Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brief writing - it's harder than you think

The biggest problem with brief writing is that people think they're easy to write.

Typical Marketing Department:
"We're going to grab a sandwich. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief to the Agency".

Typical Client Service Department:
"We're going for sushi. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief into Traffic".

A great brief needs to be very, very clear what the resultant output should achieve. More than that it must inspire, in fact, catapult, the imagination of your creative teams. It needs to immediately conjure up ideas and angles and possibilities and excitement. 

To do that it needs to be a few simple things:

1. Be Clear.
2. Be Concise.
3. Be Clever.
4. Be Creative.
5. Be Collaborative.

Be Clear:
Who do you want to do what as a result of this piece of communication?

There's a bunch of choices in there and the catch-all target market definition usually chucked in a brief is a perfect example of lazy thinking, where no choices have been made at all. It's murky and bloated and will undoubtedly lead to obviously murky and inefficient communication output.

To exquisitely illustrate the point, watch this:

Once you've sorted the "who are we talking to" out, then what do you want them to do...as a result of engaging with this piece of communication.

Answering these questions as a "if-then" approach is helpful. Remember, they may be exposed to a whole lot of things that your brand is saying in a whole lot of channels. However - what's this one going to ask the/expect them/persuade them to do?  This is where separating out marketing objectives from communication objectives is so critical. Example, the key job of a banner ad is most likely not to increase brand awareness.

Obviously if the brief is for the BIG IDEA, and you're not down to the individual elements yet, think even more carefully about what the role of the communication will be. What will success look like? Will it (can it) be measured, if so how, and if not - how will you know it worked?

Be Concise:
Doing all of the above thinking - before you write the brief - helps you become focused in your thinking. And so the communication can be focused, and work in an integrated way with all the other bits of communication in your overall plan. If you want to ask your consumers to do ten things, you must realize that not only are you being lazy, but most consumers are. Ask us to do/think/feel/remember one thing, maybe - just maybe - we'll do it. Ten things, or even three? Sorry, what were you saying again?

A creative brief should be no more than two pages. It should tell a story and should read well. Not like a collection of marketing-speak cut and pasted from the brand plan. 

Be Clever:
Find a truly interesting and motivating and deep-seated reason why people do what they do. And find a way of connecting it to what your brand offers. Where the human truth or insight meets your brand truth or insight is where the magic starts happening. This is going to emerge in your brief as the Proposition (see next point).

An example from a recent campaign that I loved the moment I saw it (Boom! Great insight driven work always does that - connects with a Boom!), is Sanlam's One Rand Man campaign. The insight is - my words not theirs - that because we don't physically pay with cash, our money doesn't seem real. 

Be Creative:
This is the real thorn in the side. Here's why you really can't bang it out before lunch.

The inspirational bit of the brief hinges on the Proposition. Call it what you like. The Platform. The Single Minded Thought. The Elevator Pitch. The thing most likely to convince our consumer to do/think/feel what we want them to do/think/feel. This builds on the brand's Value Proposition.

Source: Tim Williams

Usually, you can't get to a great proposition unless you have a really good Insight. Because what we want to do with the proposition is create a launch pad for ideas. The insight helps because it allows you a real understanding of consumer motivations and beliefs - the why not the what. (Insights are something that must be done, along with the Brand's Positioning Statement way before you sit down to write the brief).

The proposition requires creative writing. And understandably not every marketer or account manager is a creative writer. So this proposition can and should be written in collaboration with the agency. In agencies, account managers should be creative. But if they're not, then they should bring in a strategist or a copywriter to get that sentence. Because once you've got it - you're off. That's the catapult to a big idea and a seamless, integrated campaign.

Propositions need also to help make the brand distinctive. Why can this brand solve the tension in that insight better than anyone else? This is when a truly differentiated and distinctive product concept helps. But honestly, how many of those do we see?

So the proposition links a universal insight or truth with a brand truth with something that makes your brand distinctive from the competition or category. Note I said distinctive not differentiated. Distinctiveness is critical when we get to the communication part of the proposition. It sets us apart, maybe tonality, maybe because of an underlying purpose, maybe because of a bottle shape. 

