Writing Briefs Is a Skill Every Leader Should Learn

•November 4, 2019 • Leave a Comment

keep-calm-and-brief-v2

Of the Marketing Mix, Creative work is still one that excites me because I believe in its power to build brands, impact purchase habits and change human behavior.

Creative briefs are in the heart of this process and I’ve been writing them my whole life, both domestically and globally, for some of the most challenging brands around. Some – not all, I admit – worked really well so I looked into common threads to come up with best practices I could apply consistently. Since doing so, I’ve seen much better results in the work I’ve led, both at the Agency and Client sides. Here it is:

How to write it:

  • if it’s boring for you, it’s boring for everybody else.
  • it shouldn’t be written with clients in mind but for Creatives. They will use it.
  • There are different Creatives so be flexible and use a format that serves that audience.
  • it’s not an opportunity to show-off your writing skills. Make it clear, easy to understand
  • Don’t do it alone, accept input
  • it shouldn’t make the work more difficult, but easier
  • Say what you have to say only once. Every word matter, don’t repeat the information
  • Interpret data, don’t simply splash it on a page

When it comes to the content itself, five things:

  • Create a hypothesis, tell a story
  • Identify the behavior you want to impact
  • Frame a problem and a path to a solution
  • Think about what creative will come out
  • Have an opinion!

Finally, we have to understand that the brief is part of the creative process and therefore open for evolution. For example, when you hire a director you will accept his/her input on the script, if you hire a celebrity you are ok with discussing his/her input also, so why not accept ideas that build from the initial brief? In that sense, it’s ok for a Creative team to come back with a better strategy. Good creatives are Strategic and if the Brief led them to a light bulb and made the solution better, it served its purpose. Be proud.

Writing creative briefs helped me becoming objective and succinct and these skills are very transferable to other aspects of management. If you know what problem you’re attacking, if you can articulate and identify stakeholders, influential variables and goals, you can guide your team towards success.

Agree or disagree, like most things in life it’s relatively easy to understand but hard to execute…it takes work.

The Brilliant Talent Assessment in “Billions” – The Best People Gives You the Best Edge

•October 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Billions is a wonderful Showtime series where US Attorney Chuck Rhoades and billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Paul Giamatti & Damian Lewis) go at it in a relentless battle well into American psyche: how far can we go to make money and to serve the people?

It’s an insightful, cutthroat and captivating look into the world of Hedge Funds, kingmakers, deal making, politics, ethics, escapism, contradictions, the power of leverage and choices.

In this context, Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) is an incredibly smart woman who challenges Axe on his own turf including hiring the best talent. As she interviews Quants for her new company, she outlines a collection of Human traits and pro skills that make up her hiring criteria.

It’s brilliant:

1 Stubbornness: Good or Bad – How Stubborn are you, what kind of stubbornness you have? (Being called stubborn myself – hopefully the good kind – I can relate…)

2. Desire – How much do you want to be here?

3. Performance – What have you done, what can you do, can you deliver?

4. Thinking Process- How do you attack a problem?

5. 360 Workflow – How do you understand context and momentum?

6. Culture Fit – I think this is obvious…

7. Quality of Models – Can you do the technical requirements for the role?

8. Team Mentality – Do you make the whole better?

9. Fresh Ideas – Can you innovate on the job or you’ll recycle, recycle, recycle?

10. Values Tendencies – Are our values aligned? What is your bias and how risky or beneficial is it for the business?

This collection of talent, personality and fit assessment serves pretty much any industry in the world, if you properly contextualize to your needs.

Try it.

And at Billions itself, these traits are beautifully brought to life in the other plot characters, who are continuously tested by Wendy Rhoades – my favorite character played by the incredible Maggie Siff – who happens to be Chuck Rhoades’ wife and a psychiatrist thriving as a performance coach at Axe’s business.

So, despite the short squeezing, churning and stuffing, like everything in life Billions is not about money but about people, and you’re as good as the people you surround yourself with so…be good at that, to start.

