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How to brief a PR agency

Posted by Sanjay Dove on 29th November 2018

Over the past four years at Wildfire I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a great number of new-business pitches.

When I first got involved as a junior member of the team, it was a chance to help shape the campaigns and tactics that we would propose to our new hopeful client. But now as a senior account manager, the thing that interests me more in a brief is the strategy — and more specifically, your marketing strategy, and not just what our PR strategy will be.

It was a video of Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson implying that communications only accounts for around 8% of marketing that really got me interested in strategy. That, and my desire not to feel like a small part in a big machine.

So, I went on to complete Mark Ritson’s Mini-MBA in marketing. It has completely opened my eyes up to the wider picture of marketing, and crucially from a PR point of view, it has helped me frame exactly what I want to see in a brief.

And as Ritson has argued before, a brief to an agency is not something you can do at the last minute — and it starts way before you actually put pen to paper. He actually believes that the state of briefing communications agencies is so bad in his experience that he recommends marketers go on a course to learn how do it properly.

However, if you follow these guidelines, which I learned from the great man himself, you can probably save yourself the time and cost of that course:

1.    Finish your marketing strategy

The best briefs we get are absolutely clear on how we fit into the wider marketing picture — and that picture usually includes (ideally) one or (at a stretch) two clear objectives that you are working towards as a marketer. We need to know how PR affects your business, and why you’re doing PR in the first place. We’re not an agency that will be happy just chucking out a couple of corporate press releases a month. Our best clients consider us as strategically integral to their organisation, and it’s for these clients where we make the biggest difference.

So, finish your marketing strategy properly. On so many occasions, we get approached by companies who are in the middle of finishing their marketing strategy, or more worryingly, don’t have one at all. PR is one of the many marketing ‘tools’, so how are you going to know what tools you need for the job if you haven’t worked out the job yet?

2.    Show us your segmentation, targeting and positioning

If you’ve finished your marketing strategy, you’ll have done your market segmentation, targeting and positioning, so do take the time to show us. Tell us how you’ve split up your market, whether it’s by geography, industry, job level or — if you’re really keen — audience ‘behaviour’. Tell us why you’re opting for certain targets and not others. And, based on your research of your target segments and your competition, tell us how you’re positioning yourself to each of those targets. What’s your brand personality as a result of all this work? If you could compare yourself to a car or football team, what car or football team would you be? What are you standing for and what are you standing against?

Many companies from whom we receive a brief don’t include any of this information, and yet it’s the most important thing you can tell your PR agency. Which is strange because segmentation, targeting and positioning are the most important parts of marketing full stop. You can’t do strategy without it, so if you don’t tell us how you’re approaching these three things, it makes us wonder why you’re indulging in PR in the first place.

3.    Outline your marketing funnel — and tell us your conversion rates

Most marketers work towards a sales funnel of some sort within their organisation, so tell us how your target segments fit in whichever sales funnel you use — and crucially, tell us your conversion rates because they tell us so much about what the marketing and PR objectives need to be. Here’s an example:

In this example, it’s pretty clear what PR needs to fix — first we need to address the fact that nearly half (45%) of your market doesn’t know you exist, and secondly we need to know why those who have heard of you aren’t considering you seriously.

4.    Tell us simply what your market thinks of you

Within your target segments only, tell us what people think of you — both customers and non-customers. Tell us why you win business. Tell us why you don’t win business. What are you good at? What are you not good at? All this information is gold dust in delivering a PR strategy and campaigns that actually work. And if you consider the funnel example above, it’ll help us frame how we’re going to push your market from awareness to consideration.

5.    Tell us your marketing objectives

Our PR objectives should ideally be the same as your marketing objectives, which I personally believe should be centred around the specific audiences within your target segments (and of course SMART). So, as a result of the PR activity, what do you want your audiences to think, feel and do, exactly? What are the three things you want your audiences to think about when they think about your brand? What specific part of the funnel do you need us to address?

6.    Do nothing else — literally

Once you’ve managed to commit the first five steps to paper, stop right there. That’s all we need. I would advise against being one of those companies that over-briefs its agencies by telling them your creative ideas or how many press releases you want a month. That sort of brief is destined to fail before we’ve even get started. Creativity is what we do, so let us do it. After all, it’s what you’re paying us for. If you focus on your marketing strategy, we’ll focus on bringing it to life through a clear PR strategy with creative tactical ideas.

Of course, it’s always good to have a template to work from when putting a brief together. That way you won’t miss anything and the first call we have with you to question your brief will be fairly straightforward. One of the best templates around is within the PRCA’s “briefing an agency” guide. It helps outline what you should have in a brief and how you might want to go about structuring it.

Give it a go, and we’ll look forward to working with you.

Sanjay Dove

A senior account manager at Wildfire, Sanjay has extensive experience with executing campaigns for brands in the IT, cybersecurity, marketing tech, semiconductor and consumer tech industries — with notable clients including Acquia, RepKnight and Samsung. He is equally at home working with small startups to build their brand awareness and credibility, and working with the big tech brands to manage their reputation within their given industries. Sanjay joined the agency in October 2014 after working for a couple of years in technology copywriting and sports PR. An English Language graduate from the University of Manchester, and a Journalism postgraduate from the University of Salford, Sanjay confesses to being a bit of a grammar nerd. While away from the office, he enjoys playing cricket, watching Chelsea play football, listening to jazz, and playing the piano and the drums. But not all at the same time. Obviously.