There are a number of obvious examples here but a powerful one is Dove. The fact that a brand based on a moisturising soap can help you acknowledge your inner saboteur and encourage self-belief and self-confidence in young women, is nothing short of miraculous.

Here's how you start (I made a somewhat terribly drawn and narrated little movie):

I find a way to write good propositions is to think of them like headlines. In fact great propositions can be headlines and many end up with tiny tweaks to be payoff lines. How would you write the proposition for this ad?

Human truth: Very few women think they're beautiful (4%).
Brand truth: Dove has a range of everyday beauty products.

So, true to the brand: Dove is a real beauty product
Motivating insight: You are probably more beautiful than you think
Distinctive to the competition: Dove believes in real beauty.

Here are some options (and these take time to write, so you have to try them out until you get to one that sounds like it could create ideas).

Proposition ideas:
With Dove, you know your beauty is real.
Dove helps you be comfortable in your skin.
Dove believes your beauty is within.
Dove - real beauty is more than skin deep.
Dove is a real beauty brand that celebrates real beauty.
Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think.

Here's what their VP said:

So "Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think" feels quite on-brand and quite creatively liberating doesn't it?

That's probably an easy one, because we know what the output is. I took toothpaste (IMHO a massively undifferentiated and non-distinctive category, except for specialist toothpastes) and here's where I got:

Brand truth: Brand X makes your teeth white and your smile beautiful
Insight: I feel happier if someone smiles at me.
Distinctive: A toothpaste brand that believes in the benefit of smiling.

Proposition attempt: 
Brand X, making the world a happier place, one smile at a time.

I've never worked on a toothpaste brand, but Googling this - smiles are everywhere in toothpaste ads, So that's not distinctive. But it seems that "happiness" could carve a distinctive tonality in the category. Is this Coca Cola's territory? It is close. (Ironically). So we may need to keep working on the line to find the right word. But can you start seeing a campaign around Making the World a Happier Place, a hashtag on Instagram, a Pinterest board, some amazing content possibilities, ads? I can. It has "legs". 

The last piece about "Be Creative" is that you should consider your audience for the brief. The creative team. How can you dramatise the proposition? Where should you do the briefing session? In the boardroom? Or In Real Life somewhere?  Wherever, make it inspiring.

Be Collaborative
As I said at the beginning, briefs are hard to get right. The more heads to bounce ideas off, the better. 

But, this is not a committee. You're asking for clarity and inspiring comment, not "oh and can you add in that we now also close later on Fridays"?

Find people in your organisation that are good with words. Those right brain types. 

And, when you have your briefing session, and in discussion someone creative says "what if we said.....", and comes out with the zinger of propositions, please for the love of great communication, punch the air and say YES that's IT! Instead of "it's not what it says on the brief".

If they feel excited and you feel excited, I promise there's a better chance your consumers will too.

p.s (watch here for the 5 most common mistakes in brief writing)

Adtherapy runs  Exceptional Brief Writing workshops for marketers & for account managers.  
We also facilitate Proposition Workshops, & can help you evaluate your propositions and briefs. 

The Creative Fitness programme also includes Developing Transformative Insights & other useful tools and techniques to make sure your communication is as good as it should be. 

Email gillian@adtherapy.co.za, or call 0832659099 to discuss how we can help you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Marketers' Aha moments reveal the pressure points in Agency-Client Relationships

Adtherapy runs a series of workshops with Marketers called "Creative Fitness."

It is a programme designed to help marketers to get the best out of their agencies, by understanding the process and the key components in getting from good to great advertising. 

We look at the briefing process. We interrogate how to generate insights. We look at what happens to a client brief once inside the agency (the creative brief). 

We talk about the creative 'tap' - how we want it to be open as that's when you get the best value for money - when the best creative brains want to work on your business. The 'creative tap' closes when there are too many reverts or when the feedback is too prescriptive and it becomes ' give them what they want so we can get it out of here'. That's not good use of your money. The hourly rate is the same whether the tap is open or closed! 

