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Briefing an agency for maximum impact

By Tom Telford

Are you looking to launch a new business or product? Generate more leads? Grow brand awareness? Manage regulatory or legislative threats? These are several reasons why you may be considering bringing on an agency to support your marketing and communications strategy, planning and activity.

A common question we often get asked by companies when they first reach out to us is: what information do you need from us to craft the best response? In other words, how does one create the best possible brief for a new agency (or even a new project).

In this article I’ll explore the benefits of having an agency, and how to find the right agency for you, before delving deeper into the importance of a great brief, and how to build one out. 

Why do I need an agency?

As you build and scale your business, there are many benefits to bringing in a marketing and communications agency to augment your internal function.

  • Specialist skills - One of the top reasons people work with agencies is for their expertise; something that would take years of work to build up in-house. Agencies boast specialists across a range of disciplines that can support you as you grow, and many (like Clarity) commit to ongoing learning so they’re always at the cutting edge.
  • Measurable results - Agencies often have access to analytics and data-driven insight tools that track and measure the micro and macro success of campaigns. At Clarity, we consider our in-house analytics and measurement team to be one of our USPs, enabling us to be thinking about, and driving, impact from start to finish during a campaign.
  • Scalability & efficiency - Outsourcing your PR and marketing efforts save you time and resources, and gives you access to established processes, tools, and networks. Agencies can also scale up or down according to your needs, objectives and budget. 
  • Fresh perspectives - When you’re in the weeds of a business you can often develop tunnel vision, meaning you miss external perspectives that could open up new opportunities. Agencies often pride themselves on their diversity of thinking and creativity, considering their ability to offer fresh perspectives to their clients as a key offering.
  • Connections - Agencies will have partnerships and connections across most services a growing business needs - including other brands, media publications, tech providers, influencers, and analysts. Their proven track record with these connections will give you a warm introduction when the time comes.

Why is a great brief important?

The quality of the response you’ll get from an agency relies heavily on the quality of the brief you give them. A brief with little detail or - shudder - no brief at all will mean the agency has to build a strategy based on guesswork. And while we’re good at what we do, only a select few of us boast psychic powers 🔮

We get it. Sometimes it can be hard to be specific about what you need from an agency. Maybe internal stakeholders are briefing you with conflicting priorities… or your investors told you it’s time to bring an agency on board but you’re not sure why… or this is your first foray into PR and marketing. 

The good news is, a decent agency will help you to craft a fantastic brief because they know they’ll have a higher chance of winning your business if they can propose a strategy your business actually needs. If you give an agency an opaque brief and they come back with a bells and whistles proposal that seems to hit the mark - chances are it won’t deliver ROI down the track because it’s been developed based on guesswork.

Pitch process golden rules

There are a few key things you need to land in a brief that will help an agency understand what you’re looking for. We’ve written out a brief template for you below, but before we get there, remember the 🧈four golden rules of the pitch process🧈:

  • Inspire your agency team - show the passion you have for your brand and what you’re trying to achieve in the brief. Get the agency excited and that’ll shine through in their response.
  • Include a budget - this isn’t always possible especially if you’re new to comms and marketing and are not sure how much things should cost. But giving a ballpark or upper end figure that you can allocate will help an agency create a response that’s right for you. Trust us, it sucks to get excited about an all singing all dancing proposal only to find out you don’t have the budget for it.
  • Don’t invite too many agencies to pitch - we recommend having two to three agencies pitch for you, even if you initially speak to more in a ‘chemistry’ meeting. This is a matter of respect for the agencies who put in a lot of work to deliver you a proposal but will also save you time not having to listen to loads of presentations.
  • Do your due diligence - this will help you pick out the right two to three agencies to brief. This can range from making sure the agency doesn’t work with companies that go against your values, or picking an agency with an office in San Francisco because you’re expanding there next year.

Here’s one we made earlier: brief template

Here’s what you need to include in a brief if you want an agency to respond with an impactful proposal:

  • Background - information about your company, vision and mission; even if this is super high level because you’re a new startup, it will help the agency to ‘get’ you
  • Your company’s personality - is your brand fun and edgy, or serious and sophisticated? This information will help guide the agency’s creative direction.
  • Target audience - who do you want to reach? This can be your customers, talent, investors, members of parliament, or other internal or external key stakeholders.
  • Competition - “we don’t have any competitors” is something we hear a lot. However, even if you’re carving out a new category where you don’t have direct competitors, you’ll still likely be competing against brands for share of voice. If you don’t have defined competitors, think hard about this one because it’s important for agencies to know so they can craft a strong strategy.
  • Your objectives - what are you trying to achieve as a business, and how do you want comms or marketing to help you achieve those things? A good agency will look at what you're trying to achieve and recommend the right channels and tactics for you. These might not be what you originally enquired about - go in with an open mind.
  • Your biggest comms/marketing challenge - you may not have one, but this is important for the agency to know. For example, are you starting from scratch, have you struggled to get leads in the door, or do you have a reputational issue.
  • What you need - you may already have an idea of the services you need from an agency, for example traditional PR, paid SEO, a new website or a public affairs strategy.
  • What traits you’re looking for from an agency partner - ‘Partner’ is the key word here. Hiring an agency is similar to hiring a new staff member as you’ll be working closely together. The same traits you look for in new hires should be what you’re looking for in an agency.
  • How do you measure success - What does good look like? What will your CMO, CEO, Board or investors expect to see from a successful comms or marketing campaign? It’s good to think about your business objectives here and see how closely you can align comms and marketing activity and results with what you’re trying to achieve as a company.
  • Timings - when do agencies need to submit a proposal by, in what format, will it need to be presented, who will be involved in the process?
  • Key stakeholders - who will be involved in the process and why? 
  • Budget - if it’s not included this will be the first thing the agency will ask. It’s critical for agencies to understand if they can work with you to meet your needs, or not. A good agency will take this and build out a detailed budget. Not revealing a budget can lead to miscommunication and a lot of wasted time. However, if you want to keep a little back, give a budget range.

We’re here to help

At Clarity, we understand what you’re going through. People in our team have worked in-house for organizations of all sizes. We know what it’s like reporting directly into a founder or CEO and working for a global conglomerate with loads of stakeholders.
If you want some help filling out a brief, or are keen to find out more about our services - give us a shout here.

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