Want Better Ideas from Your Agency? Write a Better Brief.

How many times have you been in an agency presentation and thought, “they just don’t get it”? You were expecting something completely different, or they left out something critically important, or their ideas won’t work because of regulations or retail concerns.  If that’s happened to you, it’s probably your own fault.

 OK, I exaggerate, agencies obviously aren’t perfect either. But I must admit that too often, I’ve asked them to solve a problem for me, when I haven’t thoroughly thought it out for myself. And if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s pretty unlikely that you are going to get there quickly or easily.

There is a reason that we call our guidance to agencies a “brief”. There’s a famous quote attributed to Pascal, Twain, and others: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.” It’s very difficult to write something that is clear and concise, but that is the task that is essential for good communications. So, here are my brief thoughts on the essential components of a digital brief.

Statement of objective: That’s “objective”. Singular. Don’t expect an agency to give you work that build awareness, generate engagement and stimulate purchase all at the same time. The digital media objective and the creative objective need to be the same.

Business background: Help them understand the business situation and why you chose the objective.

Consumer Reaction: What would you want your consumer to say after seeing / viewing / interacting with the message? Being able to state this clearly forces a lot of thinking!

Deliverables: What exactly do you expect the agency to bring back to you, and in what format does it need to be delivered? What mandatory elements must be included in whatever is delivered? What regulatory or legal requirements must be addressed? What functionality must be part of the solution?

Timeline: Do you anticipate a phased approach? How many feedback cycles do you expect? What are the critical dates you must meet, and how to they relate to other marketing activity? The time you allow will influence what the agency is capable of delivering.

Interaction of Media and Creative: Help the agency partners understand what is expected from the creative agency, the media agency and the media property. In digital, all three need to work together to best bring the creative concept to life. Help them understand the relative importance of the media and creative objectives, so they can plan together whether a more expensive creative unit will make sense.

Other Marketing Activity: What else is being planned around the same idea/campaign? What are you assuming they already know? Write it down! Even if your primary contact knows about other activity, the brief needs to be shared with many folks in the agency, and you don’t want anything to get “lost in translation”.

Budget: Sometimes we ask our agencies to give us a good idea and tell us what it would take to execute it. That’s not really fair. There are a multitude of possibilities, and the agency needs to have some sense of the “size of the breadbox” you can afford. If you don’t have a firm budget, at least give them a rough idea of the maximum possible and the minimum expected, or a “likely” and “stretch” budget.

I can imagine my agency friends reading this and saying “I wish she would practice what she preaches”! And I say to them, “I’m trying!” Perhaps we should add a step at the end of every project that goes back to our original brief to see how we could have done it better.  Together we can all work smarter.

Here are a few helpful articles about writing various sorts of briefs, not necessarily digital:





3 thoughts on “Want Better Ideas from Your Agency? Write a Better Brief.

  1. Pingback: Working with Agencies: Developing Apps and Sites | Digital Discoveries

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