So we talk about building relationships and  learning how to evaluate ideas/executions in order to give feedback that is constructive and inspirational.

All good stuff, right? (You can read more about the programme here.) 

Having run a number of them this year, I thought it might be fun to reflect on the Aha! moments that come of the exercises we ask the delegates to do. These usually come out when we ask our Monday Question: so, what are you going to do differently on Monday?

(Source: www.garfield.com)

In no particular order, here are the most often uttered Aha!s:
  1. I'm going to give my agency more time. 
  2. I'm going to spend more time planning, and writing, my brief.
  3. I'm going to keep my briefs shorter.
  4. I'm going to look for the good in a creative presentation, not just look for what's wrong.
  5. I'm going to 'market marketing' inside my organisation.
  6. I'm going to look for deeper consumer insights.
  7. I'm going to spend more time talking to consumers.
  8. I'm going to make time to do the brand work that isn't clearly articulated at the moment.
  9. I'm going to make my briefs inspiring.
  10. I'm going to learn how to evaluate ads so I can have the language to give constructive feedback.
  11. I'm going to set up what the brief was and who the target market is before I ask someone in the corridor whether they like the ad.
  12. I'm going to collate feedback from everyone involved so we limit reverts.
  13. I'm going to spend more time looking at great work so I understand what it looks like.
  14. I'm going to be less prescriptive.
  15. I'm going to build a stronger relationship with my agency. 

And there are more. Marketers realise how hard it is when confronted by a brief and a blank page. They realise how much harder it is when given too little information. They also have an aha! about how difficult it is to choose the best option when presented with a pile of ideas. That shows them the value of the Creative Director, the job he or she performs and the unique skill-set they have.
Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

At the end of the programme, we find that there is a renewed sense of excitement about their ability to do great work. A renewed commitment to their role in providing the inputs to the agency that will lead to that great work. And a renewed promise to work with their agencies in a way that will no doubt prove invaluable to the most important person in the process: the consumer.

What these learnings also show me is the pressure points in this tricky space between logic and magic, between expectation and delivery, in an area that is super subjective. Maybe if marketers used these Aha's as a How To list, things could work a whole lot better?

For more information about the Creative Fitness Programme, or to find out more about Adtherapy's other training, mentoring and consulting programmes, visit www.adtherapy.co.za or better yet contact Gillian:  m: 0832659099 or email gillian@adtherapy.co.za

Monday, February 2, 2015

What if all Creative Briefs were Super Bowl Creative Briefs?

If writing creative briefs is hard then writing great creative briefs is extremely difficult.

The main problems are a lack of clarity of thought and an inspiring proposition. These arise because sometimes the brief-writer isn't clear why they're really asking for this piece of communication, or what they really want to say, or who they really want to say it to. But, most of all they don't know why anyone should believe them.

So they write briefs that offer their creative teams, and their consumers', too many choices.  Then they use the creative offering to whittle down to what they think they should say.

"Actually, that wasn't really what I had in mind... What I think we really should be saying, maybe, is ....."

Of course it's not always that bad. Some creative briefs are perfect.

But every year, the Super Bowl ad-fest inspires me to ask this question:

How does a Super Bowl Ad Brief differ from the Common Client Ad Brief?

Is there a different approach to writing the brief for communication that will be watched, and analysed, and talked about, by millions?

And, with so many eyes on these ads, why is that some just don't hit the mark, some are bad, and some are amazing?

In 2013, when I first wrote an article on this question, I picked up a quote from a Bloomberg's Business Week article entitled : "Game on: Super Bowl ads are already playing online". It was from David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America,  who "advises keeping an ad simple and honest. “It should also be an easy, reductionist message,” says Lubars. “You’re getting a canvas that 120 million people will see. You have to go where nobody has gone before. The ad has to be single-minded, relevant, funny, and emotional. If it’s done right, $4 million (for a 30 - sec spot) is a bargain. I would say 90 percent of the people running ads are wasting their money.”

