and repertoires of brands relative to how you wish to be perceived.
Does this positioning have any implications for the media we might choose to use or leave off the plan.
I vividly remember being given a shoeing by a Heineken client when presenting an activation idea to make more of their Champions League sponsorship, that had won awards at a “pitch an idea and we’ll fund it” competition held by a media-owners; the reason being it wasn’t premium enough.
“Premium, premium, premium…this isn’t Foster’s” said the client.
Better to establish those guardrails up-front.
OBJECTIVES | “What’s the most important objective?” “How will we know when we have achieved it”
Whilst you’ll inevitably measure everything, it makes more sense to optimise efforts to a lead KPI rather than multiple KPIs that might compete with one another.
I will be writing a post dedicated to KPIs so won’t elaborate here.
RESOURCES | “What budget do you have available in order to achieve this and how did you arrive at it?”
If it’s massively under or over what is sensible, you might need to adjust some of the objectives accordingly.
I find these types of questions around what’s going on, where the growth is likely to come from and kicking the tyres on a clients marketing strategy really useful ways to get to a shared understanding of what’s required to be successful at the briefing stage.
These aren’t by any means an exhaustive list, just those I go to regularly, to create a more memorable impression of both myself and the team I’m working alongside.
If you decide to adopt any of them, I hope they serve you as well as they have served me.
If you have any other go-to topics or questions or ice-breakers that make for better briefings, I’d love for you to share them and I’ll add them to this post.
Until next time, where C will be for Comms Planning.