Briefing an agency

Last year the IPA released research that showed 80% of marketers think they're good at writing briefs so it might surprise you to learn that only 10% of agencies agreed with them!

So, picture this, you’ve decided you need to run an advertising campaign. You know what is driving your customers and you’re ready to measure all of the things that matter to you.

You’ve got a great concept lined up. You feel like you’re ready to go. But...

The chances of your campaign working as well as you hope will hinge on one crucial thing. The brief.

So many campaigns fall at the first hurdle by failing to issue an articulate and visionary media brief. What’s the point in having an excellent idea if you can’t communicate it? It’s time to talk about the role of the brief and why it’s so important.

So many campaigns fall at the first hurdle by failing to issue an articulate and visionary media brief.

What is a brief?

The easiest thing to do here is to consult the dictionary.

Definition of the word 'Brief'

So broken down, we’ve got:

Instruct. Inform. Thoroughly.

Therefore, the brief is a thorough and informative instruction in preparation for a task.

Simple right? You’d be surprised at how many brief issuers get this bit wrong.

It is amazing how many briefs are out there that are either recycled from previous briefs or fail to give agencies the information that is needed to do the job being asked of them.

Marketing managers and procurement departments often push their agencies for more. Never has the phrase ‘you get out what you put in’ been more poignant.

Now we’ve explained what a brief is (thorough and informative instructions in preparation for a task), we outline the role of the brief and why it’s so important.

Want more out? Put more in!

What is the primary role of the brief?

First and foremost, the role of the brief is to make sure that everyone involved in your campaign is on the same page. It helps to communicate what is required by whom, when, and what the budget is.

Other benefits to the brief

The benefits of the brief don’t stop at communicating what is required. The brief also serves as a reminder to you of what you’re asking your agencies and partners to do and what the expectations are.

If you are tendering for work, you must be able to evaluate the agencies pitching for the work. In this scenario, the brief serves as a great evaluation tool to help identify which tenders or bids really hit the nail on the head and answer the brief.

It’s also worth pointing out that it’s good practice to create a response form for each agency that bids. It means you will have all of the information you need to evaluate the work the agency has put into their proposals in a consistent format so you can easily compare and contrast all other bidders.

Don’t leave agencies guessing whether they need to follow a framework or create a presentation. Don’t leave them asking themselves whether they can use images and graphs. By using a ‘Form of Response’ document, that actually outlines how they should respond to the brief, it helps them as well as you.

What should be included in a brief?

You should open your brief with an overview of the project. It should introduce your agency to the project and why you are pressing ahead with it. Keep it short and succinct.


Give some background into your organisation and what you do, who you do it for, your place in the market. Outline how and why this project plays into your wider objectives.


Are you driving brand awareness? Do you want to drive sales? Do you want to change behaviour? What does success look like and how will you measure it?

Product / Services

What is the product you’re selling or the service you’re offering? What is the one thing that you want your target audience to take from the campaign? Think of this as a single-minded proposition. Similar to a USP.

Who are you talking to? Who is your audience?

The more you can describe your audience, the easier it is to target them. Do you have any customer personas that could be included? What do you know about them?

What do you want them to do?

What is the call to action (sometimes referred to as a CTA)? Is it redemption or a brand interaction? Is it a visit to your website or to recall a message that they’ve heard?

Why should they do it?

What’s in it for them? Why should they do what you’re asking them to do?

Where are they?

Where are your customers? Are there specific locations or regions you want to focus on and why have these locations been specified?


Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do you plan to stand out in what could be a crowded market?

Think / Feel / Do

What do you want your customers to think, feel, and do when they see or hear your campaign?


What is required and when does it need to be completed by? Who will be signing off on different milestones and when will that happen?

Measuring success

How will success be measured? By who and when?


Ballpark figures are fine but the more accurate the budget forecast, the better. It will save everyone lots of time and resources if an accurate budget is supplied.

This list isn’t exhaustive and it’s important to tailor a brief to what you are requesting. A media brief will be different from a creative brief but there are many core elements that remain the same.

Writing a detailed brief, not only helps agencies you’re briefing but will help you and your team understand your own project when it’s broken down in this way.


Agencies aren’t mind readers, so don’t be afraid to give it to us straight, we are simple creatures. If you tell us exactly what you want out of a response – that’s what we’ll give you and it will serve as a clear basis from which to start the work.

No matter how much time and effort you put into the brief, there can always be areas of misunderstanding. Take the time to talk through the brief with your agencies to make sure they’re clear on what is required. Simplicity and openness are key!

And remember, if you want more, give more!

Happy briefing!

p.s.- if you fancy having a go at writing your own brief, try our free template here.

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