To Be or Not To Be (a good Boss)

•October 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Every day we are exposed to different examples of Leadership and many worth paying attention to either for positive or not so positive reasons…. In my view, being a good boss is grounded on 3 principles:

Put People in Position to Succeed, Remove Barriers, Get Out of the Way.

Let’s see:

Put People in Position to Succeed

Leading a team is not an easy task and a boss’ first and foremost job is understanding strengths and weaknesses of the group. It is his/her responsibility to then place people in positions where they can perform their best while growing professionally (room for mistakes included!).

Liverpool FC is a wonderful example of that: despite some personal highlights the team’s strength comes not from individuality but from how they operate as a unit. The engine flows perfectly because manager Klopp (the boss in this case) has a keen ability to position players in areas they can perform their best for the benefit of the whole. Each cylinder runs at 100% and complements the other, delivering on their share of the task. That mindset made them the best in Europe last season, possibly the best in the world.

When you have players in functions they cannot perform, your team is confused, hesitant and underdelivers.

Remove Barriers

I see this as a boss’ daily job: making sure that organizational bureaucracy, politics or egos do not get on the way of your team’s ability to execute. It doesn’t mean you are baby-sitting…not at all. Instead, you are demonstrating how respectful to your employee’s career you are, using your seniority, position and experience to open the path. This is perhaps the most valuable thing a good boss does.

One of my old bosses used to ask “what do you need me to do?” and that question forced me to bring clear and objective requests, not complaints and wasteful thoughts.

Nowadays, speed is not an option and when you don’t consciously work on removing barriers in front of your team, it results in a slowed down, stagnant and frustrating performances.

Get Out of the Way

This is the hardest…because it forces you – the boss – to trust others, a scary thought for many. I also accept the fact that others can do things better than you…another scary thought for some.

I say: Let them do it! Let them make decisions, let them chose left or right, let them find the answer and let them find the options available. Let them bring it to you, don’t tell them what to do, don’t impose your title, your style or your solutions onto the process.

Interventionist bosses usually don’t succeed.

I truly believe these 3 principles are foundational behaviors, meaning the root for all other characteristics of a good boss. But it goes a step deeper because they are fundamentally grounded on the idea that you’re as good as your team, so if you’re a good boss, they will make you look good, if you’re a bad one…the blame is on you.

 

WeWork failed IPO: Perception x Reality (or Hype vs Getting your Act Together)

•October 4, 2019 • Leave a Comment

WeWork has a very clear business model: It signs up big proprieties for long term, lower prices leases and then slice them up, re-rent them on short term and much higher prices. 

Similarly to Starbucks, Uber, Amazon, or Facebook, WeWork “blitzscaled” the market to create dominance and it is everywhere. It is cool amongst digital nerds, hipsters, millennials, genXers, entrepreneurs and even Wall Street bankers. Throw in some nice amenities, a contemporary relax-pro vibe and good networking opportunities and that rent is clearly justified, right? Even if they lose $219,000 every hour, it sounds like a smart real estate business, it makes sense to me…

That’s what WeWork’s $47 Billion IPO valuation counted on…until reality sunk in and the market could see only a $10-15B value. Still big but not close to matching the hype and buzz around it. This week the IPO was called off.

Besides the economics and governance issues behind this decision, what I find fascinating is how we, Humans, still struggle to play this perception vs reality game.

We make a lot of decisions based on what we “think” we know, not what we actually “know”, and I truly believe it is important as a marketer to drive positive perception, generating momentum, engagement, curiosity, interest and word of mouth. However, I see a lot of businesses trully believing that driving perception is a strategy and that it is more important than reality, that the coolness factor is eternal and they can ride that wave without really paying attention to their core product.

I learned that customers are not dumb. They find out whether you’re full of it or the real deal so in my mind the job of a good marketer is identifying what are the product/service truths that can be used as foundation for a positive perception, and then let the market forces take over, generating the hype we can back up.

