A well-written brief can work wonders when streamlining your marketing agency search - here’s what to include, and what to consider before you go to market.

When going out with a new marketing requirement, knowing where to draw the line on your expectations can be a challenge. 

Whether it's setting the budget in advance, or balancing the 'nice-to-haves' with the 'non-negotiables', in-house teams want to be rigid enough to avoid a massive pool of prospective partners, without putting off potential contenders with an overload of KPIs.

The quality of the brief you give can determine the success of the search - but how do you strike the right balance?

Download our Ultimate Guide to the Digital Brief 

The importance of a well-written brief

The brief you send out when starting a creative or digital marketing agency search will set the tone for the work you’re looking to undertake. As the Hubspot team describe, your briefing document will act ‘as a roadmap that takes your project from ideation to completion’, acting as a guide throughout the remainder of the process.

When done really well, the brief you go to market with will:

  • Set clear objectives and measures for success that allow an external partner to understand expectations for the project
  • Demonstrate your own business mission, values, and ways of working
  • Clearly communicate the key timelines, deliverables, and stakeholders relevant to the brief
  • Provide you with an objective ‘bar’ to measure any potential partners against when running the appointment process
  • Convey key technical or practical details that any external agency should be aware of

However, the ins and outs of what this looks like will undoubtedly vary depending on your initial scope of work. Every brief is different, and must be tailored to certain requirements.

The GO! team are experts in agency search, qualification, and pitch management. Learn more about our process here.

The difference between a creative brief and a digital brief

Common differences between what’s expected within either can include:

  • A creative brief may spend more time highlighting the current brand positioning, creative assets, and storytelling
  • A digital brief may require more detail on specific platforms
  • Creative briefs may talk more about ‘personas’, where digital briefs may need more targeted datasets

Creative briefs may focus more on operational delivery or wider, more holistic measures for success, where a digital brief may focus on the specifics of a target CPL or similar.

Writing a brief - the universal expectations

Though there will be variations in the specifics of the brief itself, the core foundations of a great brief will likely apply.

Below, we’ve outlined a few of the core tenets of writing creative and digital briefs alike, alongside examples of how these may apply.

Whether you’re writing a brief for a new creative campaign, a product launch, or a digital performance audit, a great brief will include:

1. Clear strategic goals and measurable objectives for the work

As with any new marketing project with multiple stakeholders, excitement and willingness to deliver can lead to 'expansion' of the strategy, so clarifying exactly what good would look like in the case of the project is crucial.

As Adam Irwin, Strategy Director at Ponderosa, shares, “Creative or digital, greater strategic commitment from in-house teams would mean briefs are more single-minded. 

All too often, the brief will try to bite off more than it should: KPIs don’t match the budget, brand challenges blend with product challenges and audiences become broad and vague. The issue isn’t simply clarity. If a client doesn’t have a clear strategy, clarity was never possible in the first place, and ambitions will become stretched. (According to Nielsen, 50% of planned media underspends by 50%.) 

With a more single-minded brief, creative or digital, clients can improve the work and the ROI.”

It’s also important to define what metrics you use to measure success and anchor your brief to these. Whether it’s an SEO strategy or a creative campaign, KPIs should always be clear from the start.

Anna Beynon, Head of Planning at Anything is Possible recently shared the importance of these objectives on internal performance. 

“Disconnects between digital and marketing strategies begin to arise when teams are focused on achieving targets within their own areas.

If we’ve got one holistic objective, the individual metrics that we’re trying to achieve can work cohesively together and you can begin joining the dots between each strategy.

For example, when we’re looking at driving awareness, you can get a greater picture of how the brand team and organic team have supported that uplift together through attribution modeling, rather than looking at it as individual silos.”

Download the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Digital Brief
Download our Ultimate Guide to the Digital Brief 

2. A clear understanding of what’s in - and what’s out - of scope for the project

Setting boundaries and expectations will allow the agency to adjust how wide or narrow they go in their own approach. 

