New Year, new agency? A marketer’s guide to pulling (the standard of) your briefs up

New Year, new agency? A marketer’s guide to pulling (the standard of) your briefs up

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

For many brands, the New Year brings new budgets, and with them, new marketing campaigns. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of planning a new campaign, don’t worry – you’re not alone. The sheer volume of channels and tactics available to every single marketer today is daunting by itself, let alone trying to corral them into a coherent, impactful campaign.

And it’s a New Year! Are you worried if you haven’t kicked off an exciting new campaign by the first week of January? Be careful and don’t rush – starting a campaign with rushed objectives can backfire badly.

This confusion and concern about disciplines, channels and tactics doesn’t have an impact on just you. Unless you’re absolutely crystal clear on what you’re looking to achieve, then your marketing or communications team – and any suppliers you work with – could fire off in completely the wrong direction as well. If your remit is broader than our UK shores and you have pan European marketing, communications or PR campaigns kicking off in many countries, how do you give enough guidance in a brief without being overly prescriptive?

We’ve had written briefs that are 180 pages, and briefs that are one page. We’ve had verbal briefs lasting between four hours and sometimes just five minutes. If you’re looking for some agency inspiration, the clue is in the name – be brief – allow them to ask questions, give room for some elasticity and imagination. If a brief is so lengthy and descriptive, it becomes more of an instruction manual rather than an invitation to suggest ideas and solutions to problems.

Metaphorically speaking, it’s times like this that trying to give an appropriate length brief might have you wondering if you need thermal long johns or lightweight tighty-whities, but don’t worry – we’ve got some helpful suggestions to cover all bases.

The three B’s for perfect-sized briefs are: Business, Brevity and Budget.

Business

Regardless of whether you’re the founder of a start-up and handling the marketing yourself, or a senior marketer with a large team and a diktat from the C-level, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and think about your business goals. That is what you should be working towards. That’s the top line of what your brief should specify, and sometimes that’s almost everything an agency needs to know.

  • Wider input: The part that does take time and is sometimes the most important part of a new campaign is gaining input from other parts of the business – and it has significant merit. Talking to other parts of the company simultaneously makes sure that you’re representing their needs, making them ‘famous’ and also gets them involved and more ‘bought in’ because they’ve had a say.
  • Objectives: You should always be upfront about what you want the agency to achieve. If there’s still doubt in your mind, you can always turn the question around – if you hired an agency and did their yearly review, what would you be most disappointed about? We’ve talked about ‘pre-mortems’ before and it’s always a helpful process. Here’s a guide to writing great objectives for a brief.

Brevity

Once you’ve got a bit more clarity and a good download from wider stakeholders, you can embark on writing the RFP. Regardless of whether you’re putting pen to paper, or talking an agency through the specifics face-to-face or via Webex, there are a few things that you should remember if you want to get the most back from an ‘elastic’ brief:

  • Channel Neutrality: If you don’t know (or don’t mind) the important communications channels, it’s ok to say so – as long as you’re upfront about what you need to achieve and with whom. In other words – being clear on your ultimate audience (usually your customers) is more important than being clear on channels – one comes from the other, if your agency knows its stuff!
  • Time: Give people enough time to respond, especially if they have to research the pros, cons and costs of different channels. If you ask for a proposal in 24 hours, you’ll get a rush job back. A two-week turnaround from brief to proposal is average.

Budget

Agencies understand that no-one has unlimited funds, and not everyone can go over the budget. Any client should have realistic guidelines as to how much they want to spend. Then you should be able to compare agencies and work out what you can and can’t expect to be achieved.

  • Paid social: Social media, in particular, is becoming more of a paid platform if it’s going to be effective. If you don’t give some kind of indication of budget, you’ll get a wider variety of ideas and estimates which make it harder to compare agencies. Equally, a client brief with no budget specified might encourage an agency to respond with broad ideas and no costs specified – leaving everyone with nothing concrete.
  • Give an estimate: A more useful way to approach this is to give a budget range to the nearest $/£/€ 50,000, or ask for the agency’s minimum budget options and request for ‘bronze, silver and gold’ options, with a maximum amount specified.

If in doubt – and if you work with other countries that manage similar marketing, communications or PR agencies – look at what they’re spending and take that as a starter.

Your bottom line

Investing the time to create a thoughtful, business-oriented brief that provides transparency about what your business is really looking for in a communications partner is key. This process ensures that you receive quality proposals and pitches that are directly aligned with the business strategy of the organisation, allowing you to handpick the most suitable PR partner going forward, whose strategies will complement and drive your communications programme forward to achieve your desired business outcomes. Read here for more guidance.

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