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How to write a better agency brief

We’re in the age of instant everything. We expect things to be done quickly, and we expect things to be well - rightly so. Why shouldn’t there be processes and products available that get us what we want, exactly when we need it? After all it’s 2020 for god’s sake! NB: Still no flying cars though.

Our world of instant solutions didn’t just happen, life didn’t just find an extra gear one day and we all got the benefit the next. It came from thinking, and testing, and evaluating, and sense checking, and research, and optimising… can you see where this is going yet?

  • So it’s important to realise what’s good when it’s instant… and what’s not:
  • The finest Brazilian coffee ground and in a cup in 60 seconds = great!
  • Personalised chocolate bar wrappers that are ready by the time you’ve done your shopping = cool.
  • Research into a new target market for your business in 5-mins = doesn’t fill me with confidence.
  • Building your version of the Amazon website with a 4-week deadline = destined for issues.
  • A quick email to remind your agency you need a new campaign to launch by the end of the week = *hides under desk*.

Now I’m not suggesting that great work can’t be done quickly, it absolutely can, but there needs to be a solid foundation to work from, a sounding board to ensure the work is right, the North Star, the guiding light… AKA The Brief.

In our experience a ‘quick’ brief is usually one that hasn’t been fully thought out. It’s usually more of an idea, or a request.

As someone that regularly gets overly excited about big thinking I realise the temptation to blurt out the idea or send the email that you think will keep it progressing. But I also know through my many mistakes wisdom that there’s no point just telling someone what the idea is and asking them to go and do it, they won’t do it justice, there will be so many questions that you’ll start to doubt whether or not it was a good idea in the first place. Ultimately that route will end in frustration all around.

Let’s look at the right process to go through to compile a solid brief, it’s easier than you think and I promise you that the end result will be better, be that a new website, offer, product, service, campaign etc.

1. Write it down

Some of the best ideas we have are the ones that just appear – the ones that feel familiar like someone else should’ve thought of it before but haven’t. With an idea this good excitement ensues, you want to get it out there before anyone else stumbles over this hidden gem. It’s at this very moment that you need the discipline and the processes to move the idea from a thought to a fully working ‘thing’.

If you write the idea down it makes you think about it in more detail. You find yourself bringing it to life and pointing out where the thought process has come from and why you need this solution. Unwittingly you’ve just created a solid foundation for your brief, you’ve defined The Requirement.

2. Think of a successful outcome

We love to know what you want to see happen from the solution, the more you can define this the better. For example, do you have a number you’re aiming for, be that monetary, reach, or growth? Once you’ve got that down you’ve given us The Objective.

3. Dig a bit deeper

So, let’s expand on the above and start to look at why your idea is so good, what problem is it solving and for whom? Think about how you want them to feel, are they going to be enlightened? Excited? Intrigued? Then think about why they’re going to feel this way; is it more cost effective than the competition? Is it something that’s answering their constant problem? Is it something that looks so cool they just have to have it? Once you’ve got this down you’ve given us The Key Point & Support for the Key Point.

4. Who are we talking to?

It’s really helpful for us to understand the type of person / customer that you want to talk to – are they your current customers? Are they potential customers? Do they live somewhere in particular? Are they a certain age? Do they have a certain job function? Have you done any research into their wants and needs? If you have, then are you supplying the research or do you want to discuss it in person? That’s you defining The Target Audience.

5. Tell us what you don’t want

It’s always tempting to try to answer your own brief as you write it. However, the best briefs are a collaboration between client and agency, the combined expertise helps something special to evolve. It can also be really difficult to describe exactly what you want to see, so we prefer you to define what you definitely don’t want, the things that would kill it for you. This provides good direction and gives more flexibility to the final creative process.

6. Talk Money

We know the money chat can be awkward, but honesty is the best policy and will save a lot of time and money later on if we know exactly what we’re working with. If we know the constraints then we can produce work that is highly effective for your budget. We can also tell you if we think the requirement is over ambitious for the spend. Trust us to tell you the truth and spend the budget in the most effective way.

7. Talk Timings

Timings takes us full circle. You’ve now created the sounding board for the agency that allows for the idea to develop, all we need now is the time to develop it. We know you want it ASAP, but if you can identify key dates for progress reviews and launch it allows us to ensure we have the resource to do the work and create the solution you need.

So there it is, 6 action points that will give you an insightful Brief that covers the core elements the agency needs:

  • The Requirement
  • The Objective
  • The Key Point (+ supporting info.)
  • Target Audience
  • What you don’t want to see
  • Budget
  • Timings

One final thing to note is that all agencies have slightly different briefing questions and processes, don’t panic about this or think that you have to reinvent the wheel for every brief you write, we’re all trying to get to the core of the problem you have. If you follow the above in the first instance, you’ll have all the integral information you need. You can thank us later.

About the author



Tony is our Client Services Director, making sure that our work not only meets our clients expectations, but exceeds them every time.