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Pete Winter

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Pete Winter

Feb 6, 2018

Crimes against the content marketing brief: how to write a kick-ass brief for your agency


Working with a content marketing agency isn’t all skinny jeans, free coffee and frolics. Writing a content marketing brief can bring out the villain in all of us. Learn how to superpower your content.

In our last blog, we looked at how clients can click with agencies during the kick-off phase. This week, we’re uncovering the biggest criminals of the client-agency relationship.

The last two secrets we revealed in our Stripped Bare series were great, sure. But our third secret is a big one. In fact, it’s the secret behind every great campaign concept, every inspired headline, and every content marketing plan that blew the results out of the water — a great brief.

Often a short and sweet document summing up the project’s objectives. The best content marketing briefs use vivid language that brings the subject to life. There’s an art to writing them. And we know all of the tricks.

But sometimes, client-side supervillains destroy all hope of establishing a great relationship with your content marketing agency. Join us as we explore the rogues gallery of creative content marketing.

Some clients seem to possess special powers. They get superhuman results out of their content agency. And in a way they do. Because they’ve learned to vanquish some common villains — and power up their agency output.

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The strategic bit of a Content marketing brief

Briefs are touchy-feely. Old content marketing agency hands know when they’ve got a good one, but a great one energizes your marketing agency. Creatives (copywriters, art directors, and designers) start coming up with ideas right there in the briefing session, and rush out excitedly to start scribbling.

Laughter is another common trait of a successful brief — and this is how you unlock the mother lode. When people enjoy working on your account, the work is more than twice as good. You might end up with something 10,000 times better than you thought it would be. 

Emotions are an asset in content marketing

When it comes to writing a brief, make it your own, and you’ll be more much likely to save yourself from villainy.

Well, we’ve no time to spare. The criminals of a content marketing brief must be brought to justice. We’ve lined up all the usual suspects. Learn their strengths. Study their weaknesses. Rescue your content marketing brief from their diabolical clutches.

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1. The Busy Bug: too busy to write a brief

This cowled terror of the client-agency relationship thinks great creative content appears in a vacuum. He ignores emails from the agency desperately begging for details. He pushes back on agreed dates and deadlines. Finally, when his brief appears, it’s a paragraph or two in the body of an email. What’s the villainy this leads to? Errors and mistakes.

The super-solution? Realize that time invested now pays off big time later. A clear definition of what the agency needs to achieve at an early date sets the tone for the entire content strategy model, avoiding the constant back-and-forth where only stray details are confirmed. This way, the work gets done without costly mistakes, and often with better turnaround times.

So that’s the first piece of villainy to avoid: don’t treat a brief as something you can put off. That’s a bit like Noah putting off flood preparations to water his garden.

2. Miss Alignment: not sure what belongs in a brief

Our second recruit from the content marketing sector’s axis of evil is Miss Alignment. She packs in every last requirement, mandatory, and rumor into a brief, and in the process, makes War and Peace look like a note to the milkman.

When in fact, the best briefs are succinct and concise. So instead of a laundry list, think hard about pinning down the what, why, and who of your project, and devote a page to each — or less.

A useful trick is to imagine yourself after the campaign. Picture your success. What does success look like? How many people moved from cold suspect to hot prospect, how many leads qualified in three months? Then, ask who are the ideal people you want your content to attract and engage? Then finish up with why you are doing this — what objectives are you really striving for?

And don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself. If you want to build awareness but the real goal is increased sales, make sure the truth is what ends up on the brief. No need to suggest which channels and websites will answer that need: putting those together is your agency’s job. That’s our second tip: make sure what’s in your head is what’s on the brief. The less guesswork you make your agency do, the greater your campaign will be.

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3. The Shirker: “isn’t this the agency’s job?”

You’re paying the agency to work for you — and some villainous employees take that to mean they should write their own brief. The problem here is one of basic human nature. The decisions we make for ourselves tend to be subjective, more aligned with what we want than what our client needs. (It’s a running gag in Adland that too many broadcast scripts start with “We open on a sun-dappled beach...”)

That said, it’s fine to collaborate. Toss ideas around, get out the pads and Sharpies. Your agency will love doing it, and it’ll tease out parts of your scope and requirements you may not have seen coming. But ultimately, the brief must be a document owned by the client, forming a contract with the agency that says: this is what I am asking for, this is what I expect you to deliver.

Best of all? With that done, and done right, you’ll cover your own back. This leaves your content marketing agency with no excuse for not rocking the results report with work that is done on time, on budget, and to the expected level of quality.

Save the world, get the girl
So there you have it. Don’t let supervillainy take over your world. The best way to work with a content marketing agency is to invest time upfront in your brief to them. Define your objectives and expectations without mandating how to achieve them, and most important of all, have fun when collaborating with your content team. You’ll energize your agency to produce the greatest work of all for you.

Now you know how to battle the villains of the content marketing agency brief, it’s time to launch Operation acronym: Speaking the language of the content marketing funnel.

You’ve got a kick-ass brief down as a fine art. But how do others in the industry fare? Take a look at the insider content marketing tips now. Download: Content Marketing in the UK 2018: Benchmarks, budgets, and trends.

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