So back to my question. Is the brief different?
The Common Client Ad Brief also claims to want to be original, single minded, relevant and emotionally engaging, right? So what's the big difference? Truthfully, having never seen a Super Bowl brief, I have no idea.

Maybe it's because the agencies recognise that this is THE brief and assign their best teams to work on it? But even that doesn't always deliver great work. Even if the Super Bowl Ad brief is perceived by the agencies to be much cooler and high-stakes with more chance of creative risk-taking than the average Common Client Brief, then why do some of the Super Bowl ads come out boring, done-before, irrelevant and imminently forgettable?

It seems that the enormous viewership might have something to do with it. Possibly a bit of stage fright and a trying-too-hard aspect? Or a client wanting to cover all their bases to justify the enormous spend?

My two cents worth would be that there's too much playing to the masses and too much losing sight of the one person that actually counts - the person who may do something, buy something, think something, as a result of your ad. 

Two ads I thought hit the mark are the Avo's from Mexico ad, and the No More (NFL sponsored) ad against domestic abuse, which used a real life story.

Both ads are disruptive, fresh, single-minded, and totally relevant. One is funny, one is deeply chilling.  Both speak to the truth of the message. Both address, in totally different ways, an interesting insight. They have both managed to create an ongoing dialogue, online, offline, in people's hearts and minds, about what the ad actually spoke to us about.

Both ads are personal, using different techniques and totally different approaches. Yet both managed to communicate clearly to the 120million plus audience. Budweiser's "Lost Puppy", BMW's "New fangled idea" made me cry and laugh, but were more expected than the ones above. And as for Carl Jr's "All Natural", the less said the better. (#didwejustgobacktothe80's?)

Whether the ad was a hit or a miss (I loved Dove's "Salute to Dads", but the product segment at the end felt like a sledgehammer), here's what I like to imagine sets a Super Bowl brief apart form a Common Creative Brief:
  1. The client (and agency) are aiming for GREAT. You have a much better chance of getting there if you aim for it, than if you don't.
  2. It's presumably agreed upfront that the ad has to be entertaining with exceptional production values (with budget allowed for) - great advice for the Common Brief to borrow from.
  3. The ad aims to be memorable, relevant and engaging. Tick, tick and tick.
  4. It simply has to be distinctive. And talk-able, and shareable. And that means some brave decisions need to be made in the approvals process.
  5. The message has to be totally singleminded.
  6. Time has been invested in mining a really strong insight about the consumers motivations or beliefs in the category.
  7. A powerful proposition and very clear brand positioning are the cornerstones.

Maybe we should treat each ad brief like a Super Bowl brief and see what happens to the work?

ps. I am not a fan of the 'reveal' of the ad prior to the Superbowl. It takes away so much of the excitement I used to feel on the big day if I've already seen them the week before. #justsaying 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Just How Risky is Creative Advertising?

The short answer?

Much less risky than boring advertising.

Do you know how marketing messages we are exposed to every day?

Figures vary but it's safely between several hundred and several thousand. A figure of between 3000 and 5000 marketing communication messages every 24 hours is often mentioned. Read the links in this article here to give you an idea of the studies done in this area, some which clarify that number, some that dispute it.

Of course when you talk about messaging in the thousands, you are including every single message - from your Facebook stream, the branding on the motorbike in front of you, messaging in shopfront windows and on shopping bags, packaging and so on. In reality, we obviously don't "see" all those messages, as Shari Worthington notes in this piece. She notes:

"Our senses are bombarded with over 11 million bits of data every SECOND. The average person’s working memory can handle 40-50 bits, max. That means we ignore 10,999,950 bits of data every second we are awake."- See more at: http://blog.telesian.com/how-many-advertisements-do-we-see-each-day/#sthash.zNRsE2iJ.dpuf

Whatever the amount is, studies conducted by Harvard University's Graduate School of Business way back in 1964 concluded that of all the messages we see, only 76 penetrate our subconscious. (Bauer, Greyser

Further studies emphasised that from the 76 messages of which a person might be aware, only 12 made any kind of impression (Adams, Common Sense in Advertising, 1965). 

