No agency worth its salt would take a client’s brief at face value – especially in a region where insightful briefs are a rarity. But few go beyond clarifying or enhancing a brief… into the trickier territory of proactively challenging a client’s perspective. We invite Action Impact’s Executive Director (Mike Wain) and Client Services Director (Helen Grimshaw) to the Purple Majilis to find out why “an unchallenged brief is a missed opportunity”.  

To put it simply, why bother?

Mike: There’s no denying we’re an inquisitive agency. We enjoy asking questions and poking around. But it goes deeper than that. We’re also passionate about delivering great solutions. Sometimes the brief just doesn’t have the depth or imagination that inspires an engaging creative response. But more often, the brief is either chasing the wrong deliverables, or is missing the bigger picture entirely. We feel it’s our job, nay our duty, to take it apart and ask bolder, deeper questions.

Helen: Whether it’s event management, exhibitions, brand environments & interiors, or for that matter any kind of creative solution, the fact is that we’re usually more experienced and knowledgeable than the client. It’s what we do; it’s what we’re good at. We’re here to advise and guide the client – not to say “Yes” to everything. It’s part of our job to help the client ask the right questions and consider all the possibilities. After all, the client will be investing a fair amount time and resources into the project – we must ensure the best ROI.


Does it go down well with the client?

Mike: It’s an acquired taste! We’re not talking about making a few polite enquiries – if necessary we’ll turn the brief inside out. And let’s face it; no one enjoys having their outlook questioned or their assumptions boldly challenged. Especially with new clients, we proceed with a sincere regard for cultural sensitivities and the human ego. However, most clients are very quick to understand why we’re doing it – and then they’re wholeheartedly supportive. In fact, they start to enjoy the process as much as we do.

Helen: Even without the UAE’s cultural diversity, constructive criticism is always tricky. I’ve found that it’s well worth the time to properly explain why we challenge a brief and how it’s in the client’s best interest that we do so. Fortunately our work speaks for itself, and if I’m talking to a client then it’s because they already value what we’re capable of delivering. It also helps that we’re not out to enlarge the scope or increase our billings – our goal is the most effective solution. Sometimes we actually reduce a project’s scope for any number of good reasons.


What do you look for?

Mike: We’re a brand experience agency. And while the brand experience may be shared with the audience in many different ways, it’s essential to define exactly what that experience needs to be – or indeed slightly different experiences for different audiences. So that’s the first thing we look for – does the brief encapsulate the most effective brand experiences? And this is where things get interesting. Because we’re at the forefront of brand environments & interiors, we know the latest technology and techniques – innovation that the client may not hear about for months. Thus we’re in a position to evolve the client’s brand experience – refresh it, enhance it – and make the brand even more attractive and engaging for the audience. This is not about simply deploying new technology – it’s about bringing the brand experience to life. And sometimes by the time we’ve done that, the brief has completely evolved.

Helen: We try to get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Validity of assumptions, audience mapping, brand values, project objectives and so forth. Sometimes even this basic information will need to be carefully extracted. But once we’ve clearly established the playing field, we focus on defining the most appropriate vehicles that will deliver the brief’s objective. Frequently, these may be completely different from what the client had in mind. For example, the client may have seen interesting exhibition stands and would like something along similar lines – even if it’s not suitable for their needs.


Trends and thoughts?

Mike: The growing prevalence of bids and tenders is seriously limiting dialogue. Even if we have access to key stakeholders before we submit our sealed presentations, the nature of RFPs is severely rigid in terms of scope and deliverables. We understand that corporate governance is dictating that clients adopt the RFP approach – but this needn’t be a bad thing as long as the RFP process is properly managed. The most common mistake we’ve observed is that RFPs are blindly sent to a long list of agencies – wasting time and resources on both sides. Whereas a little due diligence beforehand would ensure that only suitably qualified and experienced suppliers receive an invitation to bid for the project.

Helen: The continuity of a client-agency relationship is often overlooked as a key factor in the creative process. Familiarity with the client – not just a brand but also as an organisation – greatly enhances our ability to understand, and in many cases uncover, the client’s real needs. Barriers are broken down, enabling us to quickly and frankly question the assumptions or requirements of a brief. Clients need to nurture longer, deeper and more meaningful relationships with their agencies – the end product is vastly superior.


Adrian Bell

Co-founder and Executive Director