How to Write a Convincing Agency Brief – 3 Dos and Don’ts
Sortlist Insights

How to Write a Convincing Agency Brief – 3 Dos and Don’ts


For many companies, assembling the perfect in house team for every project is often an aspirational goal. It is highly likely that at some point, a business will seek the assistance of an external agency.

Every partnership between a company and a service provider begins with an agency brief. Whether developing marketing campaigns, organizing a product launch, or establishing brand guidelines, every project starts with a comprehensive creative brief that outlines all the essential details for a successful collaboration.

But writing an agency brief can be extremely challenging. What key points do you include? Which ones do you exclude? What are the important details to highlight before an initial meeting?

At Sortlist, we receive an average of 3000 project briefs per month, and our team carefully reads and analyzes each one before sharing it with our service providers. 

With years of experience since our launch in 2014, we have gained valuable insights into both successful and challenging briefs.

So what exactly is a “successful agency brief”?

To help you save time in this creative process, we have prepared a step-by-step guide, complete with a few examples, on how to effectively write a clear brief.

3 things to start and stop doing in an agency brief

What is an agency brief and how important is it?

A project brief is a short document that outlines the goals, requirements, and expectations of a project. It acts as a roadmap for everyone involved, providing clarity on what needs to be done, when, and with what resources. 

Writing a brief is challenging because it requires us to take the vision we have in our heads and put it out there for someone else to understand.

A company about to embark on a project knows the ins and outs of what they would like to achieve and how they hope to achieve it.  However, a third party, who is not as familiar with the company, their values, their goals, target audience, etc. would have a hard time gripping the idea of the project just as well. 

Think of it this way 🍝:
A customer in a restaurant orders “pasta.” They envision a delicious plate of spaghetti bolognese. However, based on their vague request, the waiter mistakenly asks the best carbonara chef to prepare the dish.

When the carbonara plate arrives, the customer is disappointed, and both the waiter and the chef are puzzled and disappointed that they couldn’t meet their client’s expectations.

Now, let’s consider an alternative. If the customer had specifically ordered “spaghetti with tomato sauce mixed with garlic, olive oil, beef meat, and Parmesan cheese,” and added details like wanting the pasta well-cooked, ready in 30 minutes because they had a train to catch, everyone would have been on the same page and delighted with the outcome.

Writing a project brief to find the right agency is like ordering food in a restaurant. It’s important to realize that people can’t read your mind or guess your preferences. That’s why it’s important to be clear and precise about your requirements.

To make sure you get exactly what you want from a marketing agency or creative agency, it’s necessary to explain your expectations in detail. 

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The 3 main elements of a Brief

Presenting your company – Who are you?

Often, clients overlook this aspect of the brief because it may not seem as important as presenting the project itself. However, understanding your company’s identity provides the agency with valuable insights that go beyond the project description. It provides context.  

When presenting your company, make sure to include: 

  • Your company name
  • How many employees you have 
  • The industry you work in 
  • Your position on the market
  • Your company values and mission 
  • Your short and long term goals 
  • Your target audience

Real-life examples: 

Take a look at this example:

“We are a medium-sized specialist publisher offering 40+ cross-media media services in agriculture, food, and rural life. One of our brands is “M”!, an ad-free children’s magazine for nature-loving kids aged 5 and up.

It showcases local nature, environment, puzzles, experiments, recipes, and crafts. “M”! is popular among educators too but is only available by subscription via our website; it cannot be found in hard copy. 

We would like to generate more reach for “M”! outside our known target groups and think that influencer marketing will have a big impact on the awareness of the magazine.”

Here is another example: 

“Our company works in the meat sector. We are a family business, and our vision is to become the go-to local neighborhood store, offering exceptional quality products.

To achieve this, we are gradually revitalizing our brand, giving it a modern touch and exploring new ways to connect with our customers.

As part of our expansion and marketing strategy, we are considering launching a sub-brand that embodies a more premium experience.

This initiative is designed to appeal to discerning customers and provide them with an upscale offering.”

Presenting your project – What is your overall objective

Although presenting your company may not seem like an obvious element of a project brief, describing the project may be the opposite.

With nearly a decade of experience connecting clients and both marketing and advertising agencies, we have noticed that many elements are often missing in the description of the project or creative brief itself. We have therefore carefully crafted our brief questions to gather the maximum amount of valuable information.

This approach benefits both us and the service providers, allowing us to find the perfect match for our clients.

When presenting your project, make sure to include: 

  • The context – where does this project stand in terms of your company, your customers, your industry? 
  • The goals are you pursuing with this project – try to explain them at both a marketing and business level (e.g. increase sales, expand target audience, improve brand image etc.)
  • Your budget – make sure to specify whether this is a monthly or set budget
  • Your desired deadline or timeline 
  • The skills do you feel are necessary to make this project successful? – Make sure to highlight all the skills you think will be required (e.g. not just content marketing, but copywriting, video creation and editing, video production etc.)
  • Why you require an external agency

Real-life examples: 

“We are a fashion company for B2B companies (uniforms, etc.) in the start-up phase.

We come from the industry and are currently in the process of legal registration of the company and its name. We have clients in our portfolio, which include medium and large international companies.

We are looking for an agency that can develop at least a first Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with the possibility of future developments within the next month

We are looking for an e-commerce website that a payment gateway, and a private area for each of our customers. In addition, the website must be responsive and suitable for use on any mobile device.

The site should also be able to integrate with the systems of the transportation and distribution companies from which we would buy the goods. 

In a second phase, the website should be made possible to integrate with an ERP for SMEs (e.g. Holded) and accounting services.

We are looking for a service provider who can also act as a long-term consultant, advising us on creative projects and being our partner, working with an agile approach.

We are willing to work in phases if necessary and we are quite flexible. Our budget is likely to be less than €20,000 in total, but we are also open to recommendations from the agency.”

Explaining why you wish to work with an agency, your expectations, and constraints

Finally, each brief should explain why you are looking to outsource your project and what constraints, expectations, and limitations you may have for your future collaboration.

First, be sure to include in your marketing brief, your main reason for outsourcing your project.  What can an agency offer that you do not have in-house?

Be sure to mention if you have worked with an agency in the past.  The reason for this is that the service provider will have an idea if the client already has systems in place for working with external providers. 

Every collaboration is unique, just like every client and every agency.  Let the agency know:

  • The expectations of the collaboration
  • How often you want to meet 
  • How much consulting you need 
  • The ideal result and objectives of the project
  • The communication channels you want to use etc. 

But just as well, make sure to include in your brief any constraints you feel could affect the collaboration in any way:

  • Any technical constraints
  • Functional constraints (you’ll need a translation of the project in multiple languages, for your international team to be able to understand and use it) etc. 

Creating a brief with Sortlist

When creating a project brief for a particular service provider, customers often submit a PDF document that cannot be modified. This can be a challenge if there are elements they want to change before the collaboration begins.

With the Sortlist brief, however, our clients have the advantage of being able to access their project brief at any time through our portal.

If your budget changes, you need additional skills, or you need to completely rethink your project or business objectives, you can easily revisit your brief and make the necessary adjustments. Our platform gives you the flexibility to create, update and refine your brief as needed.


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