How to brief a Marketing Agency or Consultant – Properly!

How to brief a marketing strategy properly - Cameo Digital

When it comes to the digital marketing brief, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen it all in our time. As ex-agency folk, we were often in receipt of detailed, prescriptive briefs and tender requests of varying quality, many of which restricted the agency’s ability to deliver a really cohesive strategy and ultimately ended in confusion and finger-pointing when things didn’t go exactly “as outlined in the brief”.   So with that in mind, how the hell do you avoid all this and properly brief a marketing agency or consultancy? 

I thought I’d deliver my two pence and provide a service to you all via this blog. 

So, if you’re mulling over your 2022 marketing plans (god knows how we’re there already!) and briefing someone new might be part of that, this post is for you. 

First things first: what are you actually trying to achieve? 

Many businesses are very good at saying what they’ll spend, how they want it spent and can provide targets – usually not very realistic ones.

The danger here is that it’s very focused on ‘the how’ and not so focused on ‘the why’. We’re all about the WHY here at Cameo Digital and if a client or prospect is overlooking the importance of it, we’re always keen to help show the way. 

The truth is, being too detailed is often a very fast route to frustration. Any digital marketer worth their salt should be able to tell you that and will be keen to establish realistic goals and a clear plan of attack. Being open in terms of approach and budget (within means, obviously) can really help your chosen consultant/agency to do what they’re best at. 

We don’t necessarily mean extending the budget here either – but perhaps even being more open about the way it’s spent and taking on board the learnings and feedback from people who’ve been in the digital space for a long time and understand the opportunities and pitfalls. 

Don’t be haunted by the ghosts of digital campaigns past

Often, a business can be completely turned off from a certain approach or channel because they’ve had their fingers burnt by another agency or consultant or something hasn’t worked out and they’ve perhaps had to explain it to a board or a manager. We get it. It can be hard not to let that get in the way of progress, preferring to play it safe with budgets and approaches that will never do anything other than keep you in the middle of the road. 

By all means, share past experiences if they’re relevant, but if you’re scared of paid social because you tried it once in 2012 and it didn’t work, but you’re planning a strategy for 2022, you will be shooting yourself in the foot by being closed off. 

The right consultant or agency will be able to understand your concerns and what hasn’t worked before, provide a strategy and recommendations to make things happen, educate you on best practices and their professional standards – or be honest with you about what the best channels genuinely are for what you’re trying to achieve. 

Ask, don’t tell 

Prospective clients can sometimes feel like they have to have all the answers whenever they speak to an external provider of digital services. I don’t know why – it’s not like we all do the same with lawyers or accountants, for example, but perhaps since most of us use aspects of digital marketing and social media on a daily basis, there can be an assumption that you’ve mostly got the gist. 

We’ve had meetings where the prospect has said they want “X Y and Z via ‘insert channel’ and they’re prepared to pay ‘£X’ to do it”. Got to be honest, it’s not a catch. 

The best campaigns and client relationships we have come from an open, flexible discussion where the client tells us what their hurdles have been, what they’re trying to achieve and how they hope to do it, then let us fill in the blanks and decide the route ahead. It allows us to understand the full scope of the problem and offer our advice, which is exactly what clients pay us for beyond just doing the doing. 

It’s always good to have an idea of what you want, but avoid being too prescriptive – you never know what could come out of the conversation! 

What does good actually look like?

This relates to my earlier point about what it is you’re actually trying to achieve. You can plan to your heart’s content, but when your ambitions don’t line up with the real state of your industry and business, what your customers are looking for and what you can actually deliver, you’re potentially wasting a lot of energy and spend for nothing. 

For example, say your digital campaigns go stratospheric and you have more enquiries than you can possibly deal with (a nice problem to have, sure, but it can get gnarly!) – what’s your next move? Targets and budgets for any digital/marketing project need to be aligned with your overall business strategy – bearing things like recruitment, increasing costs, office moves and plans for future products/services in mind. 

Decide on what the bare minimum is, what’s realistic and what an elevated target might look like and what all three would mean for other aspects of your business. As an aside, be mindful to factor in any internal resource for marketing/digital so you have a real grasp on ROI and what you can afford to invest into external providers over time. 

It doesn’t happen a lot, but I’ve personally experienced situations where the client has too many enquiries than they know what to do with and want to “pause” the work, which comes with its own issues and implications. Sustainable growth is always best.

Ignore your competitors

Ok, ok. Not entirely. But if I had £1 for every time a client/prospect/employer has said to me “X is doing Y so we need to be doing that” and expecting a silver bullet and endless success, I’d be a millionaire by now. 

Aside from knowing that they deliver a similar service or product to your business, how much do you really know about them? Not a lot. So don’t place too many bets or too much value on whatever it is they’re doing and certainly don’t go to an agency/consultant and say “we want that”. I can almost certainly guarantee you’ll be the topic of conversation at Friday drinks at the end of the week! (Just kidding, we’re not allowed Friday drinks out at the moment 😉) 

It comes back to “the why”, in my opinion. Focusing on what it is your organisation is good at, who for and why are the pillars of identifying the right approach. Personas are useful, too, and the right consultant can help you with that. There might be some similarities between your approach and your competitors’, but directly copying them and hoping for the same result (particularly with things like content and SEO which can be a long game) isn’t going to do much in the long term and can often end in frustration as the comparisons continue. 

Work with good people

That’s where we come in.  When we started Cameo Digital back in 2016, it was all about doing good work with good people

In the past, we worked on the huge, international campaigns. We did the schmoozing and the big pitches that promise the world under any campaign or circumstance possible. We stressed ourselves out trying to cater to outlandish, unrealistic requests and we decided, no more.

No more of that, thank you. 

The clients we work with now have two things in common: 

  1. They’re a great bunch who we like working with. 
  2. They’re open, flexible and trust us to do what we’re best at – no prescription required. 

If you’re looking for a break from the norm and want to work with nice humans who are good at what they do, honest in their approach and will always cut the fluff, let’s chat

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