Wow. Just wow. Sending a brief to media owners doesn’t make you a strategist

Rachael-LonerganThis week Sydney-based strategy agency Naked Communications was fired by Labor after details of negotiations with media outlets over a Kevin Rudd interview were published by Fairfax Media. The potential deal apparently involved free advertising for Labor on the sites involved. In this guest post, Rachel Lonergan argues that the furore demonstrates that too many agencies simply rush out a brief for media owners instead of creating a strategy.

On Wednesday Jonathan Swan’s piece appeared in my Twitter feed with the headline ‘Ad agency that offered ‘exclusive’ deals for access to Kevin Rudd has been sacked’. On reading I retweeted it to my followers with my comment – “Wow. Just…wow”.

That reaction accurately describes the feedback I received from various people over the day. PR people, government comms people, and other strategy people like myself.

There are a number of flaws with the approach to the brief as was depicted in the article (read the written brief here although Fairfax alleges some of the discussions took place via email) . Now I choose my words carefully because I wasn’t there, and I’m going on what has been reported. And I’m not really interested in the ‘who’, but the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

The first thing that struck me was the naivete in offering a website publisher, also known as one of Australia’s largest newspaper publishers (Fairfax), ten conditional minutes with the Prime Minister. Now this may come as a surprise to some advertising agencies, but large news publishers don’t need your help to score a sit down with the PM.

As to the ‘I’m doing you a favour’ negotiation tactic as reported, let me be blunt. Offering the media owner the chance to take a big bite of a shit sandwich is no favour.

Imagine the blowback had a Fairfax owned site accepted the conditions, generated the content required in the brief and essentially delivered a significant chunk of pro-Labor ‘propaganda’ in order to help Naked deliver the brief? Media Watch would need an hour special to keep up with the outrage. And on the off chance they were prepared to throw their integrity aside, there doesn’t sound like any margin to be made by accepting this grand ‘favour’. People, please.

brief considerations

Leaving that aside, managing the brand of the Prime Minister, is a fundamentally different exercise than managing some reality starlet’s handbag collection or a new type of yoghurt endorsed by a fitness guru. But this significant nuance appeared to be completely absent from the brief. In fact, take away the Labor branding and the references to Rudd and the brief could be for either of those things. It’s not ‘special’ and neither is it specific enough. The target audience feels murky (Vine and Vice? Really?) and the communication objectives are vague. Frankly, it smacks of “We’re out of ideas so we want you to come up with them”.

Strategists and media agency folk are far too quick to brief out their problems in the hope that media owners will provide the solutions. In this case, creation, context and extension of the content were all placed in the hands of the publishers. I know that’s often the quickest, cheapest way to get a (superficially thought through) campaign to market. But doing that doesn’t make you a strategist, it makes you a brief writer. It’s no coincidence that most media owners have stepped up their strategy credentials and are becoming more insistent on dealing directly with advertisers.

People who’ve been into my office in the past may remember the prominent placement of a triangle with a word at each angle – ’fast’, ‘good’, ‘cheap’. Only two points of a triangle ever touch. You cannot have three. I fear this brief fell into the trap of trying to deliver to ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’ without stopping to consider if it was ‘good’. This brief feels rushed out the door. Thinking time is of course, money, but in my opinion, a wise investment, especially when your product is the social media loving and loved PM.

It’s unfortunate for Naked (an otherwise excellent agency with some excellent people) that this has driven some bad publicity for them. At the same time however, our industry, and specifically the discipline I operate within takes a credibility hit every time something like this goes public. In a year from now, most people out in the real world, won’t remember the details of this issue, but they’ll remember how it made them feel.

And the best articulation of how it made me feel was ‘Wow. Just…wow.’

  • Lonergan is an experienced freelance communications strategist based in Sydney whose previous roles have included Ikon, bellamyhayden, MPG, Three Drunk Monkeys and The Newspaper Works.

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.