And of those, how many are remembered the next day? Figures range between none, 1, 1.7 and mostly, at most 2. (*All references to this research taken from notes in the excellent book: Case for Creativity by James Hurman).

Bear in mind, these studies quaintly only measured 4 - 5 media types: magazines (remember them?), newspapers, radio and TV. Only in later studies did they include outdoor.

Fast forward to the proliferation of media around us, and taking into account Shari's estimate that we only really see between 300 and 700 marketing messages per day, let's settle on a number of around 500? Assuming the number of 76  of which people are even vaguely aware still stands (and why wouldn't it?) that's 15%. If only 12 of those 76 make any impact, we get 15% and a miserly 2% of the total. And recall the next day? Of those that made an impact we are likely to remember 16% the next day, when we're shopping for something. And if we take the percentage of those recalled the next day of the total number of messages of which we were aware? 0.4%. 

Point being - if a tree falls in a forest if probably makes a sound but no-one cares. Ditto with 98% of advertising.

Some valuable insights on whether a tree makes a sound: image from http://musingsfromhigherdowngateandelsewhere.blogspot.com/2014/10/if-tree-falls-in-forest.html

So. Good. That's all clear. We want to be making ads, creating marketing messages, that work. Awareness on its own really isn't much use. What we're trying to do with commercial messaging is create a behaviour change - change how someone thinks or feels or what they do. So vague awareness is only marginally useful. We need to make an impact.

But how? 

Buy more media? Prof Byron Sharp reckons that by extending your penetration, you will grow share as depends largely on mental and physical availability. Not everyone can afford that.

Be more creative? Yip.

Isn't that risky?

Turns out it's the opposite of risky. Mediocre is the risky option.

My elaborate maths above should have already told you that. By being boring you simply won't make any impact and your marketing investment has become that poor tree in the forest that no-one hears.

And how about this?

Here are some astounding some facts, summarised in The Case for Creativity, reported in a 2010 study, commissioned by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising) and Thinkbox in the UK. The research was conducted by acclaimed researcher Peter Field and entitled "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness".

  • Only about 0,001% of advertising wins a creative award, yet among highly effective campaigns (in this case winners of an IPA Effectiveness award), 18% are awarded. This means that there's on "over-index of 128,500" of how likely creative campaigns are to be effective.
  • In an analysis of "Excess Share of Voice" (ESOV, which correlates a brand's share of advertising with its share of market, Peter Field found that the "Return On Investment (ROI) for a highly creative campaign is on average 11 times higher". ie... "you need to spend 11 times more on media for an uncreative production" to achieve the same result.
  • And, here's the kicker: Creatively awarded campaigns are more certain to achieve a higher rate of effectiveness by a "degree of confidence of 99.9%" as opposed to to non-awarded campaigns'  degree of confidence of 87%.
"What this implies is that less creative campaigns are not only less efficient, but also less predictable than creatively-awarded ones - something of a departure from the perceived notion that a more creative approach is a less certain one"
James Hurman

There are plenty more fascinating analyses in the book or on the Slideshare presentation (link above) if you need more convincing. James Hurman actually concludes that he looked for but couldn't find any research to prove that there isn't a link between creative advertising and effectiveness.

Heavens alive, even Millward-Brown reported in 2011 in an article titled Creative Effectiveness that they observed an overlap  between creative advertising and effective advertising. They concluded, having re-tested Peter Field's research, and added to it with some of their own, that persuasiveness was over-rated and emotional connection is far more effective.

"A study of IPA effectiveness, Effie and Cannes Lions awards winners reveals that ads don't need to persuade to be effective but they do usually engage emotionally."
Dominic Twose, Polly Wyn Jones, Millward-Brown, 2011

Two quick & interesting cases in point

That Volvo ad with Jean Claude van Damme: "Epic Split".

