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A Step By Step Guide To Briefing An Agency

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There’s a new project on the horizon and you need an agency to fulfil it. Whatever the remit, with great ambition comes great responsibility. Get the briefing process wrong and you’ll end up wasting time and money. Nail the brief, and you’ll get better agencies to pitch, with superior work that drives results, produced to time and budget. This step-by-step guide takes you from briefing, through the pitching process to choosing your new provider.

Know What You Want to Achieve

You can only brief an agency if you can explicitly state what you want them to deliver. A clear idea of your goals and how you want them to work will narrow down the field of providers for you to contact. Perhaps you want an agency with a similar culture to your business who can deliver a specific technical skillset. Or maybe you want to bring in a completely different working style to shake things up.

Whatever your needs, you need to be clear and thorough. Sending out an incomplete brief might be quicker initially, but it will invite a flurry of questions from would-be pitchers. And it might even dissuade certain agencies from pitching at all. It’s worth establishing the nature of the engagement upfront, because some agencies will only consider large-scale projects and year-long retainers.

The Importance of a Good Brief

Good briefs are critical for hardened criminals and hot dates. And they also provide a solid base for a successful selection process. Avoid the temptation to hint at solutions. Describe the problem or opportunity and be clear about what you need. And be honest about how far you want to be pushed. Don’t tell agencies that you’re open to highly original, creative solutions when there’s no appetite for this in the business.

To help agencies deliver the best pitch possible (and set a suitable price that’s fair for both parties), convey need-to-know information in language that motivates and inspires. In this situation, size matters. Your brief should be brief; think thong, not bloomers. Tight writing that conveys the right type and amount of memorable information is what you’re aiming for.

Feel free to attach relevant supporting information and documents; sometimes the devil (and the inspiration) is in the detail. This free Marketing Agency briefing template download from HubSpot and this best practise guidewill help.

Next, ensure the relevant senior managers or executives are bought in. It’s better to make changes now than trying to change a brief once it’s been sent out. Sharing your brief internally will also ensure you’re all on the same page throughout the process.

What’s Your Budget?

How much budget you’ve got available to spend on any project will impact what can be achieved. While it might be tempting to tell people what you think they want to hear, be honest with your pitchers and give an indicative budget. This will help agencies pitch sensible, affordable solutions and ensure no-one’s time is wasted.

Understanding the Agency Pitching Process

Who, What, When, Where?The pitching process brings together the right people to establish whether the provider can deliver what you need, in the way you need it, at the right price and to deadline. To get a feel for who you’ll be working with, always ask for the person delivering the project and the thinkers behind the brief to be leading, or at least present at, the pitch.

Invite no more than half a dozen agencies to pitch. You might want to speak to ten providers informally first and narrow down from there. Arrange a date your decision makers can commit to that also provides plenty of time for the pitching agencies to prepare. Expect some questions as the agencies clarify salient points or ask for additional information, such as data or information about existing processes. Issue invites, book a room, provide the right IT and let your presenters know who will be present.

Don’t Ask for the Answer

Beware of asking for too much in the pitch – you’re looking for broad ideas and an oversight of their approach, not a complete solution. Demanding a fully thought out resolution tips into asking agencies to do the work before they’ve secured the deal. By ensuring pitches are fair and reasonable for both parties, you’ll set your working relationship off on the right foot.

How Will They be Measured

When you’re spending a lot of money and you want to do the best for your business, using gut feel to choose a new provider isn’t good enough. Develop a scorecard with a five-point rating system to consistently assess the pitching agencies. It should help you assess:

  • Key staff competencies
  • How your cultures will work together and the chemistry in the room
  • The provider’s expertise and credibility
  • Their full cost breakdown
  • The proposed project management and delivery process
  • How your relationship will be managed

You may want to weight areas of importance more heavily. For example, if it’s all about the chemistry, this should be weighted to contribute more to the overall score.

Always ask why they’re pitching for the work. If you get the sense they feel it’s because they should, and not because they’re genuinely excited about the opportunity, steer clear. Make room for comments so you can take notes and provide a rationale for your ratings – this will be invaluable during the next step.

Making the Decision

Sit down with your fellow assessors and review your scores to see who’s come out on top. It’s worth checking each section to identify any major differences of opinion or concerns. There may be a clear winner or perhaps two agencies neck and neck. Whether you come to a collaborative decision or your most senior decision maker makes the final call, you should be able to decide who to progress contract talks with.

Agencies elevate a business’s ability to deliver great campaigns, engage new customers and ultimately drive revenue. Get your briefing process right and you’ll give agencies the solid foundation they need to deliver the work your business is looking for.

For support with your career progress, or to discuss your next move, contact the team at Adam 0161 359 3789 or by emailing