How to write a brief for a digital agency

Briefs play a key role in selecting an agency and set your project up for success. To help you craft an excellent brief, we've laid out what makes a great brief for digital projects.

Selecting the right digital agency for your organisation is a major decision, and one that will shape the digital projects you deliver. Any competent agency will deliver work that meets the requirements outlined in your brief, but a great agency will do far more, ensuring you get the best possible outcomes for your project.

When you’ve decided it’s time to draw upon the skills of a digital agency, you’ll need to write a brief that outlines what you are hoping to achieve and the resources you have available. Rather than simply thinking of your brief as an obligatory or contractual requirement of running a compliant tender process, we recommend that you think of it as an opportunity to find the absolutely ideal agency to support your organisation. In addition, an excellent brief will allow agencies to understand your challenges and think creatively to come up with the best possible solutions to reach your goals.


The key reason for writing a great brief is to allow you to select the best possible digital agency for your unique set of requirements. A well-written brief will also save you time in the long run, as the process of scoring the responses will be far easier.

Unclear, or overly ‘open’ briefs tend to generate responses you can’t meaningfully score against, so you’ll be left struggling to decide which agency to appoint. Conversely, if you write an overly prescriptive brief, you won’t present agencies with the opportunity to shine, or demonstrate their distinctiveness. If you specify that agencies must provide large amounts of detail, you’ll have to fairly assess all of that material to make an informed decision. If you are tendering publicly, you may get many responses, so asking for too much detail can leave you with an unmanageable workload.

Great briefs find a good middle ground between these factors. They are concise but include the relevant context. They invite strong responses because they are sharp and to-the-point, but not overly prescribed.

When you create a brief and send it out into the world, it’s likely six or more teams will begin working hard to deliver a creative and thoughtful response. They’ll likely spend many days, or even weeks working on it. Only one will be successful, but you can respect their time by asking the right questions, keeping things concise where possible, and structuring the way you invite responses such that it minimises effort that doesn’t add value to the process.

To this end, many organisations have now signed the ‘positive pitch pledge’, a joint initiative by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. This pledge commits organisations to following key principles to make the pitching process more intentional, accountable, and responsible. We recommend reviewing the pledge as its principles are useful for running a great pitch process for both parties.


We’ve read hundreds of briefs over the years, so we know the key information that a good brief should always include. To set your agency selection process up for success, make sure to include the following information:

Objectives: Clearly set out what you are looking to achieve, and what metrics or benchmarks you’ll be using to determine success. This allows agencies to suggest creative solutions that might differ from what you originally thought you required but will better achieve your objectives. A strong response will speak directly to your objectives, rather than focusing specific technologies or methods.

Partnership: What are you looking for in a supplier? Is this a one-off project, or the start of something bigger? Provide some guidance on what your ideal type of agency relationship looks like. Cultural fit is such an important part of finding the right agency, so be transparent about the qualities you are looking for.

Technology: Do you need to use a specific technology for your project? Is this a must have or simply a preference? If you’re technology-agnostic, outline the main qualities you are looking for from the ideal solution. For example, you might be open to suggestions on which CMS to use, but have a preference for one that is flexible, secure, and has no licencing fees. That helps narrow the field, so you only get agencies with the right experience responding.

Content: Consider what you want to do with your existing content and make this clear up-front. Do you want to migrate all your old content to the new website? Do you have internal resource to do this, or will you require support? We recommend conducting a content audit ahead of time to help inform this question. The amount of content migration required can have a large impact upon the costs of the project, so it is really helpful to make this clear.

Design: Have you already developed a set of digital brand guidelines, or will you want to create those as part of the project? Will the project be applying a brand that’s already developed, or will it include a re-brand which you’d like expert assistance with? Provide agencies with an idea of the style you are looking for. It’s helpful to provide examples, such as a list of sites you aspire to. Don’t feel like you should only list design examples from within your sector. For example, if you’re a university, don’t feel you should only be looking to university websites for inspiration. Include great examples of design even if they’ve never been applied to your sector before.

Users: Provide a concise summary of what you know about your existing users. How do they find the existing site? Are there any common pain points you’ve identified? If you’re embarking on a project that’s aimed at attracting new types of users, describe the sort of reach you might anticipate in the future.

Integration with third-party systems: Always list any essential integrations for your project and the platforms they relate to. Your site might have a need to integrate with a specific CRM, payment gateway, or collections management software, which will require specialist skills in the agency’s tech team. Being upfront about your tech stack means you can be sure you’re choosing the agency with the right skills for the job.

Dependencies with other projects: Be clear if your brief represents a stand-alone project or forms one part of a larger digital transformation. It’s useful to know which elements could flex, and which are set by the needs of the wider project.

Timeline: Lay out clearly when you need the work to be completed. Be sure to mention any hard deadlines, such as events, that are inflexible and must be met. Agencies have to juggle studio capacity so being clear about the timeline lets them plan accordingly. Don’t set hard deadlines if you actually have flexibility. The ideal agency might not respond to your brief because they would miss a launch date you have set just because it felt right.

Stakeholders: Being clear about who will be consulted, and who is responsible for sign-off helps agencies tailor their response. It’s also a crucial exercise to conduct yourself. Mapping out who your stakeholders are and ensuring they are aligned is crucial to delivering successful digital projects.

Budget: Digital projects can vary hugely in costs depending on your requirements, and a budget helps agencies to understand what scope of work we should be pitching. Even if you don’t have an exact budget, you should provide a range so suppliers can understand if they might be a good fit. If you don’t provide a budget, you risk not receiving responses from high-calibre suppliers who won’t bid on work with no stated budget.

Alongside providing a number or range, it’s also worth noting if this figure includes or excludes VAT. You should also state if the budget is for the development of the project only, or if it needs to accommodate costs for post-launch maintenance. Make this clear as it may affect a great agency’s decision to bid for the work or not.

Response: State what format(s) you want the response to be provided in, when the deadline to respond is, and how you’ll score the responses.


If your brief contains all the information listed in the previous section, you’re off to a great start. To make a truly great brief, you need to layout the challenge you want solved, provide insightful context, but not be overly prescriptive in how you seek to solve it.

Let the agency leverage their experience and expertise to suggest the ideal solution. This will facilitate better work and ultimately lead to better results for you.

You also need to set clear rules for how the agencies can respond to your brief, so you get the most useful answers possible. Again, this is about finding an ideal middle ground between being too open-ended, and overly prescriptive. Inviting responses with no word limit means agencies can go wild listing every possible way they can meet your needs. You’ll end up with responses that are too long and hard to score. Similarly, overly prescriptive yes/no questions don’t allow for creative responses and don’t let you separate an okay response from an excellent one. We recommend setting 500-1500 word wordcounts for your main qualitative questions, with shorter word counts for more specific questions about experience with given tech platforms or tools.

Alternatively, you can simply specify a total allowable length for the response document, such as 15 pages. That way the agency can make the decision of what to emphasise and allocate space to. That will ensure that you won’t need to score War and Peace 10 times over!

Finally, make sure that when you’re putting together your list of requirements, you synthesise them into a coherent whole. Often complex projects will receive requirements from several different departments in an organisation. These requirements can overlap, repeat, or sometimes even contradict one another. So go beyond simply making a list and think about how you can condense that list into a single coherent set of requirements.


To keep your brief concise, we also recommend providing the opportunity for agencies to ask questions as part of the process. When writing a clear and concise brief, you don’t want to be trying to answer every possible question an agency might have. Setting up a dedicated Q&A session that agencies can attend to ask questions means you can keep the brief itself concise and address any questions as they arise.

The Q&A session itself is also a useful exercise for you, as well as for the agencies. The questions they ask will help you understand how they are interpreting your brief, and you can make sure to point them in the desired direction if any element of your brief is being interpreted differently to how you expected. If an agency asks insightful questions, that’s a useful signal that they understand what you’re trying to achieve.


This guide should help you to craft an excellent brief that will invite responses from high-calibre agencies. If you’ve got everything you need to create that brief, then you’re ready to kick off the agency selection process. Good luck, and who knows, maybe you’ll see a response from Numiko!

If you’re not yet at the stage where your organisation understands the need for your digital project, we can help with the creation of a strong business case and provide you with research. The outputs of this work can allow you understand what you need and get buy-in from the wider organisation. Book a call with us and let us know more about your project.

Set your project up for success by engaging stakeholders from the start with an effective plan.