Is there a certain focus or platform strategy that your brand is recognised for, or are there tactics that should be avoided? It might be that you have tried a certain media strategy in the past, and it hasn’t worked for you. 

If you’re never going to be open to certain approaches or changes being made by the chosen agency partner, it’s important to be clear about this from the start to avoid trouble down the line.

EXAMPLE: Defining Scope within a Digital Development Brief:
  • You are open to creating a new landing page for the campaign, but not amending the existing website

EXAMPLE: Defining scope within a Creative Advertising Brief:
  • Creatives for a campaign must still align with the existing brand in line with brand guidelines

Discover 5 Common Mistakes with Brief Writing - and How to Avoid them

3. Audience insights and key information

Key information for your brief is going to vary based on the scope of the work. 

EXAMPLE: For a creative brief, this could include:
  • The key message you want to get to your audience
  • Your recent campaigns
  • If launching a campaign, the ‘attitude’ or ‘hook’ of what you’re hoping to convey in the messaging could work well here
  • Information around in-house resource that already exists

EXAMPLE: For a digital brief, this could be:
  • Existing channels your business is active on
  • Breakdowns of follower demographics and engagement rates
  • Key target search terms
  • Your existing annual spend on paid social

The most important thing to remember here is to keep anything you put together clear, and concise.

However, the one area where you shouldn't worry about conciseness is in the data around your audience.

Insights and performance metrics should be at the centre of any strategy - and customer insights and data from previous campaigns can act as a beacon for agencies/partners when forming their response to the brief.

EXAMPLE: Audience insights within a Digital brief:
  • Key search terms, target demographics, performance metrics like CPC or CPL, key trends in engagement, preferred channels, and more

EXAMPLE: Audience insights for a Creative brief:
  • Buyer personas, psychographics, previous customer research and brand tracking, sentiment analysis, and qualitative data

4. An objective view of your current challenges

Being transparent about the issues you’re currently facing in getting the results you want to see is hugely important when setting expectations. An agency that’s uninformed about challenges you’ve faced in the past is more likely to risk pitching something that you’ve seen before.

Similarly, any data that you’re able to share to better inform the potential agency of your current state of play can prove invaluable when getting the right approach.

For example - resources like Banc’s ‘Digital Marketing Maturity Matrix’ can help brands identify their strengths, weaknesses, and key areas for improvement in their digital strategy before going to market with an overly ambitious brief.

Download the Digital Marketing Maturity Matrix from Banc

EXAMPLE: Current Challenges within a Digital Performance Brief
  • Have you recently run a paid campaign that didn’t perform well, and do you know why? Did this inspire you to go to market with the brief?
EXAMPLE: Current Challenges within a Creative Branding Brief
  • Do you have any existing insights into your brand perception or buyer data? Are there any personalities internally that could make or break a creative idea that agencies need to be aware of?

Read: 5 Things to Include When Writing a Digital Brief

5. What you’re looking for in an external agency partner

If you're putting your brief out to market, a response must be attention-grabbing. The agency/potential partners will be competing for the work, so they will need to impress when it comes to detailing how they would deliver your vision.

You can help them do this by being open and transparent about what will make you take notice. 

Think about the ideas or strategies you’d like to see in a way that helps keep things on the rails, whilst allowing them to present ideas that are outside of the box. 

A great way to do this is to ask a few, more imaginative, questions as part of the brief:

  • What would be something our brand could do that no other brand has done before?
  • What will cause our audience to feel something and take action?

Download - The Marketing Agency Evaluation Checklist
Download: The Marketing Agency Evaluation Checklist

Final reminder - stick to the brief

In the process of researching potential agency partners, it can be easy to be wowed by their experience or get caught up in the creativity of it all. This is far more likely to happen if your brief isn't clear from the start, so a solid, well-assembled brief is always worth the time.

Download our Ultimate Guide to the Digital Brief 

If you're working on a brief for your own requirements, get in touch. GO! manage the entire agency qualification and appointment process on your behalf, only recommending agencies that we know will fit the bill.

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