Appointing an agency: how to write the perfect brief

Rob Skinner, founder and managing director at Skout Public Relations, draws upon his 20+ years of experience in PR to offer his take on writing the perfect brief when appointing a PR agency.

Whether you’re embarking on your first foray into PR or you’re on the lookout for a new agency, creating the perfect brief is key. Chances are, you’ve already shopped around and made a shortlist of potential agencies, now your brief is your invitation to pitch and an opportunity to communicate what you’re looking for.

Putting your brief together needn’t be a tedious or onerous process, but it is worth investing some time to optimise responses and give you a better selection to pick and choose from.

From an agency perspective, this is not an excuse to relax efforts or do less work to understand your requirements, it simply means we can identify what the job will entail and work on a highly relevant proposal.

Here are my top tips to help get client-agency relationships off to a great start by ensuring briefs fulfil the job they’re designed to do.

Optimum length and depth

There are no hard and fast rules on the length, but you should aim to make your brief clear, concise and relevant. Whilst you might think that revealing only minimal information will spur the agency to be more creative with their ideas, it may also mean that you get something completely off-piste. Similarly, offering too much irrelevant information can cloud thought processes and result in irrelevant ideas. On the other hand, being too prescriptive and restrictive can stunt creative ideas.

Try to strike a balance, focusing on communicating your business and market landscape and clearly identifying key objectives. If you’re looking to explore how your shortlisted agencies can go above and beyond for you, why not ask them how they could contribute to a wider marketing campaign you’re running? This could spark a key partnership and unearth ideas you hadn’t previously considered.

The price tag is important

Don’t be tempted to ask your shortlisted agencies to recommend their own budget to put the ball back in their court as this can be counterproductive in a number of ways. This could suggest to your prospective agencies that you’re unsure what a realistic budget is or that you don’t have a budget and need a proposal as evidence to fight for one.

If you’re simply looking to see which agency comes in cheapest, this falls under a request for quote rather than a creative proposal. Without providing at least a budget bracket, it’s likely that your agencies will come back with ideas that are completely unrealistic and out of reach.

Be prepared to offer support

However good your brief is, be prepared to support your shortlisted agencies with any questions or additional information requests. Although this does inevitably require some of your time, the more you give, the more you get back.

Proactive agencies will want to meet with you and confirm a few details before they present their proposal. Don’t forget that this stage can be really insightful for you too; giving you an opportunity to open up dialogue, meet the people behind the business and help you decide who you’ll work with best.

Don’t forget the specifics

It can be easy to get carried away with the idea of exciting and creative new ideas during the proposal stage, but it’s important that all campaigns and activities should link directly back to your wider marketing and business goals.

Ensure you clearly outline what these are and communicate what success looks like to you – What metrics matter most to you? What outputs and outcomes do you want to achieve? This should give you more viable options to choose from and help you communicate to your management exactly what you’re hoping to achieve with PR.

A good brief really can help make the final decision process much easier and is vital to a good working relationship with your future agency. Invest the time now and set yourself up for PR success from the get-go.