A friend asked me recently to review a marketing communications brief he had drafted to help his internal customers, mostly product managers, get something meaningful out of his group. It had all the usual sections: communications goal, target audience, budget, timelines, fries with that, and so on. My friend was also planning a series of meetings and webinars to help his colleagues fill it out correctly.

Sorry? Pardon? You’re teaching your customers how to get you to do your job? Are you an airline? Are you an Apple store?

In that moment I realized that marcom briefs for internal customers must be a Corporate Circle of Hell. Other CCOHs include IT requisitions, self-serve HR portals, pivot tables from the Audit group and teaching Sales Squirrels to update the CRM. Uh oh. When did we cross over to the dark side? When did Marketing start having more in common with the Productivity Prevention Department than with customers and shareholders?

IT departments have been quite successfully dodging projects for decades. And after all this time, they have an impressive toolkit: Business Requirements Documents are usually the opening salvo in any future cluster fu*k of a project. These are the GeekLord version of a marketing brief and even if the questions are straightforward, you can count on spending days or even weeks working on this document just to get it to the point where IT will entertain reviewing it. Stop rolling your eyes: you know darn well you’ve sent back a brief because you couldn’t be bothered to clarify what you wanted, either.

The lucky BRDs make it to the next stage which usually involves a stakeholder meeting. This is like the UN General Assembly but with pitchforks. It turns out that the stakeholders, in this case actually bring their stakes and have every intention of jamming one into the heart of your project so it will go away. In marketing we call this the creative requirements review. And while it may be smaller, it is often every bit as malicious, though marketers are more likely to fling packets of sweetener at each other than bits of wood.

The next pylon is usually the resource estimate. For IT folks, this means they get to invoke man hours (or man months, man years, man epochs). Even if you call them person hours they are just as meaningless. This archaic formula makes sharpening a pencil look like a pyramid build. It involves estimating the level of effort for everything from finding a dull pencil in the first place to forging the little screws that hold the sharpener together. The marketing version has us scurrying about looking for ways to inflate the translation cost, slow down the approvals, fudge the production and take forever to update the sales channels. The result, though, is the same: We schedule The Reveal and sit back while our “customer” gasps for air in the presence of an outrageous cost estimate plus a geological-scale timeline.

Now if the Rube Goldberg approach to resource estimates doesn’t make the project go away, we have some insidious little weapons to make our roller coaster exciting. IT likes to use Scope Change Documents to make sure everyone knows that you changed your mind. In Marketing we have revision tracking and rework charges. It’s basically the same punishment for our customers’ inability to anticipate absolutely everything that might crop up in a project and our concomitant refusal to mention them earlier.

My point here is that marketing should not be on the dark side. (Neither should IT, but that’s another discussion.) Marketing should not have the ability to say no to projects that support other parts of the business (BOCTAOE*). Marketing’s role is to figure out how to support the other parts of the business and do it quickly, cost-effectively and with as little collateral damage as possible. Just like HR doesn’t get to refuse to hire people and legal doesn’t get to refuse to work on a contract, Marketing is not there to say no but to say yes and sometimes maybe. We certainly don’t have the right to “teach” our customers how to deal with us. That’s just rude.

There’s one more thing we have in common with the Productivity Prevention Department: When we get in the way, our customers go elsewhere, which means we share the Kryptonite of Third Party Suppliers.

So by all means create your brief, just don’t turn it into a Corporate Circle of Hell.

*But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions