In my seven years as Sales and Marketing Director here at Leapfrogg, I have spoken to many hundreds, possibly thousands of companies wishing to invest their marketing budgets online. What has surprised me, particularly during the recent downturn, is how few companies approach us with a brief. The reasons for this vary but, more often than not, it is due to the prospect’s inexperience in acquiring search marketing services meaning they do not know what to include in the brief. That’s where I hope I can help.
Why is a brief important?
For me, a brief demonstrates that a prospect is serious about their intention to work with an agency. In creating a brief, it is not always the case that the prospect will get it 100% right in terms of their actual requirements. Acting in a consultative manner from the start means the agency should use their experience and expertise to guide the prospect on what they ACTUALLY need. But regardless of this, a brief at least demonstrates a certain level of commitment from the prospect.
It is also worth bearing in mind that any agency worth their salt will use the pitch process to assess the prospect, just as much as a prospect will be assessing the agency. At Leapfrogg, for example, we are very focused on the type of client we want to be working with; not only are there particular market sectors we target, but also the companies within those sectors need to demonstrate a number of traits and meet certain criteria. A brief is extremely useful in helping the agency judge whether the opportunity is ‘on-profile’, thereby reducing the time and resource potentially wasted on both sides.
What to include in the brief
With the above in mind, here is what I recommend including in a search marketing brief. Note, you may want to put in place an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before providing the level of detail below but remember, the more detail you provide the better the agency can guide you on what it is you need.
- Provide an overview of the business and its history
- Outline what you feel makes you different to your competitors / what is your proposition?
- Include who you consider to be your main competition; bear in mind that your offline and online competitors are likely to differ
- Give an overview of the investment you have you made in search marketing to date, if any / have you used an agency in the past, what results have you experienced?
- Provide some background on your website – how long has it been live, who built it, where is it hosted, is there a content management system, do you have any plans to redevelop it in the next six months or so?
- Demonstrate that you have a clear idea of where the business is heading; what are the company’s financial objectives for the next 1 – 3 years, for example?
- Detail what else you are doing to meet those objectives i.e. investment in other marketing channels, recruitment and so on
- Outline the budget and resource you have in place to meet these objectives
- For the purposes of forecasting, it might be useful to include the following:
- Current web traffic
- Conversion rate (online and offline)
- Average order values
- Average margins
- Website turnover (what % is this of total turnover)
The pitch process
- What will the procurement process involve; how many agencies are you inviting to pitch, how many stages are involved, what type of proposal / presentation do you require, who will ultimately be making the decision?
- Outline how agencies will be evaluated; what it is that you are primarily looking for from the winning agency i.e. particular skills or support to an in-house team, for example
- Include details on when you are looking to start
Depending on the situation, you may choose to exclude some of the above, or add additional information. However, for me, three things are essential to form a brief; demonstrating you have a unique proposition, having clear business objectives in place and outlining what you are looking for from an agency.
And finally, a word of advice…
If you are approaching search agencies without a brief already in place and find that they are offering you a solution before seeking to understand your business, I’d recommend walking away. In the pursuit of a quick buck, and often preying on the naivety of inexperienced business owners and marketing managers, a huge number of agencies and freelancers will happily take your money with no real idea (or moral conscience) as to whether it will deliver any kind of tangible return. An agency failing to ask at least some of the questions above probably falls into this category.
On the other hand, intense questioning from an agency should demonstrate they want to understand all they can about your business and objectives so, in turn, they can align a strategy, and set of services, which are of most benefit to you.