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How clients need to brief agencies

The secret to getting the best solutions is always to ask the right questions, especially in the briefing process. Clients must dig deep to work out exactly what they want and then ask for this clearly and succinctly. And if you are working on a brief and aren’t sure what to include, remember it is a two-way project, so ask for help from the agency.

Hannah Patel, director at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, says that the perfect brief starts with a transparent, direct discussion on what clients need from the agency, whether it is one they have already appointed or one they are considering appointing, and what added value the agency can bring to the table.

Patel complains that many briefs are too vague these days: “With the rise of requests for international campaigns – Brexit, anyone? – and the need for new services which weren’t traditionally a remit of PR agencies, unclear briefs have become more of a standard. ‘I need Sweden. Oh sorry, Switzerland – well whatever, can you send a quote?’ or ‘We need to think really creative here as we have to distribute four press releases a month’, or ‘I’m not sure of the scope of work. Could you just go away and think of some ideas?’  are just some examples of recent briefs.”

Discussing where briefs can go wrong, Sarah Harris, group commercial director at communications agency TVC group, says: “Our worst kind of briefs are where the clients claim they want creativity and blue-sky thinking, something left-field, or using other cliched phrases – so you work your creative into the ground and give the client the big idea – but what they actually wanted all along is you to do something standard, such as product placement or press trips.”

John Ozimek, director at marketing agency Big Ideas Machine, says that what is even worse is not briefing at all: “Rather than bad briefs, it's sadly all too common to not get any brief at all – or to be expected to develop the brief ourselves based on a vague idea or launch timeline.”

Discussing horrible briefs he does get, Ozimek says: “Often, companies see a brief as some kind of challenge for you to overcome – with the 'reward' of you getting the work if you manage to impress them enough. Or, a CEO with an oversized ego, who thinks it's clever to set an objective which is patently impossible to achieve.

“A good example of the latter was a recent non-UK games company that wanted coverage in top-tier tech and gaming press, but would only pay per result, based on the Alexa ranking of the website on a sliding scale of $50 downwards. So that would be $50 for a piece in VentureBeat or TechCrunch, with all the work to pitch and secure that level of coverage included. We politely declined that opportunity.“

If you want your brief to get you the kind of campaign that wins awards, the advice above should help you on your way. Rule number one is always to set clear goals with measurable and achievable objectives. Ellen Carroll, head of agency Nellie PR, has worked both agency and client-side, so has seen from both sides which briefs work and which don’t. She concludes: “The best PR briefs don’t set themselves up for failure. They're very clear on what's expected, specific in terms of the deliverables required and spell out how success will be measured.”

Top tips for writing briefs

Jenny Wilkinson, senior consultant at agency Aberfield Communications, discusses what agencies really need from written briefs.

“When we receive a brief, what we want to see and know is:

  • Rationale behind the project – what the problem is that needs to be solved.
  • What the objectives are – it’s not enough to say “increased media coverage” or “more followers.”
  • How you need to measure your objectives or what KPIs you need to achieve.
  • Who your audience is – where the insight has come from and why they are your audience.
  • What your budget is – be open about what your budget is so that we can create a proposal that fits.
  • Details  are good – it’s easier for us to filter out details than to work without them.

Don’t expect the written brief to be the end of the briefing process – make yourselves available to answer questions from the agency.

Do be clear, be realistic and ask the agency questions if you’re unsure.

Don’t be vague! Tell us what you want from the campaign and what success looks like to your business and we’ll be able to provide a clear solution that meets those needs.”

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