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Recently I’ve been hit by two interesting and almost contradictory articles. The first is from DigiDay around how the planning function in agencies is getting squeezed as agencies are getting more involved with creating the brief for the client, not just responding to it. As such, the time spent answering the brief is limited by the fact that we’re creating the client brief at the same time.

The second article that’s got me thinking is a blast from the past, the AMV pitch for the BT “It’s Good to Talk” campaign, presented with great panache by David Abbot. It’s a great insight into a great pitch. What I found striking is that it's the opposite of the DigiDay article. BT swamped their pitching agencies with research, all backed up with a thoughtful, commercially focused brief. What’s then left is for the agency to do their best work to challenge, interrogate and then solve the client brief.

With this client provided insight, AMV goes into the brief with one creative route. It’s an iconic idea and the fact that they’ve had the time to do their best work means that they can really tell a compelling story around that one singular vision. 

Why has this all changed? One telling aspect from the AMV pitch is that they are dealing primarily with two distinct channels - TV and print. Over the course of 20 years, clients have had to contend with a whole host of channels that need to be managed, all while making sure that the relevance of the message matches the media.

So what can we learn from the past and how can you get the best work from your agency? It’s listicle time!

1.    What do you want to happen?

The brief BT gave included clear examples of what they wanted the campaign to achieve. One of these is based around the target market:

“To support and legitimise phone usage among women who do not enjoy daily face-to-face contact with their peers.”

Not only that, they wanted to make sure that these achievements were measurable.

“To encourage each person in the core market to make an extra 21 calls or spend an additional 75 minutes on the phone across the whole year.”

This is great, the brief is clear on who the target customer is and what we want to persuade them to do. When we’re looking for a brief, we really want to get a clear direction on what will add value to the business and that usually comes from the client. We’re not in a position to advise on what will make your business better. We need your insight and market knowledge to help frame the challenge so that we can provide a suitable creative solution.

2.    Tell us everything

And this is where I contradict myself slightly. Mr Abbott mentions that BT supplied AMV with so much research that he needed to get a sturdier bag to hold it in. From what I can tell it was pretty unfiltered, it just gave the agency all the information and research that they could use to bolster or show a different challenge. This is an invaluable part of the process for us. We try to push the brief with the research to see if there is another approach. We’re not remotely saying that we know your business better than you do, the worst that can happen is that we learn something about your business that goes beyond the superficial.

3.    Focus on the language

As Mr David Ogilvy once said, advertising is the business of words. 25 years on, with the Twitters and the Emails and the Facebooks it is truer than ever. Language is the foundation of any campaign. No amount of expensive imagery can compensate for a crap line. From time to time we get people who are surprised that we’re starting with a line rather than jumping straight into the shiny-shiny. If you’re not getting a presentation that starts with language then I’d start to get nervous.

4.    Respect the one route approach

You have to respect the agency that comes into a pitch situation with one approach. If you ask for three routes you’re really only getting one. The other two will be nonsense, battered out in record time to meet the pitch. You’ll get the best from the agency if you look to get one route, one that they believe in. It also avoids the FrankenDesign option of taking a little bit of option C with a sprinkling of option B all the time slowly killing purity of option A. What's really good is that the thinking in the pitch really did carry through into the finished campaign. That purity of idea wouldn't have been there if three options were presented. 

We tend not to pitch for work, it’s a pretty ineffective way of choosing a partner to help you create value for your business. When we do start to work with a client, we look to the same points that helped make the AMV thinking so strong for BT. So while we agree with DigiTimes that the planning function is getting tougher, the foundations that create great, effective and memorable work for the client remains the same.

Listen to more!

Chris and Stewart chatted a little bit more on getting more from your agency through the power of the Good Round Up podcast. Have a listen. Maybe even subscribe.