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How to Write an Agency Brief and Get the Results You Need

Liz Carson

In my role as SVP, Client Relationships, I network a lot. When talking to clients or prospects, a frequent topic that pops up is the agency brief – the brief that clients develop for a new campaign or when looking for a new agency partner. According to my recent LinkedIn poll and many conversations I’ve had, surprisingly, many clients don’t think their organization writes a good brief for agency partners.

When marketing your business, a communications agency can be a valuable partner in helping you achieve your goals. But before an agency can start work, they need a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.

With 25+ years in the agency world, I’ve seen my share of good, mediocre, and downright bad briefs. A strong agency brief is the foundation for a successful campaign, it’s a roadmap for the agency to follow and ensures everyone is on the same page.

So, how do you write a good agency brief? As a veteran at communication agencies, I have a few tips:

1. Define Clear Goals. Share your business and marketing objectives. What realistic business goal do you want to achieve (gain market share, improve brand health)? What is your marketing goal (increase awareness, generate more leads)? Be specific and measurable and ensure they contribute to the overall business metrics.

Here’s the tricky part; avoid the laundry list of objectives. Get singular and identify your primary objective and, if you must secondary goals. If you’re clear on the outcome, your agency will be too. Make sure the brief has your organization’s stamp of approval. No one wins when the CMO has a change on pitch day.

2. Target, Target, Target. The days of broad target audiences (women 18-64, anyone?) are long gone. Who are you specifically trying to reach? Audience demographics are a starting point. What are their interests, aspirations, and pain points? Why would a customer purchase your product or service? Deep clarity of your community allows the agency to craft a focused, relevant campaign that will engage.

3. Budget & Timing. Tell me what it costs” is not a budget. Sharing scope means you’ll get a realistic plan and ideas you can act on (fast!). Strong agencies always provide “big idea” thinking beyond the core proposal. We love ideating, but also love being efficient, maximizing resources and being your partner. Don’t keep the budget a secret.

A good proposal takes time. Big pitches entail late nights, insights, creative brainstorms, and rehearsals, all on top of the day-to-day. This high-quality work needs a few weeks, not a few days.

4. Context & Messaging. Context is key, and can range from the simplicity of your founder’s backstory and competitive set, to the complexity of your largest opportunities and challenges. Agencies want to know what makes your business different. What is your primary key message? If you could only say ONE thing about your offering – what is it? The more concise you are, the more memorable it will be.

5. Deliverables. Do you have certain marketing channels in mind to reach your community? PR, influencer, digital, paid or a combination of these? Provide these guidelines, but avoid being too prescriptive and give your agencies the creative space for ideation. New thinking, right?

6. Short-list. Not Long-list. Do you really want to sit through ten pitches? Review ten detailed proposals? Find three to four agencies that have what it takes. When sourcing your agency invite list, get outside your inner circle. Tap into your network, check the trades, and find that hidden gem. You are making a change for a reason.

These suggestions are only the tip of the agency brief iceberg. Writing a brief is both an art and a science, but a clear and concise brief is the first step to a successful campaign.  

So, make it a good one!