Unless it is your business model (like some restaurants and fashion companies), hype based marketing can be a good tactic, but it is not a long term strategy…fruit-infused water is cool, but ItDoesn’tWork…

United Nations Week is upon us so we should talk Global Marketing.

•September 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

More often than not, a “regional” campaign is counter-productive and goes against Global integration and success.

I explain: Yes, operationally we should regionalize management as it saves money, speeds up logistics, keeps business close to the action, etc so having a – let’s say – Asian or Latin American office makes total sense.

When it comes to marketing, though, having a regional campaign can be a problem.

This is because many times countries within the same region have very different relationships with your product or service so you either try to solve a problem that doesn’t find relevance everywhere or you tend to settle for a mediocre common denominator.

That’s why most “Latin American” campaigns fail…Geopolitically Latin America does exist, but for Marketing…it mostly makes little sense.

At the NBA, we started to look at the world a bit differently to find out that for our product, basketball, there were more similarities between the Philippines, Spain and Brazil vs The Philippines, Japan and Korea or Spain and the UK, for example. That the existence – or not – of basketball culture and game development was more important to the way we market it vs their physical proximity or even cultural heritage.

McDonald’s does that with tremendous success as a big part of its global team’s job is matching problems and solutions independent of regions.

What I believe then is not that we eliminate regional marketing activities to install a global one but that we truly integrate and look into opportunities beyond operational structures. The World is one big engine and its pieces work better when they work together.

The UN could use some of that integration, too, I think.

The business of Rugby is big, but what Rugby teaches business is much more important.

•September 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment
This Friday 9/20 the Rugby Men’s World Cup opens in Tokyo. 

It is considered one of the top 10 sports events in the world with an estimated audience between 2.5 and 3 billion and set to generate $3.5B to Japan’s economy.

Specially exciting is the competitive balance as the always favorites All Blacks from New Zealand are not as feared as usual and might give it a chance to other powerhouses such as Australia, South Africa or Wales. Actually, given the difficulty of NZ’s 1st phase group – where they play hungry England and the vociferous Pumas from Argentina – they might not even pass the Group stage. Unlikely, but as possible as ever.

Those who know me know I love sports. Not only soccer, basketball, tennis, football, hockey but almost any form of sport will catch my attention and earn my appreciation. And I practiced many of them throughout my life.

However, the one that taught me the most was #Rugby.

In a simple thought, I only got into my Masters at #Northwestern because of Rugby:

Having to write an essay about the first time I learned a personal lesson that I later applied in my business life I didn’t hesitate to put in words the teachings of teamwork I only understood while playing Rugby.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens without a team. Watching a game is like watching a fluid and precise execution of the best business strategies: eyes locked on the objective, clarity on responsibilities, a diverse set of abilities – with each player having chance to play his strengths – and the ultimate example of how nothing works unless the whole team plays as one. In this game of inches, where moving forward is the only way, if you can’t do your job trusting the other guy to do his, there is absolutely no way to win. It is a beautiful thing.

Beyond the perceived brutality and complicated set of rules, there is an intelligent and fundamentally human game. And if it was good enough for Northwestern, it should be good enough for your next meeting.

Tune in, learn, enjoy.

Explaining Account Planning through Soccer

•January 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As the biggest sports event in the world approaches – The 2014 Soccer World Cup – and as a good Brazilian, I’ll summarize my thoughts using a soccer analogy:

Planners don’t score the goal

Our job is to leave the ball bouncing at goal line so the creatives can score. However, a bad strategy leaves the ball bouncing at mid-field and…how hard it is to score from that far?

What I call Perceptive Planning is about finding the best path to the goal line using anticipation, improvisation skills and teamwork.

Let’s play ball:

1.  Focus on the audience.

Strategists are vain people, and, by being so, are attracted towards creating elaborated and complicated theories that showcase their supposed intelligence and sophistication. We, many times, put more emphasis on these theories than on the impact the work will have in motivating human behavior. We fall into the trap of loving to be applauded after a complex and erudite thought process.

