How To Grow Your Revenue Without Selling A Thing: An Intro To Brief Making

Oliver Duffy-Lee
May 30, 2022
5 Min Read

2 Types of People

“Olie, there are two types of people in this world…

Brief Takers and Brief Makers…

We need an agency of Brief Makers, or we’ll slowly fade into the background”

At the time I didn’t realise how true Patrick’s words were.

I was quite a petulant young chap, and he was prone to a passionate speech every so often, and I thought it was another of those… It’s not the Patrick’s speeches were nonsense – he was always on the money – just sometimes they weren’t needed at 9.10 on a Tuesday morning, when I’d just popped my head in his office to say ‘Hi’.

But Patrick had nailed it with his Brief Making speech. He was building his agency to sell, and I was a key part of his plans. Not only did he need me to bring in new business, he needed me to maximise the spend of our existing clients. He needed me to become a Brief Maker.

Fortunately, I understood the assignment. Over the next few years, I grew our team’s (we called them Ponds) accounts from £25,000 per year in sales to over £4m at our peak.

And Brief Making was a huge part of this growth.

But what on earth is Brief Making? And why are you talking to us about it?

Great questions… Let’s dive in.

Brief Taking Vs Brief Making

Brief Taking is really easy. You sit and wait for a client to give you a brief or project. When they do, you say thank you. You execute the project and give it back to them.

There’s nothing wrong with this – in fact it’s essential. You need some excellent Brief Takers in your team.

The issue is we need more. As agencies, we can’t simply be Brief Takers because it leaves us vulnerable. If we’re just an extra pair of hands – albeit specialised hands – we’re vulnerable from attack. Either they bring our service in house, or a cheaper (equally reliable) alternative comes along and 'woos' your client. If you’re only Brief Taking, this is a real risk.

So what do Brief Makers do?

Brief Makers are always on the front foot looking for opportunities. Opportunities for your clients to take on new activities and to help them progress, and of course opportunities for the agency to support them in these activities.

No alt text provided for this image

In short, Brief Makers look for Win/Wins.

When you have a team of Brief Makers, your clients feel supported, not just on delivery, but on strategy too. When you’re in this position, your agency is far less vulnerable from attack from other, cheaper competitors.

So how can you instil a culture of Brief Making?

It starts with one crucial element

Client Insight

On a scale of 1-10, how much insight do you have into your client’s businesses?

For example…

Do you know what their 5 year strategy is?

Do you know who their closest competitors are?

Do you know which of her senior leaders the CEO likes and doesn’t like?

Do you know what the Marketing Director’s individual targets are?

It doesn’t matter how good you are at spotting opportunities, if you have limited client insight, you can’t Brief Make effectively.

Without client insight, Brief Making sounds overly salesy and opportunistic.

For example…

Low client insight:

I was thinking, maybe we should create a nice brand video to sit on the home page? It will help warm up cold visitors.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not ground-breaking either.

Let’s try with more insight:

High client insight:

As we know that you want to become the Sustainability Leader in your market in the next 5 years, and we’ve seen that your nearest competitor is launching their new range in 6 months’ time, we think now is the time to get ahead and get our sustainability message out there…

There are a number of ways we can approach it, and we’ve got some thoughts if you’re open to hearing them…

It’s a simple example, but you get the point.

No alt text provided for this image

Both cases are suggesting new projects for your client, one of them is far more compelling than the other.

Client insight is the key ingredient to good Brief Making, and if you want to gain insight, you need to go deeper in your client relationships.

Don’t settle for transactional relationships with your clients where you only speak to them when you need something or they do – strive for better. Take the time to understand them, as people, and their goals. Be curious and interested in the deeper client strategy. Even if you’re simply the Content Agency, but interested in what the performance team are up to – curiosity creates insight.

Something to do today: The Book of ideas

If you want to kick start your Brief Making journey, create your very own Book of Ideas.

It’s really simple… Open a spreadsheet and create 3 columns.

No alt text provided for this image

Column 1 – Client Name

Column 2 – Client Context

Column 3 – Client Idea

Then write all your client names in column 1.

Your challenge then is to create at least one Brief Making idea for each client, but each idea must be rooted in a specific context to give it credibility.

Here’s a crucial point that I probably don’t need to mention, but make sure your ideas will genuinely help your clients to reach their goals – no ideas for ideas sake here.

Give it a go, and see how many ideas you can create… Then… Over to you… Reach out to your clients and see if your ideas stand up.

Becoming An Authority Agency

For those of you that don't know me, I'm Oliver Duffy-Lee and I run a company called Authority Agency.

Our mission is simple, we want to help as many scale-up agencies to reach and win high quality international clients as we possibly can, whilst also helping the founders to get more time back in their life at the same time.

If that sounds like you, there are 3 ways we can help you immediately.

The OD-L Podcast

Every day I share my thoughts and insights I have from working in the agency world for over 10 years - each episode is always less than 10 minutes.

You can check that out here:

Free Training

We also run a free Facebook Group and every week we put new training in there for all of our members.

You can join here:


Agency Growth Audit

If you want to move faster, you can book an Agency Growth Audit with one of our Scale Specialists. It's a super-quick, free call where we'll help outline what's slowing your growth and show you what's possible in the next 90 days.

If that's you, can you book here:

I'm very happy to be here on your journey to building the agency of your dreams.

If you ever need any advice, send me a DM.

To your success,


Oliver Duffy-Lee
Authority Agency