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Celia Clark

Published on

June 26, 2019



We love a new brief, it always feels full of promise. The buzz a team gets from working on new business is clear – even while also managing to keep all their existing clients happy. But not all briefs are created equal. Here are just a few thoughts about the elements that make up a good agency brief – which, let’s face it, will help the prospect client find the right agency for them.

1. Provide a written brief

Don’t worry, we’re not looking for a weighty tome here: all the necessary information can usually fit into a couple of pages. Whilst we do have our fair share of briefs that run into 20 or 30 pages (which is often par for the course when it’s a larger scale business and procurement is involved), a lot of the time, a couple of pages will do. A couple of sentences on an email, however, won’t. Short emails leave too much room for assumptions and misunderstanding.

2. Share your business goals

If you don’t tell us about your business goals, you can be sure that we’ll ask. It’s important for us to understand what you’re trying to achieve in terms of revenue, sales, market share etc. That way, we can gauge how the support we can offer will drive results for your business: whether that’s defining (or redefining) your brand narrative and positioning, raising the profile of your CEO, developing a comms plan around IPO, empowering your sales team, gaining a greater share of voice against your competitors, making your website work harder for you, elevating your corporate brand, engaging employees or driving leads.

3. Know your target audience

Give us as much information as you can about who your buyer is. That doesn’t mean you have to have fully defined personas to hand. Just tell us what you know about your customer: the people who make the decision and others within the business who influence them. Without this, it’s nigh on impossible for us to suggest how to reach them.

4. Questions

However good your written brief, you should expect us to want to ask some additional questions. We know your time is precious, but if you can spare half an hour to have a conversation on the phone (or even face to face), rather than just sending answers on an email, that is incredibly helpful. More often than not, a conversation uncovers so much more than questions and answers on paper, and it’s also an important way to start building a relationship. From your point of view, the questions an agency asks can give you a good indication of its brainpower and approach, too.

5. Be open minded

It’s not unusual for agencies to be approached by a business ‘looking for PR’, only to discover after an initial conversation that in order to get anywhere close to its business goals, another service, such as a paid LinkedIn campaign, is needed. Or for a company to issue a brief for a new website, without fully appreciating the need for its brand positioning and key messages to be determined and defined. We are listening to what you have asked for (honest), but the starting point has to be your business goals, and making the most effective use of your budget to help drive results. Sometimes this might mean we come back with a suggestion and possible solution that you weren’t necessarily expecting.

6. Be realistic about your deadlines

We know you want to work with an agency that is hungry, committed, hard-working and prepared to go above and beyond what has been asked of them. We also know that by the point at which you’ve got in touch, you’d quite often like the agency to start the next day if they could. Unfortunately, short time frames aren’t always realistic for any agency. A reasonable amount of time to create a proposal is two weeks, so always aim for that.

If you do go on to work with us, we suspect you’ll be a happier client if your agency team doesn’t ignore you for days on end because they’re trying to meet a particularly punchy deadline for a new business pitch.

7. Make sure you meet the agency

We understand that you’re busy, and you can’t necessarily have multiple meetings with each prospective agency (although while we’re at it, do you really want more than three or four agencies pitching to you? Much better to do some research first and refine your shortlist). However, a chemistry meeting towards the start of the process is invaluable: it’s a brilliant way to hear about the agency than asking them to email a set of credentials, and each team has the opportunity to see what makes the other tick.

Also, the truth is that sometimes people just don’t gel, or the company values seem misaligned, or the general approach just doesn’t feel right. If that’s the case, it’s a shame to go through the whole proposal process only to find out at the final stage that the team chemistry isn’t there – however good the proposal is.

8. Provide a budget. Please.

Around 80% of the briefs we receive don’t give a budget, and often when we ask, we get a response along the lines of “We haven’t got a specific budget in mind. We’d like you to tell us what we should do and how much it will cost.”

The answer to that is: how long is a piece of string? A website can be designed and built for around £50,000, five times that, and anywhere in between. We want our proposal to sit realistically within your expectations and your means. There’s not much point us telling you what an amazing website we can develop for £150,000 if you know you can’t spend more than £80K. We suspect that at some point, you will have had to think about how much your business can invest in marketing. And if you haven’t, then now would be a good time to do so.

9. Give us some feedback

Again, we understand you have lots of demands on your time, but once you’ve made your decision if you can take just 10 or 15 minutes on the phone to tell us why we haven’t won (or indeed why we have), we really appreciate it. A great deal of work goes into proposals and pitches, and it helps us enormously to know why you made the decision you did. Be as honest as you like – we can take it, and it really helps us know for next time.

10. Don’t go through all this and then bin the whole process

In other words, before you embark on the process to find a new agency, make sure (as far as is possible) that you can see it through. It’s one thing for an agency to throw everything at it, only to come second (or third) but for several agencies to go the distance and the client to decide they’ve changed their mind, or not got sign off, or that next year would be better than this year, it doesn’t sit well. And there will almost certainly a reticence from an agency to engage in the future, if the opportunity arises, in case the process repeats itself.

So, there it is. Narrowing it down to ten wasn’t easy, but these are certainly the elements that seem to be most regularly overlooked in an agency briefing. In short, a better briefing gets a better proposal from the right agency – which in turn means a stronger result for you and your business. So surely it’s worth taking a bit of time to get it right?

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