The industry was divided about it. They're talking only to truck buyers, so why should 90million YouTube views matter? Here's what Volvo said.

In a survey they commissioned amongst 2,200 commercial truck drivers, nearly half who had seen the campaign said they are more likely to choose Volvo the next time they buy a truck. A third of all respondents had alraedy contacted a dealer or visited the website for more information. There was also a very positive improvement in the perception of Volvo Trucks as "an innovative and modern truck brand".

Oh, and they achieved their annual sales target in the first Quarter after "Epic Split" ran.

Not bad, huh?

Remember Dove's Real Beauty Sketches ad, with the forensic artist?

"Since they launched the campaign, Dove has seen an increase of almost 2 billion in sales, and has received a multitude of awards, including 19 at the Cannes Lion Film Festival alone.
Princeton Partners

It won lots of awards, got  65 million views on YouTube. Did it work?
"A jury of six men and two women awarded “Sketches” the Grand Effie, based on it driving $24 million in incremental sales and garnering $52 million worth of media exposure, all on a budget of just $925,000."
 June 5 2014, Adweek 

Great - that's sorted then.

Let's make creative ads!

Only problem is it's quite hard. Remember that only 0.01% of all ads actually wins an award! 

David Droga, Founder and Creative Chairman of Droga5,  explained why it's so hard going great work, in this interview when his agency was named AdAge's Creative Innovator of 2015: 

"Breaking through the clutter is just part of the Droga5 M.O. Solid strategy supports all of the agency's work -- something Mr. Droga said that for him, has not necessarily always been the case. "There's no question in my younger days, I'd think you could just blink and creative would solve everything. But now it has to be creative on strategy. What's hard is trying to be responsibly creative, versus just creative."

Probably my favourite work of theirs in the past year is this one for a cereal, Mondelez HoneyMaid. Watch it and think of the cereal ads you've seen lately.


It's tough. And sometimes we try too hard. Sometimes we're too picky about getting every word in the body copy right, when the ad isn't any good.

"Most advertising isn’t good. Let alone great. Consciously or unconsciously it  assumes its role to bludgeon the consumer into submission.  It tries to argue the consumer into purchase.   It tries – with varying degrees of heavy-handedness – to reason the hapless audience into some kind of Damascene-like conversion. It has no interest in speaking to what interests the consumer. Its starting point is itself, rather than the passions, concerns and inclinations of its audience. It is, I suspect, born a prisoner of marketing superstition."

It requires the right skills, on the marketer side and an on the agency side. It requires the right relationship between agency and client. It requires courage. Fundamentally it requires an unwavering belief that creative advertising is effective.

It's worth it.

A final word from Creative Circle's first Marketing Champion of Creativity, Geoff Whyte, now CEO of Nandos Southern Africa:

Off you go then. No-ones waiting for you, unless you give them something worth waiting for.


Adtherapy works with Marketers and Agencies to help them work together better so that they create better work. Contact Gillian Rightford on gillian@adtherapy.co.za, +(27)(0)832659099 or visit our website www.adtherapy.co.za if you want to know more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Now's The Time To Sort Out Your Client-Agency Relationship

It's 2015 and already the year is galloping by. The relationship with your ad agency or client that might have started wearing thin towards the end of last year, may now be basking in the ever fading glow of the summer holiday. But as the tan fades, and you both start feeling crushed by the relentless torrent of work, so too may the renewed desire to play nicely. It might just be time to do a Client-Agency intervention. 

Image courtesy of holohololand at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An Adtherapy Client-Agency Relationship Intervention is a positive and constructive process that aims to review and learn from the challenges that are getting in the way of doing great work. And to then ensure the right processes and partnership principles are applied for each party. 

The ultimate aim? A successful business partnership that produces great creative work for the brand. 

The relationship between a Marketer (Client) and an Agency is often compared to a marriage. Although procurement people have tried to muscle in on the dating and wedding processes, the truth is that the relationship is between the people in the bed together, so to speak. This relationship has its ups and downs, and the primary reason for the “marriage” analogy is that it veers from moments of great joy to the depths of despair; from compromise to utterly unreasonable; is prone to emotional and subjective responses, blame and above all, is always high risk.

