Marketing Talent Inc

The Best advertising…

The Best advertising comes when Brand Leaders control the strategy and give freedom on the execution.


Control the Strategy with a Tight Brief

Brand Leaders take pride in being strategic thinkers. Yet, why when it comes to Advertising, do they throw strategic thinking out the window and become masters of execution? To get great advertising, Brand Leaders should control the strategy and give freedom on the execution. Yet I see them giving up control over the strategy all the time. A good tight brief has one problem, one objective, one target and one main message.  As soon as you write a broad brief that goes beyond that, you’ve just given up control over the strategy.

  • If your brief has a broad target market, some ads will naturally fit younger and some will fit older. But it’s unlikely one ad will fit both targets. A good brief should have no more than a 5 year age gap on the target.
  • If your brief has two benefits, the agency will come back with one ad for the first benefit and another ad for the second benefit. I hope that’s not what you wanted when you picked two benefits. Or worse yet, you’ll get the “marriage of both benefits” type ads and those are usually very lame. A good brief should have only one benefit!!!!
  • If your brief has two objectives, it will fail at both. So many briefs I see advertising objective say: “get new users and get current users to use more” (penetration and frequency).  That’s impossible in one ad. Getting new users is getting competitive users to THINK differently about your brand so they cast aside their current brand to try you just once. Yet, driving usage frequency is a message to those familiar with your brand and trying to get them to FEEL differently enough to change their behavior. I would argue it’s impossible to achieve these two things with one ad. If I’m wrong, send me an ad that does both. If you can’t find that ad, then go to your brief now, and if you have both objectives, strike out one and your brief will get better.

Your broad brief, which might help you sleep at night, just squandered your control over the strategy. And soon you’ll be having nightmares. The role of the brief is to create a nice tight “box” that defines the problem, objective, target and main message. Since the best agency talent are “in the box” thinkers who solve problems, the best brief gives them a “box” to solve. Briefs with multiple objectives or many main benefits send the signal to agencies that you aren’t quite sure and want the agency to pick the strategy. Briefs with a long list of mandatories sends the signal that even though we don’t know the strategy, we do think we know what we want the execution should look like. A great brief is tight enough that it doesn’t even need mandatories.



Give freedom on execution to your Agency

Being a Brand Leader is a very odd job: you don’t do anything and you don’t really know anything. You don’t make the product, don’t sell the product and don’t make the ads. You just make decisions. However, marketing seems to attract know-it-all types that love to tell everyone what to do. I was once one of those know-it-all Brand Managers so I know that type well. And yet, only when I figured out that not knowing anything, and not doing anything put me in a more powerful position to make better decisions did I master the art of Brand Management. If the agency is a problem solver, then you are a problem giver. Think of it like great therapy. You just spill your problems and others come up with solutions and you decide on which solution works best. The only thing you have to do well, is make decisions. What a great job.

At every stage of advertising, Brand Leaders really have 3 options: 1) approve the work 2) reject the work or 3) change the work.


From what I see, Brand Leaders rarely approve the work outright. Even though the agency would love it, it is almost unrealistic to think they could perfect the ad without any challenge from the marketer. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few ads in my career that required very little feedback. It likely means we nailed the brief. The reality is that great work is usually made collaboratively with both agency and client.

On the flip side, Brand Leaders are sometimes too uncertain to reject the work completely. They tend to keep things alive too long. I remember on my first ad, I kept being so passive on this one idea that I hated. I never rejected it fully and the agency kept coming up with new ways to fix that ad. Here’s my advice: if you don’t love the ad, you’re not doing anyone a favor by keeping it alive. Great advertising takes a fight internally, and many times if you don’t love the work, then you won’t fight for it. Explain why you hate it and if that creates a new problem for the agency, you might be surprised at a new solution they come up with.

It seems that most times, Brand Leaders choose the option to change the work. Do you think that’s your role in the process?  I see too many Brand Leader showing up ready to pounce on the work with a list of changes, rather than digesting it and making decisions on how to make the work better.  They’ll say: “make the lead a woman instead of a man, move the pack shot earlier, get rid of that line and change this line.” What I don’t understand is that If you didn’t feel talented enough to come up with an ad in the first place, why are you now talented enough to do something even harder: to change the work.  I’d challenge brand leaders to stop coming up with solutions and rather start finding ways to frame their problems, so they keep the agency engaged and challenged.

Being the Brand Leader on the hot seat is not easy.

Until you gain experience in the hot seat, it is highly stressful, scary and uncertain. It can feel like your brain is spinning, so many thoughts are going around in your head and you feel pressure to say the right thing. 



Try to stop spinning by asking yourself four key questions:

  1. Do I love it? How passionate are you? If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it? If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end. But if you love it, you’ll go the extra mile and make it amazing. Would you be proud of this as your legacy?
  2. What is my gut reaction? What’s your immediate reaction when you reach for your instincts? Relax, slow yourself down enough to soak it in, right in the meeting. It’s easier to quickly reject out of fear than find what your gut really says. Many times, instincts get hidden away because of the job.
  3. Is it on strategy? Is the Ad an expression of what you wrote in your strategy documents? Use a process to help frame things in your mind, so you can evaluate it past how you feel. The tool I recommend is the ABC’s (attention, branding, communication, stickiness) which helps to give you something to ground yourself. Take your time with this thinking.
  4. Does the ad have long-term potential? Is it BIG IDEA, you can see lasting for 5-10 years, going across various mediums (mass, on-line, in store), capable of speaking of the entire product line up, Think about leaving a legacy beyond your time in the role, which forces you to think of campaign-ability.

When you slow it down, you’ll start to see ideas and not executions. You’ll be able to sort through what’s working and not working for your brand. Next time, instead of providing solutions to your agency with a “list of changes we want” I’d challenge you to give the agency a problem with a “list of challenges to the work”. In essence, if the original brief created a “box” for the creative team to figure out “in the box” solutions, then use  your feedback to create a “modified box” for the agency to solve, not a check list of changes you want on the ad. Never be afraid to slow it down, think it through, see where it is going or where it could go. Sometimes when we slow down our thinking, then the actions actually go faster. Great Brand Leaders think with strategy, and act with instincts.

The role of the client might be the most important factor in getting great ads. An OK agency can do great work on a great client. But a great agency will fail with a bad client. So be the best client you can be.

If you knew that being a better client got you better advertising, would you actually be able to show up better?


Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do. I have walked a mile in your shoes. My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands.

Website: | Twitter: @grayrobertson1



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