It’s hard work being a client these days. Part 1

Written by
Andrew Papworth
May 15, 2013
It doesn’t matter who keeps the brand book, or in what format it will be the fount of all knowledge for your charity.

Two or three decades ago it was a lot easier being a client of an advertising agency than it is today. In those post-Mad Men days many agencies – particularly the bigger ones – still considered themselves to be ‘full-service’ organisations – able to plan and buy media as well as to create advertising campaigns for all types in all media. They would also have been likely to have their own ‘below-the-line’ capability in-house that dealt with point of sale, direct mail, design, etc. They tended to regard themselves as guardians of their clients’ brands and expected to work with clients for many years and to make a fairly big margin in the form of media commissions to fund all their services as well as supporting the good life.

This meant – when it worked well (and it often did) ­– that clients could come to see their agencies as extensions of their marketing departments. The agency planner and the account director could be expected to know their clients’ businesses fairly thoroughly and to be able to write the briefs for the creative team and the media team that would be signed off by the client without, necessarily, very much input. The agency account director would then ensure that the planner, the media and creative teams communicated constantly in order to produce the best campaigns to meet the client’s objectives. The right media choice and media mix and the best space sizes or commercial lengths could be discussed by just walking down the corridor or – as often as not – over a beer or three after hours, along with their implications for the creative work. Conversely, it was easy for creative ideas to influence the media plan.

Today it’s very different. Media schedules and creative work tend to be done by different companies and even the creative work is likely to be spread around several specialist shops – one for TV, another for press and yet another for direct mail, etc. Fees and commissions have been squeezed so that agencies have had to slim down their services. This has put the onus on the client to hold the whole show together and to take the place of the old-style agency planners in order to get the most out of suppliers. This also means there is a strong temptation to make media decisions early in the process in order to brief the creative teams and – once that decision is taken – it can easily be set in concrete if you’re not wary.

Briefing is the key to it. Never was the old computer adage GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) truer. Every second spent on good briefing will be repaid many times over. However, if many suppliers are involved and there is relatively little continuity of suppliers, it can be very time consuming (and not a little boring) to have to go through the same detailed briefing rigmarole every time a new supplier pitches or a new creative team is inducted. It pays to think ahead and to prepare in advance the background information necessary for your suppliers to do a good job.

Many agency planners used to create some kind of ‘brand book’ – typically a lever-arch file (or more than one) with plastic pockets so that information could be easily updated. It would by no means be a bad idea if every charity marketing department had a brand book – but these days it would be more likely to be on a disk - which is updated at least annually or whenever there are significant changes.

This brand book would ideally contain the following information.

Typical content of the brand book for a charity

1. The charity

  • History.
  • Structure.
  • Objectives.
  • Record.
  • Key personnel.
  • Financial year.
  • Decision cycle for advertising and marketing.

2. Charitable expenditure

  • How the organisation spends the money raised.
  • Where it is spent.
  • On whom it is spent.
  • Trends.
  • Forecasts.

3. Sources of income

  • Overall current split, trends and forecast.
  • Sources of voluntary income, trends, forecast.
  • Comparisons with other similar charities.

4. The market

  • Total charitable income, trends and forecast.
  • Structure of the market and segmentation.
  • Important trends, developments and innovations
  • Key players, winners and losers over time.
  • Broad history of the market.
  • Outlook – short, medium and longer term.

All emphasising most immediate competition

5. Fundraising

  • How the charity raises funds.
  • Key methods, trends and forecasts.
  • Relative returns on investment and times taken for return.
  • Activities undertaken to raise funds.
  • Comparisons with other similar charities.

6. Donors and supporters (for each key fundraising method)

  • Demographic description (age, gender, socio-economic grade, geography, family status, education, etc).
  • Lifestyles, psychographics.
  • Interests.
  • Other information bringing them to life.
  • Relative weightings.
  • Comparisons with other similar charities.

7. Behaviour and attitudes of donors

  • How people choose whether or not to give or support to a cause.
  • Surface reasons and deeper reasons.
  • How they choose between similar charities.
  • When are they most likely to give – seasonally and/or related to events?
  • People’s knowledge and perceptions of charities in general.
  • People’s perceptions of the segmentation of the market.
  • People’s knowledge and perceptions of our charity.
  • People’s perceptions of how we are different from our closest competitors.
  • Brand positioning of our closest competitors.

8. Data sources

  • A list of all the available research and data sources used in compiling the brand book and where they can be accessed.

9. Review of advertising and marketing -

  • Ad spend by charities over time by medium.
  • Ad spend by our charity by campaign and by medium over time.
  • Share of voice.
  • Other promotional activities over time with performance data.
  • Creative strategies adopted by closest competitors.
  • Media strategies adopted by closest competitors.
  • Creative strategies adopted by our charity.
  • Media strategies adopted by our charity.
  • Direct response performance data over time (indexed if necessary to preserve confidentiality).
  • Other performance assessments of past campaigns (e.g. awareness and image shifts).
  • List of our past and current ads and reels, etc and those of our competitors and where they can be accessed.

10. Brand essentials

  • Summary of the brand’s corporate identity stipulations (with references to further information).
  • Essentials such as registered charity number, FRSB logo, etc.

Compiling such a brand book may seem a daunting task and some of the information required may not even be readily available. If it isn’t, that in itself is a good reason for creating it because any marketer worth his or her salt ought either to have the information already – it’s often lurking in dusty files of reports on research projects which were never looked at again after they served their immediate purpose – or they should at least be able to make an informed stab at it. If not, the task of creating the book will stimulate the research and reading that should by rights have been done before. The information in the brand book should be as comprehensive and authoritative as possible. If it is necessary to summarise or abbreviate information it should be made clear where and how the original data can be found.

Is the creation of a brand book going to be worth the undoubted effort? Here are 10 reasons why it is.

  1. It provides an agreed repository of knowledge.
  2. It saves the continuous re-invention of the wheel.
  3. It makes it much easier to induct new team members or suppliers.
  4. It means that campaign strategy documents and creative and media briefs (see part two) can be much more succinct and can concentrate on the essentials by referencing supporting data in the brand book.
  5. It highlights any gaps in knowledge.
  6. It encourages the use of research to fill in any such gaps.
  7. Once you have a brand book up and running there is an incentive to update it with insights from pieces of research (your own and other people’s) that would otherwise be forgotten once they have served their immediate purposes.
  8. It will stimulate deeper thinking about objectives, strategies and tactics.
  9. It provides a firm agreed foundation for the development of the brand and future campaigns.
  10. It will save a lot of time, boring repetition, misunderstandings, blind alleys and argument.

If it is to achieve all this, it is vital that the brand book contains the truth as best you know it – warts and all. It is no good describing the world simply as you would like it to be. If your charity has problems and weaknesses versus its competitors for heaven’s sake say so. Unless you face up to challenges they can never be overcome and you must come clean with your creative and other agencies if they are to contribute to solving them. If absolutely necessary (e.g. for legal reasons) you can keep some sections for internal or restricted circulation only but it it’s important to include them in the overall picture.

About the author: Andrew Papworth

Andrew Papworth

After a long career in advertising agencies, Andrew Papworth has been freelancing as an advertising and communications planner for about two decades.

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