There are a number of companies offering tools (e.g. Y-CareRAM) to help ad agencies and their marketing clients assess the status of their professional relationship. These are usually survey based and can be done on an ongoing basis, a few times a year or even just once a year as an annual assessment.

The assessments are usually mutual – agency scores marketing team and marketing team scores agency. The assessments flag areas of high and low performance and hopefully shed some light on those areas that one or both parties need to continue, or need to improve, if the relationship is to be the best it can be.

The assessments will highlight key success areas, and urgent issues that need to be addressed. Unless the agency and the marketing team take immediate steps to address these issues, the relationship is heading for the rocks. A friend I once worked with was married to a divorce attorney. He said this: 
“once a divorce file is opened, it’s never closed”.

Once doubt settles in, frustration builds, trust falls and the divorce file is metaphorically opened.

So, it's a no-brainer that both marketing and agency teams would assign the highest priority to getting the problem areas sorted, right? Although it sounds simple, sometimes these areas are not improved, or even addressed. You may well wonder why this happens, when improving these areas has such important ramifications for both businesses and such dire consequences if not done?

Who knows, but I’ll hazard a few guesses:
  1. Because it falls into Steven Covey’s Important but Not Urgent box? No-one will be harping on this on a daily basis and so it slips through the cracks while the urgency and noise of the day job takes priority?
  2. Because addressing the issues might rock the boat and the agency thinks it might destabilize the relationship and they might lose the business?
  3. Because the parties don't know how to fix the problems?  
  4. Because one party expects the other party to change completely while they change nothing?
  5. Because no. 4 is allowed to happen because of no 2?
  6. Because one or both parties don’t take the measurements seriously, or thinks its all the other party's fault anyway? 

That's why Adtherapy starting offering Agency-Client Interventions, running successfully since 2007. The current relationship's appraisal 'score', and the key issues that have been identified, are only the starting point.

A client once asked what the ‘success rate’ was in Agency-Client Interventions. Interesting question. In all those that I have done, I have only recommended one partnership to split, as the relationship had deteriorated beyond what I felt was salvageable. Was that a failure? I think not – maintaining a destructive client-agency relationship is toxic for all parties and especially destructive for the end creative product. That agency and that client went on to find new partners with whom they have done great work.

The reason why Client-Agency Interventions are like marriage counseling is that they examine whether it’s possible to improve the relationship to save it, and how. 

A recent study by the IPA suggests that the costs for pitches are extremely high – for the agency and for the client. So we ideally want to keep the relationship intact but make it commercially and psychologically viable for both parties. We want to look at the drivers for successful relationships and what the drivers are for the relationship under duress. 

Just so you know, the IPA recently concluded that four drivers of successful agency-client relationships are:
  1. Transparent and effective approval processes 
  2. Mutually agreed and maintained timing plans. 
  3. Honest and open briefings with clear business objectives, budget, timing and brand guidelines. 
  4. Respectful and collaborative behaviours built on shared goals and rewards.
The most important thing is this: like the divorce lawyer’s sad observation, the sooner this counseling takes place the better for the eventual outcome of the partnership.

My advice? Don’t wait till it blows up.

Deal with it urgently. Get stuck in. You can do it yourself, or you can let us help. We can add a qualitative and interpretive (and totally objective) layer to what you already know but might not think you can do anything about. Let’s scope some Partnership Principles and deal with any process or people issues. Let’s be proactive rather than defensive.

And let’s all live happily ever after.


An Adtherapy Client-Agency Relationship Intervention is a positive and constructive process that aims to learn from the relationship challenges and ensure that the right partnership principles are applied for each party. 
The ultimate aim? A successful business partnership that produces the best work. A recent client described the process as 'part agony aunt, part freedom fighter'. We like that.
Mail gillian@adtherapy.co.za or phone on 0832659099 to chat about how we can help you.