The way you brief your PR agency will lay the foundations for success. Get it right to generate the best results.
You’ve landed on this page because you’re ready to invest in PR.
Your brand is about to get a major boost. Your website is about to see its rankings climb on Google search. Organic traffic and leads will surge. People across the industry will be clamouring for jobs at your company. And your CEO will become famous…
…you’re about to throw good money at an incredibly frustrating relationship in return for a few scraps of coverage and an expensive but awkward Christmas lunch.
Which scenario you get is really down to you. Because getting amazing results means appointing an excellent agency, and building an effective relationship with them. And it all starts with the PR brief. I’ll help you get it right by explaining how to brief a PR agency the right way.
Educate yourself on PR basics
If you’re totally new to PR, then first it’s worth educating yourself on what PR is and what it isn’t. It’ll help you set realistic goals, have meaningful conversations with agencies, produce a solid PR brief and get the best result.
Before you start writing your PR brief, or speaking to agencies, gather your core team together and hash out your PR requirements. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? Who are you trying to reach and influence? Has anyone worked with a good agency in the past?
Once you know the answers, you’ll be able to create a brief that reflects what you actually want.
Whoever in your company is going to be part of the team that selects the agency will need to sign off the brief. This is important – don’t make agencies pitch for a brief that isn’t agreed – you’ll waste a lot of their time and it’ll be awkward when they present their proposal to your CEO and she asks them “why are you targeting small businesses when our priority for the year is teachers?”
What should a PR brief include?
These are the sections that are essential to any good PR brief:
Company info: provide the basics here. I usually think one line of background with a link to your website is enough. If your website doesn’t provide a good overview of your company, you need more than a PR agency.
Objectives: what are you trying to achieve with PR? Are you looking for brand recognition? Leads? To raise the profile of your leadership team? To improve your reputation? Organic web traffic? You might want to look at our post on 37 PR objectives and how to measure them. If you’ve educated yourself on PR, then you should be able to set realistic objectives.
Target audiences: who are you targeting? This is really important, because some agencies are specialists in certain industries (like tech PR or B2B PR), while others are very familiar with certain audiences (like small businesses). If your audience profile is included, then agencies will be able to establish quite easily whether they’re the right fit.
Competitors: without going into too much detail, it’s worth listing your core competitors. That will give the agencies context on how you fit into your market.
Spokespeople: this one isn’t essential, but it’s helpful for any PR agency responding to a brief to know who they’ll be promoting. Is it just your CEO or are there subject matter experts within the business who’ll be your spokespeople?
Core issues and stories: it’s good to highlight what stories you want to focus on. Your agency will hopefully not be limited to these stories, but they need to know what issues are a priority for you and why. This post on how to determine if your story deserves media coverage will help.
Other marketing activity: it’s really important that your PR agency understands the basics of your marketing strategy. Do you already have an SEO agency (that you expect your PR agency to work alongside)? Are you investing in paid search? What events are coming up? Which events agency is running them? Who makes your lead gen videos and animations?
Budget: now you might be one of those clients who really really resists sharing their budget with potential agencies. But please don’t be. You’re going to have to reveal your budget at some point, and it’s a very useful way for an agency to determine if they can work with you.
Process: explain your process and timeline for choosing an agency.
People: let the agency know who’ll be involved in the decision so they can tailor their pitch.
If you’re totally out of your depth, contact a few agencies, discuss your requirements and ask the one you like the most to help you develop the brief. They probably will.
Then create your longlist
Now’s the time to start scouring the web, scrambling through PR Week’s rankings, mining your network and stalking PR people on social media. You want to create a solid longlist of potential agencies.
And turn it into a shorter list
Please don’t send your brief out to 15 agencies. They’ll all request a call, and you’ll end up giving up a whole day for 30-minute conversations with agencies that will never be right for you.
Instead, dedicate a couple of hours to researching the agencies on your longlist. Check out their websites, peruse their case studies, follow them on social media and read their blogs. You’ll soon get a feel for which agencies might be the right fit, and you’ll have narrowed down your longlist to around five.
Get in touch with your top few
Reach out to your top few (we suggest five maximum). Don’t send them the brief. Instead, ask for a call. On the call, discuss your brief and see how they respond. You’ll be able to judge quite quickly from the call whether you have good chemistry with the agency, whether they can handle your brief and whether you want to work with them.
End the call with the agencies you like by agreeing to send them the brief.
End the call with the agencies you don’t think you can work with by politely telling them it doesn’t really sound like the right fit – please be honest with them. Don’t string them along!
Send the brief to your favourites
You might be wondering why we don’t recommend sending the brief to your longlist, or even your shortlist of five. The answer is that any good agency that wants the work will throw all the resources it can afford at the pitch. This could run into tens of thousands of pounds in agency hours. It’ll only be worth their while to do this if they know they’re in with a chance (e.g. if they’re up against one other agency rather than nine!). The good agencies will bow out of the process if they think the chance of success is too low.
Be respectful throughout the process
Clients often abuse the pitch process and it can be very disheartening for the people working in agencies. So,
Be responsive. If an agency asks a question during the process, answer it as it will guide how they produce the proposal.
Be honest. If the CEO pulls the budget halfway through the process, tell the agencies immediately that the pitch is off. Don’t let them spend another second on the pitch. This happens and they will be okay with it. If your CEO’s other half runs an agency that is pitching, tell the other agencies – they have a right to know that this isn’t a fair pitch.
Don’t keep secrets. If an agency asks who they’re pitching against, tell them. If they want to see your target personas, share them. If they want to know how much you’re spending on paid search, let them.
Review proposals and pitches fairly
Once the proposals or pitches come in, give them each a fair reading. Evaluate them against set criteria and make a decision that you can justify if anyone asks.
At the very least, tell the agencies that weren’t selected that they weren’t selected. You would be disgusted amazed by how many clients are so scared of having that difficult conversation that they just go off the radar. It’s awful. Please don’t be awful.