How to brief an agency

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

Impression

|

Tight Briefs article

March 22, 2022 | 7 min read

Most marketing work starts with an agency brief. Excellent work often starts with an excellent brief, while errors down the line can often be traced back to an original sin in the brief/pitch process. So, how to brief an agency in a way to maximize their room for doing excellent work? We asked 9 agency leaders from The Drum Network.

Milly Morris, senior digital growth specialist at Impression: long-term and short-term objectives

The best briefs from clients share immediate objectives for a particular channel, and the company's longer-term goals.

Imagine a company comes to us with a revenue objective for the year. Great, we'll focus on channel efficiency. But the longer-term company objective might be to triple revenue in 3 years. While we've been hyper-focused on driving revenue efficiently, we weren't aware of the brand-building work needed to lay the foundation for the longer-term objective.

Visibility of both short and long-term company objectives ensures immediate channel objectives ladder up to longer-term company objectives; ties work into company objectives, making it accessible to senior stakeholders; and helps avoid irrelevant work.

Michael Maslona, sales director at Summit: work with agencies, not against them

The pitch process shouldn’t be the starting point. Invest time with agencies in advance, then invite preferred agencies to pitch.

Agencies commit significant resource to pitching. Often, communication from the brand is kept to a minimum until pitch day. Offering meetings/calls in advance of the pitch allows agencies to develop better strategies and provides brands with an insight into the agency.

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

Inviting too many agencies to pitch can be demoralizing and lead to templated responses. Tendering is time-consuming for all, but brands need to demonstrate their commitment to the process by getting to know agencies pre-tender, and work with them during.

How the agency works with a brand during a pitch (eagerness to meet, pose the right questions and query elements of the brief; to demonstrate insight throughout; to bring their personality to life) should be a positive factor in the decision-making process.

Luke Cardy, senior business development manager at True: don’t Frankenstein it

I often review briefs written by multiple people, with one section written by the marketing director, another by IT and another by sales. Often, these sections are at odds with one another.

Everyone’s time is limited, and you want agencies to understand your challenges and present concepts or approaches that blow you away.

It’s ok to have different goals for your new website or marketing campaign, but talk to each other before you put them all into a brief. Discuss and prioritize what’s important for different stakeholders.

It can be tempting to label everything in your brief as important, but having difficult conversations up-front will make for a clearer, focused brief to your agency. A concise, prioritized, and pre-agreed brief will always lead to stronger concepts, pitches, and creative work.

Christian Perrins, head of strategy at Waste Creative: show your ambition

A brief is an ad for your ambition. If it’s clear, insightful and energized, you can expect (and deserve) clear, insightful and energized work back from your agency. If it’s messy, vague and lifeless, you can expect (and deserve) something similar coming back.

Writing great briefs is hard. It’s art and science, and some of us have spent years trying to hone it. If you’re struggling to write a great agency brief, lean on your agency. That’s what we’re here for. Talk to us about your challenges, what you know, what you don’t know, what you think the objectives are. Together we can craft a brilliant brief and brilliant work.

Dan Hall, business director at 2Heads: Word docs don’t inspire creativity

Word document briefs, which typically range from 2 pages long to 20 pages too long, don’t set you up for success. The idea that a client can predict their business environment in six months to a year’s time, and succinctly articulate it to inspire the world’s greatest ideas, is bonkers.

We need to change the way brands brief agencies, and stop asking them to pitch free ideas on only a Word document or PDF.

How about clients appoint agencies based on their credentials and then ask the agency to consult within the company to develop their own brief? The agency could ask the questions that need answering to design that world-class creative and ultimately build a relationship based on expertise, not guesswork.

Andy Griffiths, associate director for client growth at Space & Time: matchmaking

A great brand and a capable agency alone aren’t guarantees to success. Pay attention to ‘matchmaking’ compatibility, and brief agencies on what that means to you.

Briefs often focus on the scope of work, or technical requirements – the details of the kind of agency you’re looking for can be overlooked.

Great briefs give context around what concerns you have around the project/appointment, perhaps intimating where have you been let down by agencies in the past, or what you feel your internal barriers to success may be. The more context and color, the more opportunity you give an agency to showcase how they can help; and the more success you’ll have in finding the right partner.

Mark Iremonger, managing director at Nucco: keep it short

Make the process short. Pitches expand to fill the time available, which wastes client and agency time and money. Create a level playing field and run a quick process. I’ve seen £50k pitches run to months, and £1M pitches awarded in four weeks.

Short pitches are a win-win for everyone because of the huge unpaid time and cost involved for brands and agencies.

Geoff Griffiths, chief executive officer at Builtvisible: don’t restrict access once a brief is sent out

Procurement-driven processes especially have a habit of gatekeeping, which restricts the conversations that can turn a generic brief into something genuinely meaningful. Agencies need the space and freedom to respond with what the client actually needs, not just what is contained in the brief.

There’s a huge opportunity cost to restricting conversations during the early throes of a brief, in terms of getting the right response, and developing the right kind of collaborative relationship from the off.

Martin Rothwell, client relations lead at GottaBe! Marketing: multidirectional relationships

We see poor briefs all too often: brands that think they know what they want and describe something completely different.

The best advice I was ever given was to challenge the client, question, probe, and prod to get the answers you are looking for. The relationship between brand and agency needs to be multidirectional – we work together for a common goal.

Content created with:

We are Digital Growth Specialists helping ambitious brands push boundaries and drive impact. We define and deliver integrated digital strategies that transform our clients from market players to market leaders, and keep them there.

Find out more

We help brands transform their online business, grow their customer base and make more money from retailing online. In a complex digital marketing world that is ever evolving, our aim is to make the complex simple and transparent, only recommending the best approach and strategy to achieve our clients’ objectives and KPIs.

Find out more

18 years ago true was founded with the aim of being different; straight-talking, to the point, focussed on delivering long-term growth, not through chat, but through action. Creating work that was true to our clients’ needs, true to their customers’ needs and true to our own expectations.

Find out more

Waste is an independent creative agency founded in 2006. We connect entertainment brands with their fans, to drive creativity, culture and commercial success. A virtuous circle we call ‘Brands powering fans, powering brands’.

Find out more

Founded in 1983 by Chairman Pepe Parra, we have over 37 years’ experience in helping brands win in good … and in challenging times. Over this time, we have expanded to four key markets in the UK, Los Angeles, Cannes and Hong Kong.

Find out more

Space & Time is a growth marketing agency, enabling clients to secure optimal value from every part of the customer experience and their marketing investment. We form long-term partnerships with clients through our business empathy and commercial alignment, working within fully managed, hybrid or in-house models to deliver best-in-class expertise across media, technology, performance creative and training, driving market-beating long-term growth outcomes.

Find out more

We are communication and experience experts that change behaviour and perspectives. We use powerful creative and emerging technologies to create projects ranging from film and animation through websites and deeply immersive AR and VR experiences.

Find out more

We're a specialist agency driving forward the boundaries of Organic Digital marketing. We deliver measurable impact on the organic digital performance of brands in highly competitive verticals. We're also proud to be an Drum Elite Agency, ranking in the top two for financial performance in the latest census.

Find out more

GottaBe! have seen continued growth over our 13 years. A continued growth that has seen us develop two core brands under the GottaBe! brand.

Find out more

Trending

Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +