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Why the success of your project starts with your brief

Sarah Harris

Oct 22 2020

Why the success of your project starts with your brief

The way you approach tenders – and the relationship you have with your digital agency – can set you up for success. But all parties need to be open and honest. Here are some thoughts as to why, and how to get the most from this process.

This is not a rant. But for quite some time now I've wanted to speak up about what it's like to pitch for tenders as a digital agency. It's something we're all used to – it's a fundamental part of the work we do, and the worlds we operate in.

When it goes well, there's lots to be gained by everyone involved, on both the client and agency side. But a few things often get in the way…

There's a right way and a wrong way

Here's an example of a recent experience we had. We were invited to tender for a public sector organisation. There was a lot of work to be done – they asked us to put together a written proposal, and there were also two different tasks for our team to complete.

The long story short? We didn't get the bid. And that's fine.

You win some, you lose some – we're all grown ups, we can handle it.

But then something happened that I'm not OK with. When we received our feedback, we found that we had been scored zero for the tasks we were asked to submit. When we queried this, we were told that since our written proposal had only received so many points in the weighting, they hadn't bothered to look at our task work at all.

In all honesty, I'm still angry about it.

Agencies are people too

At times, there can be a prevailing attitude around digital agencies that sees us treated like cowboy builders – the kind of people who you can't really trust to a) do a good job; or b) not rip you off. The feeling is that we do proposals all the time, that it's no big deal for us to put them together.

Applying for tenders is part of what we do, and yes, we're used to it. But it is a lot of work. And who does that work? Our designers, our strategists, our developers and our researchers. Like all organisations, we are made up of people. They don't deserve to have their efforts completely (and so explicitly) disregarded. I demand more for my team.

Setting up for success

The fact that this kind of thing happens is a real shame, and it is often a result of rigid ideas about what the tender process should look like. It stems from a practice that is very much a one way system, from the organisation putting out the tender to the agencies bidding for the work.

Instead of a hierarchical agency-client tender process that seeks to put an agency to the test, or sets it up to fail, I'd like to see more organisations work together with agencies during this phase.

This will ensure that everyone gets the best results: the organisation will have realistic expectations for what can be achieved within their time frame and budget; they'll select the best agency for the job and nobody's time will be unfairly wasted.

Are you open to the challenge?

At Deeson, we're problem solvers. We work collaboratively with our clients, and this starts with the brief.

We will challenge organisations on the specifics of what they're asking for. We'll tell them if their ambition is bigger than their budget. For example, we might say that they need to lower the scope of their project, or alternatively, that they can have all the features they want but in a slightly trimmed down way.

We won't apply for a tender if we aren't 100% sure we can do a great job. As a premium agency, realistically we won't be the right fit for everyone. In these cases, I'm always happy to suggest other agencies who I think would be more suitable.

Think again about your brief

Perhaps it's time to start thinking about the tender process as a good opportunity to really interrogate your brief. Do you know precisely what you want to achieve, and why? These days, digital agencies are far more than just tech partners, they should always be thinking about your wider business strategy and how they can add value across your organisation as a whole.

If your agency is challenging you during the tender process, then I'd say that's probably a really good sign. If they're asking questions, then they're probably working out how best they can achieve your objectives.

As with everything in business, I appreciate that client organisations want value for money. But when it comes to selecting a proposal I'd caution against false economies – those agencies who promise you the world, but actually can't deliver.

Just like the work we do for our clients, collaboration is key in the tender process. Be open, work with us, and you'll probably have a much better outcome.

Tenders and briefs for digital agencies – my top 5 tips for success

  1. Agencies are people too. Please be respectful of our time and work.
  2. Do your research on your agency. Do they have a reputation for excellence? What are their specialisms? Do they make promises they can't deliver?
  3. Include your budget. Everything is scalable, so the cost of your project depends on the scope of what you want to achieve. Tell us how much you've got to work with and we will find you a solution.
  4. Be transparent and honest. The tender process works best when there is open communication between both parties. Talk to your agencies and tell them what you need. If you need us to sign a non-disclosure agreement, for example, then we'll be happy to do so. Just be open with us about it.
  5. Challenge your brief. If an agency is asking questions about your brief, it's probably a good opportunity to get clarity on the scope and purpose of the project. If renowned agencies are pushing back whilst others are saying it is all possible, then it might be a good idea to ask yourself why…

For some more advice on how best to write a tender for agencies, take a look at this article from the Deeson team.

Sarah Harris

About the author

Sarah Harris

Managing Director

Sarah has worked in a range of client and agency senior digital roles, with extensive background in consumer-facing web and marketing propositions, with years of client services experience within a variety of industries including music, culture & heritage, publishing, mobile, technology and production.