When briefs go wrong

I found a proposal I’d written for a firm of insurance brokers. The business was owned and run by a married couple and it was the wife who had briefed me on the work. The husband overheard our conversation and disagreed with the brief. They had a big argument in front of me. It was embarrassing for all concerned, and I didn’t get the job.

I was briefed to edit a website for a company with eight core personnel. Six of them attended the briefing meeting which took over two hours. By the end of it, we’d all agreed on the content and style to be used, with the addition of tone of voice, personality and biographies for uniqueness.

Trouble is, the two people who’d missed the meeting hadn’t been through that process, so when they saw the first draft, they deleted everything new – they hadn’t been through the thought process and the results were outside their comfort zone. With each set of amendments, the text reverted more closely to its original form (so there ended up being no point in involving me at all). With eight decision-makers, decision-making took an age. There was no way to please them all, and the finished copy ended up pleasing nobody, least of all me.

Another client business was headed by four directors, each with equal say in the business. I wrote and designed a spring newsletter for them. It still wasn’t sent out by autumn because the four of them were rarely in the office at the same time and couldn’t agree on the content.

Top tip:

All decision-makers should agree on the requirements before briefing the experts OR nominate one individual to take responsibility for the job (and – as with all effective delegation – trust them to carry it out to their best ability even if it’s not exactly as you would have done it yourself).

Sometimes when you pass text around for comment, people feel they have to contribute something, even if it’s to complain about a comma or a sentence that starts with ‘and’. I’m not precious. There’s no point arguing about it. The client has to be happy after all. But, if you’re the client, I recommend you trust the skills of the expert you’re employing and use the work you’ve paid for.

Sometimes the first proof won’t be quite right for some reason, but please don’t spend your own time correcting it in detail or making specific suggestions about changes.

Top tip:

Why pay the expert and then do it yourself? Give them the problem not the solution. It’s normal to have a series of iterations to perfect the work. A lot of creative work is about problem-solving, and the professionals you’ve employed will relish the challenge of meeting your brief while maintaining their creative integrity.

Remember to be sensitive to the artistic temperament. Something that may seem a small change to you may represent hours of effort to the creative team. For example, I worked on a job where changing the left hand margin by just 3mm meant repaginating 360 pages of text.

Top tip:

Show appreciation for what’s good about the work as well as asking for any changes you want to improve it further.

This is an extract from my first book, the Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing, as published in my Write Right newsletter for Fresh Business Thinking

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