For much of the work we produce, the whole process starts with a brief and a pitch.
At this early stage, we're given a glimpse of what the clients and their users need, and some of the recommendations or constraints to consider. There are a range of possible solutions for most 'problems' we're asked to solve, and the detail discovered and choices made along the way will determine which one is best. Each of those solutions are likely to have different components, and require a different amount of effort to achieve.
Due to the fact that it can be very costly and time consuming to put together numerous ideas, each agency pitching for the work will usually present one of two possible solutions. We're also often asked to provide an estimate of what the solution will cost, the theory being that is this will enable clients to get the best value for their budget. The obvious difficulty for the client in trying to compare potential suppliers at this stage is that it's not only the estimated costs that differ, but the solutions too.
Let's use an analogy here: when you're building a house, you go through a specific process to work out what exactly it is you want. There are some assumptions that can be made, including that fact that you'll need a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, that the building should be warm, dry, safe and secure. Beyond that, there are a huge range of variables, each requiring different amounts of time and types of materials to create. Once you have made decisions about what you want based on your budget, needs and preferences, then you have a requirement. At this point, you can compare costs from suppliers to find the best value for money.
If you think about it, building a digital solution is really very similar to building a house -- so why should the process we use to plan it be any different?
In some cases, our clients give us a lot of detail about what is needed, a budget to work to, and the time to delve into a range of ideas; here, it's simpler for us to suggest a relevant solution and ballpark estimate on costs that they're likely to be happy with.
In other cases, we're given no visibility of the target budget. Ideally, in these situations we would present a range of solutions with their relative costs, but, as touched on earlier, this requires a huge investment of time and money which few agencies can afford. What generally happens, then, is we have to pick one or two possible solutions of many and give ballpark estimates for those. These could end up being relevant, or too basic, or too expensive -- we're essentially going in blind, which ultimately leaves both us and the client at a disadvantage when it comes to pitching relevant work.
A pitch is a great way for clients to assess what different agencies are capable of in terms of strategic insights and creative ideas. But a brief without a budget attached is like asking, 'How much will you charge to build me a house?', or 'How long does it take to get from London to Paris?'. The realistic answer is: 'It depends'. The choices made along the way will determine the solution, and the solution will determine the cost.
When potential clients are able to tell us plenty about what they need (no matter how complex) and give us a clear budget to work towards, we can truly work with them -- and ultimately present a relevant solution that will fit all their business requirements and that users will love. Which, at the end of the day, is what we all want.