How to write a digital brief close

David Hart
David Hart
In Codegent College
2nd September 2010
How to write a digital brief

Writing a brief to a digital agency is not easy. You’re asking someone, who possibly knows more about these things than you do, to provide an idea about how they would approach designing and building a site. But in order for them to do that, you have to give them enough information in the first place.

You might feel that this is a bit of an impossible task. I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? It would be like going to the dentist and telling them what grade of silver to use in their amalgams. You’d kind of hope they’d do that stuff for you.

It’s pretty much the same for writing a digital brief. We don’t expect you to be an expert necessarily or tell us what constitutes best practice in web design and build. We just need to get a solid idea of your vision, for us to be able to work out what resources we would need to get it done.

We’ve tried to give you an overview of the things we like to see in a digital brief. And also some of the things that we don’t need to see (may as well save all of our time). For the purposes of this we’re assuming that this is a digital brief where you are asking for a quote, rather than a creative brief.

The Brief
The clue’s in the name and all that. It doesn’t have to be a treatise on why the world is ready for this website. Keep it precise and to the point – we’ll try and do the same. If we need to know more about anything, we won’t be shy when it comes to asking.

What is it exactly?
Ideally you need to be able to sum up in no more than a couple of sentences, what it is. You might need to give some background on your business, but the fundamentals of what you want us to look at should be something we can ‘get’ in a second. After all, if you can’t explain it that way, then how are your end users ever going to?

This is possibly the most important bit of the brief for us. What are you trying to achieve? We can help you with the ‘how’, but only if we know the ‘what’. Objectives such as ‘change perceptions’, ‘increase traffic’, ‘drive sales’, ‘entertain’, ‘educate’ are all good.

What does it need to include? These are the functional elements to the site such as e-commerce, video player, user registration, user-generated content, predictive search facility. Anything above and beyond simple content pages, list it out. You don’t have to include a full functional spec here (unless you’ve already got one lying about). As I said earlier, we’ll almost certainly be coming back to you with a list of questions anyway.

Often the agency will suggest other functionality that you hadn’t considered, but if there is something you absolutely positively need included, this is the time to say.

Technical considerations
You may be open to recommendations and that is totally fine. But if you have a requirement for a particular coding language or need hosting, it’s always best to mention it.

It’s not absolutely critical at the initial stage, but if your deadline is impossibly short, we probably need to know about it now, so we can start to provisionally plan.

This is a divisive subject. The argument goes that if we tell the agency how much we’ve got then that’s how much they’ll quote. Or if you’re looking for the best price, then you might ask a few agencies and see who comes back the cheapest. There is definitely some value in this argument, but it assumes that all pieces of digital work quoted by different agencies will come out exactly the same, just with a different cost.

Obviously some agencies are going to be more expensive than others, but you need to know you’re comparing apples with apples, which is never easy.

The advantage of giving a budget, is that agencies have a better idea of the sorts of time you want them to spend on it. If you’re prepared to pay 1 day of a creative director’s time, you’ll get a different output to the one where you buy 20 days of his or her time.

You’ll also find that if you give a budget, the responses and the amount of work offered by agencies will vary – and then you will be able to really see what you can get for your money.

Some clients will approach the issue of budget by saying: “These are the digital issues/opportunities facing my organisation/brand at the moment and this is my budget. What can you do for me?”

Where others tend to approach it more as: “This is what I think I want. How much will it cost me?”

Neither is wrong, but we think in most case you’ll already have an idea what you want to spend and will it find it easier to see what you can get for that money if all the agencies are responding within the same parameters.

In summary
Your job is to work out who’s going to give you the best work for the best price. To do that you need to make sure that all the agencies you are talking to understand what you want, but you also need to give them the opportunity to do what they do best: ie apply their knowledge and experience to turn your vision into the best it can be.

The best briefs are precise without skimping over the important bits, descriptive without being prescriptive and clearly set the aspirations and boundaries that the agency will be working to.