Brief Encounters

Brief Encounters image
Managing Director, Ruth Shearn, discusses the importance of briefing your agency right.

“We’re tendering for a public-sector contract worth £1 million and need some creative ideas by tomorrow morning, to help us win it.”

“We’re making half our staff redundant. We need you to keep us out of the papers.”

“We need a new brochure, something that says what we do and looks nice.”

“We want you to deliver media coverage that delivers an 8:1 return on investment.”

“We’re going to enter a new sector and need a consumer-facing brand.”

“We need to increase global sales and want a website that looks brilliant and does really clever things. Our budget’s £3,000.”

“We want profile. Get us in the national press every week until this time next year.”

“Business is tough. Sales are declining. The bank has given us a month to turn things around. We’ve never done much marketing so are relying on you. Help us.”

Believe it or not, all of the above are examples of genuine ‘briefs’ we’ve received over the past couple of months.

On one hand, it’s quite flattering when we receive such loose or vague briefs. Initially, our egos think, “This client trusts us implicitly. This client realises we’re a safe pair of hands. This client realises we have enough commercial nous to interpret what they want and deliver it. Let’s get cracking!”

Then we have a reality check. “If we rush off with our puffed egos, full of pride and stacks of enthusiasm but get it wrong and fail to deliver, then we’ll become the fall guys. We’re the ones who stand to lose the account and with it all the time and resource that we’ve invested along the way that never gets charged.”

Let’s get one thing clear. It is never in an agency’s interest to lose an account. We want it to work. We want your business to flourish because if it does, and we’ve played a part in that, you will retain us and recommend us.

So, what’s my point?

Simple. Before you decide to engage a new agency or give a new brief to your existing agency, stop and think. Think about the brief you are presenting them with.

If you’re not able to dedicate time to writing a ‘proper’ brief, fine, but don’t get frustrated or impatient if your agency wants answers to certain questions. Often these questions might seem daft or basic but be patient. Your business is second nature to you, you know all about it – it’s in your head, your heart and quite possibly your DNA. Don’t expect your agency to have the same level of knowledge and understanding. They are not being thick or awkward, just trying to ensure everyone’s singing off the same sheet.

Whether you write a brief yourself or simply give a verbal brief to your agency, here are some of the things you should include or be prepared to discuss and answer: 

Who’s your target audience?

Here, it helps to have a thumbnail portrait of someone in mind, rather than a broad socio-demographic group. Why? Because it will help your agency understand your audience and the ‘emotional triggers’ to which they are most likely to respond.

What, factually, do you want them to know about your business?

Always do the ‘so what?’ test here. “My business has been around for over 50 years.” So what?

Who are your competitors?

 In what way are you different from them? And please don’t answer by saying your service is better – everyone claims superior service – it is NOT a USP!

What difference will your business make to the lives of your target audience?

Really drill down here – right down to the emotional impact. For instance, if you are a great divorce lawyer, what do you really do – emotionally – to help your clients? If you manufacture widgets, what do they really do to enhance your customers working lives?

What’s your dream outcome from your agency’s efforts?

 Have you had poor experience in the past – what was good, what was bad?

What budget have you got in mind?

 You will have one in mind and it’s really important this potentially awkward question is put on the table from the very outset.

How are you going to measure success?

Be prepared to tell your agency when something has worked – they won’t increase their rates; they won’t take their foot off the gas! They need to know what’s working so they can repeat or refine their activity.

The list could be much longer – at RMS we’re particularly keen on drilling down to the detail as it’s the only way to ensure a robust understanding of our clients.

 The key point is this – get the basics right at the beginning of the relationship and it will benefit you in the long-term. Objectives sometimes change along the way. The people at your agency aren’t mind readers so tell them, keep them in the loop. Share your business plans with them. If they feel valued and appreciated, they will work far harder for you.

And one final point that must be made. When you are presented with work by your agency – be it copy for a brochure, a creative concept for a direct mailshot, a website design, a new brand identity, an article, a press release or promotional idea – stop, engage brain and think before you react.

In agency life, the worst phrase to come from a client’s mouth is, “I don’t like it. I don’t know why, I just don’t like it.”

This is not a sufficiently robust reason to reject something. Yes, taste is subjective. But your agency should have given you a robust rationale as to why they have taken a certain approach. If they aren’t able to do this and explain their thinking, then criticise to your heart’s content but try to make it factual and constructive, not based on personal preferences and taste.

Getting the brief right at the outset is key. Be prepared to invest time upfront. You’ll be glad you did. And regarding the ‘briefs’ mentioned at the start – yes, with a bit of discussion and negotiation here and there, we delivered on all of them and very successfully, too!