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Writing an ace website brief

Categories: Learning things, Useful/interesting

Caveat: this post is focused mainly on arts venues briefing for a new website with online ticketing integration – but there are helpful nuggets which can apply to all kinds of brief.

Crucial to any project, the brief is an opportunity to clearly set out what you want a new website to achieve. It’s also a useful reference to help choose the right agency, ensure requirements are being met during the project, and to evaluate the completed project. So, getting the brief right will set you up for success.

Before you start

If you’re sitting down to write a brief it’s highly likely that you aren’t happy with your current website. We often receive briefs detailing current failings – which is useful, but focusing solely on negatives of the current website can be limiting.

So, before you start writing, think about what you’d like to be achieving in a year, three years, and five years time. And think big! If what you’re looking for isn’t possible within the budget, a good agency will always let you know. Equally, we may well have smart solutions meaning that what you think may be impossible is perfectly achievable.

It’s important to provide plenty of information – and ask the right questions – to get the most meaningful and useful information from the agencies who respond.

Budget and deadline

For any project, the main limitations are the budget and deadline.

When it comes to budget, be realistic – and honest. If you don’t want to specify a single figure, a ballpark range e.g. £35k-£45k is still useful but always include your top budget.

Agencies have work planned-in well in advance, so your deadline may determine whether a project is feasible or not. Be clear about whether your deadline is set in stone or flexible; keeping in mind it’s generally better to do the job well than become wedded to an unnecessary deadline.

Pick up the phone

Don’t be afraid to call agencies for an informal chat about the project before you have a completed brief. We love to talk about this stuff! The questions you get can help inform what to include in the brief, and those conversations might also help you decide who to send it to.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your ticketing service provider. They can help put you in touch with agencies they know have the right experience or who’d be a good fit – and they might also have handy technical specifications that you can include in the brief.

What should your brief include?

Introduction to your organisation

If you have a vision and/or mission, this is a good place to put it – but be succinct. Include information about the organisation, and help people understand what you do and why you do it.

Be sure to include practical information such as the size of your venue, the types of events you programme and your seasons, and what you know about your audiences. Avoid ‘assumed knowledge’ and, where possible, use data to back-up the information you’re providing.

What are you looking for in an agency?

The project will see the launch of a new working relationship, as well as a new website, so explain clearly what you’re expecting from an agency. Consider the skill gaps in your organisation, and how you’d want to work together.

Talking to agencies’ current clients can be enlightening, so consider asking for references.

Project objectives

Outline what you want this project to achieve by thinking about things like:

  • What are the current challenges on the website?
  • Do you have existing data you can share (from the CRM or analytics), and are there any specific KPIs you’d like to improve?
  • Day-to-day, what are you expecting from a new website? Will it be more efficient? Easier to use? Will it do certain things the same way? Who’ll be using it?
  • How do you want audiences to engage with the site, and should the site change audience behaviour?
  • Consider organisational goals. Are there areas you’d like the website to support such as income generation or audience development?

Reference sites

This is where you tell us what you like / dislike about other websites, but don’t be limited to similar organisations or the work of a few agencies. Think big, and look outside the sector. It can also be useful to specify who your competitors/peers are – or who you’d like them to be.

Technical requirements

Each project will have specific technical requirements, such as ticketing system integration. Providing as much information as possible will help agencies respond with realistic solutions and costs.

Ongoing development and support

Outline how you’d like the partnership to continue once the site is live e.g. service level agreements, hosting requirements, support etc. This should include the amount of ongoing support you think you’ll need, or any questions you have about how this is delivered.

Who’s who

List out key stakeholders, decision makers, and project managers – including anyone who’ll be reviewing agency responses, or who’ll be working on the project.

The details

Don’t forget to include the following important points:

  • Budget
  • Deadlines – including the date by which agencies need to respond, dates for pitches/interviews, and the  date by which you’ll appoint an agency, as well as the project deadline
  • What agencies’ responses need to include, and what your decision-making process will be. (Consider what information will help you make your decision e.g. evidence of experience in the sector, technical ability, meeting a specific deadline, references from clients etc.)
  • Contact details for any questions about the brief

Also bear in mind that the length of your brief is likely to be replicated by agencies, so be clear if you want a short ‘Expression of Interest’ or for responses to be limited to a set number of pages.

Think big, be yourself and collaborate

The brief is the first stage in an exciting project and, although it can feel overwhelming if you’ve never written one before, getting it right is the best possible start to a new project.

Write in a way that you’re comfortable with. Your tone and use of language can give agencies an understanding of what it might be like to work with you, and whether or not you’ll be a good fit with them.

But don’t feel you have to write a brief on your own. Talking with colleagues, your ticketing service provider, and any agencies you might like to work with should make for an easier process – and result in the best brief.

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