Half-Baked Briefs: Why It's Better To Write Them Together

As one of the Business Leads at ustwo, I’m usually among the first people to hear from, interact with, and meet potential clients. Some clients reach out with a raw nugget of an idea, some have a strong direction they’d like to go but don’t know how to move forward, and some come to us with a fully baked brief with background, challenges, KPIs and deliverables set to go.  

There is tremendous value in a complete brief. Organized clients who have done due diligence to figure out what they need make for productive partnerships. But, if you’ve ever tried to interview agencies without a clear direction, I can guarantee you’ve had conversations that feel great, but ended with something like this: “Great conversation. Would love to explore this further. We’ll wait until you’ve developed the brief and put together a proposal.” Cue the silence.

A lot of pressure has just been put on you, the client.  

Writing a thorough brief takes time and effort that, frankly, we know you rarely have. And, sometimes you know you have a problem, but simply don’t have the skillset or knowledge to create the foundation on which to build your request for help. True in life, true in business. Knowing when to ask for help can take you far.

I’ve read hundreds of client briefs and I can say, more often than one might expect, it’s delivered apologetically. “Here’s the brief but we know it needs a ton of work. Sorry.” Or, “I’ll share it what we have but it doesn’t make sense.” Once, someone asked, “Can you even work with this?”

There is a sorry reliance from agencies and studios on clients being able to diagnose their problems when we claim to be the creative and technical minds to solve them. You simply wouldn’t ask a driver with engine failure to submit a brief to the mechanic outlining suspected issues and KPIs for resolution. You go to the doctor because you know something is wrong. It takes partnership to diagnose and solve what’s ailing you.  

Luckily, we’re not a doctor’s office. We’re a studio that is fascinated by what fascinates you. And, frankly, sometimes the half-baked briefs are just right.

Let’s write the brief together. Yeah, I said it.

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Most agencies have no interest in going through the effort of writing a brief with a potential client because it costs them money they may never get back. I understand that (remember, I AM on the business team) but spending time upfront, even just an hour to two, to bring your experts together with a client lays the groundwork for the kind of equal partnership everyone says they aspire to.

If we define the work together before we bid on it, you’ve gotten a preview of what it’s like to work with us. You’ve met staff that may work on your business. You’ve seen how we approach undefined problems (surprise, most challenges are undefined) and break them down into their components to arrive at a solution.  

Most importantly, you’ve allowed the experts to weigh in and help you understand the level of challenge you’re bringing to the table. With that insight, you can make a clearer decision about who you want to work with and, honestly, how much you’re willing to spend to solve the problem.

I feel obligated to caveat that there are infinite circumstances in which this approach won’t work. There have been plenty of times we’ve opted out of this arrangement. These include massively technical challenges, start-ups without funding and clients who have in-house expertise in the area.

But, if you’re feeling the chemistry on that first or second call and feel like this could go somewhere, you have every right to ask: can we write this brief together?  

Let’s give it a try.