What I try to prescribe is that these thoughts mean nothing if we can’t get creatives to understand it or clients to see how it makes the work better. We, many times, talk to ourselves.

Make sure your audience knows what to do when they leave the room.

2. Don’t over-process it.

A process is not an objective in itself, a good process is the one that informs, facilitates and improves the outcome. Planners, sometimes with the excuse of being “rigorous”, spend much money, time and effort in unnecessary steps, created either to shine a light on the planners’ skills or to justify a “pointless” point of view. Processes are good and everyone – even creatives – have their own. We just can’t follow them without questioning whether their steps help or not our goal.

Ask yourself what really is necessary to prove, validate or explain. Throw everything else away.

3. Be Flexible

One size does not fit it all. There is not one only way to solve every challenge.

Getting the right information upfront will allow you to design the right approach. Commonly, because we have been successful before, we try to force fit same approaches into completely different situations.

We should also understand that is our job and responsibility to provide expert recommendations to our clients so, in that sense, we should question their strict processes when they seem wrong.

Anticipate where you want to go. Take the proper time to decide the course of action, don’t jump into doing before knowing whether it is the right direction.

4. Spend money on Discovery, not on Validation.

This is not an original point but such an important one. In the creative process, research is an extremely helpful tool so Planners should know when the information is more useful: Upfront, finding things out.

Most Validation work puts too much pressure on consumers who, most of the times, have no idea what they want. We should advice clients to limit that spend and, instead, put the money in discovery research. By doing that, we will become so knowledgeable about the problem, the hypothesis and the behavioral triggers that we will be more comfortable with the idea of not needing validation (focus groups are good when used for discovery, not validation)

Get uncomfortable upfront. Don’t leave the tough conversations for when it’s too late to fix it.

5. To Data or not to Data

There is a intrinsic link between Planning and Data. That is a fundamentally good thing. It doesn’t mean, however that every data is good and that every data should either used or trusted. Many times we, planners, clients and others, use the information without questioning its source, its methodology and its integrity. Many times we do it for convenience, speed or because it is sexy but, in my perspective, it’s recipe for winning a battle but certainly losing the war. I see as planners’ responsibility to welcome all data but curating and interpreting its implications carefully, even if it results in disagreements in the process. Without the dialogue and the questioning, our hypothesis will reveal weak and our role in generating influential creative won’t be reached.

Misused Data is creative’s worst enemy, good Data is creative’s best friend.

 6. Take responsibility.

“They didn’t like the creative” might be the most heard phrase in our industry. My view is that if a Planner sells the strategy but the agency didn’t sell the work, the Planner also failed. We need to understand our role and accept our responsibilities. This is the only way we will have “skin in the game” and fight for the best work instead of saying “I did my part”.

Even if the creative team doesn’t share the credit, separating yourself from them is recipe for failure.

Care about the work as if it is your own, because it is.

7. The brief is a living creature: it changes as it grows.

Most planners are proud of their briefs, and correctly so as a good brief is something to be proud of. However, we, planners, should allow and welcome its natural evolution as a normal step in the creative process – one that starts with the client brief and ends only when we ship the film or publish an ad. (In the “digital” world, it actually continues as we optimize executions on the go).

Refusing to do so, in my opinion, is like hiring a director and refusing to hear his/her point of view on the script at hands. A good brief is as a solid starting point, but not necessarily the final answer. Good planners appreciate and welcome the dialogue.

Every step of the creative process should improve on the previous one.

So, what I call Perceptive Planning somewhat demystifies common behaviors in the industry to support the notion that account planning should be simple and useful, strongly emphasizing problem solution and collaboration.

As in a soccer game, we can have nice dribbling and the “jogo bonito” but, without scoring, it’s all useless. As a Brazilian, I know it…

 
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