Meg Carter finds out some of the shortcomings in the way clients
communicate new-media briefs to shops
Advertisers and their agencies may be more confident these days about
using new media for advertising and promotional campaigns, but their
understanding of what constitutes a good new-media brief often leaves
much to be desired.
‘Many people are spending a lot of time answering briefs that are moving
targets,’ Rob Norman, the managing director of CIA Interactive, says.
‘You can put the same brief out to five different new-media specialists
and get quotes back ranging from pounds 20,000 to more than pounds
100,000. Often briefs are too open and allow a wide range of assumptions
and interpretations to be made.’
Both advertisers and, to a lesser extent, their advertising agencies are
to blame, the specialists maintain. In many cases, each gets bogged down
with new-media minutiae, losing sight of the bigger picture; what they
want to achieve and why they want to achieve it.
Blindingly obvious? Far from it, according to Ajaz Ahmed, a partner of
the new-media specialist, AKQA: ‘Every single brief and briefing process
we have encountered has been different.’
While this is, to a certain extent, understandable - every client has a
different approach and its own unique objectives - the time has come for
new-media practitioners to consider just how business is being done,
There is no set pattern for commissioning a new-media campaign.
Advertisers work either directly with new-media specialists, via their
advertising agencies, or with the agencies’ fledgling in-house new-media
departments. Each approach has its own pitfalls, says Patrick Burton,
group media manager at Allied Domecq, which operates an interactive pub
network, online Web and bulletin board services.
‘One of the major problems is dealing with existing ad agencies - many
are very comfortable with strategic planning, but have minimal expertise
in new media,’ he explains. ‘Give them a communications brief and you
are still unlikely to get great new media as either they don’t
understand it or it’s not profitable for them.’
All too often, briefs from agencies to specialists are verbal, one
consultant admits. But going direct to a specialist is not trouble-free.
‘You must take on managing the entire project yourself,’ Burton says.
‘Clients need to know too much at the moment. You have to have some
understanding to perceive the potential and clarify objectives in a
But over-enthusiasm can be just as bad. ‘A little knowledge can be a
dangerous thing,’ according to Felix Velarde, a director of the new-
media design and production consultancy, Hyperinteractive.
There are three kinds of new-media brief, he explains. ‘First there’s
the highly knowledgeable brief - they’re very rare. Then there’s the
‘I’ve heard about it and want something that works’ approach - the most
common and, I’d say, most preferable. And finally, the ‘we don’t know
what we’re doing but we want to go online’ - often the most troublesome
and the type we try to avoid.’
Velarde believes the best briefs evolve from specialists working closely
with ‘brand custodians’ - be it the client or advertising agency - to
discuss and agree objectives. ‘People who have heard of Java or Net
video often don’t understand the implications. Their expectations are
overly high, when they should be considering the fact that heavy
graphics, video and audio will not enable easy - or fast - access to
It is essential that clients understand the context in which their new-
media marketing will appear and the long-term relevance of executions
conceived today, Mike Beeston, a director of the new-media specialist,
‘There is a tendency for clients to pick on one medium - such as the Net
- which is a shame, because over time opportunities will change,’ he
explains. ‘The Web might not exist in its current form in a year’s time.
They should take a strategic, longer-term view - building a site that’s
structured for new development; generating content usable across a
variety of new-media platforms.’
But is the consensus approach to briefing really such a good idea? After
all, effectively it means the specialist writing - or, more often,
rewriting - the client’s brief.
Norman thinks not. But he does believe advertisers must seek specialist
advice much earlier. ‘They should speak to new-media consultants before
they even think of starting the briefing process, and not necessarily
the same specialist they eventually plan to use.’
Of the plethora of ‘online’ industry conferences held each month, none
has yet addressed how to master effective and creative new-media
briefing, he adds. ‘Maybe it’s an Incorporated Society of British
Advertisers’ issue. But the fact remains: it’s time to grow up.’ Ahmed
agrees: ‘There needs to be a new-media industry with certain standards.’
The challenge has been issued.
New-media briefing tips
* Clarify marketing objectives from the outset, consider new-media
objectives in the broader picture.
* Include details of exactly what makes the brand unique and also how
these values are communicated in other media.
* Which platform? Remember, briefing an execution for CD-Rom is not the
same as briefing for the Net.
* Content - consider carefully the balance between information and
entertainment. And don’t over-burden consumers with excessive volume
just because you can.
* Propose a framework for gauging effectiveness by understanding the
different ways response can be assessed. Effectiveness is better
measured against marketing objectives than technology - for example, if
globalising a brand via the Net, look at origin of ‘hits’ instead of
* Ensure the new-media brief is relevant to the client’s new-media
experience - a first timer is likely to have different objectives from a
company already online.
* Cost - don’t enter the briefing process thinking only of a one-off
set-up cost. Ask what it will take to support a Website for a year to
ensure it’s regularly updated and promoted.
* And lower those expectations. As technology moves forward fast, don’t
assume results can be achieved quicker without adequate planning or