You’ve landed on this page because you are ready to invest in PR. Great news! 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.
If you are totally new to PR, then it’s worth educating yourself on what PR is and what it isn’t. This will ensure you set realistic goals, have meaningful conversations with agencies, produce a solid PR brief and get the best result.
You can read books on PR. You can search the web. You can listen to PR podcasts. Or you can sign up for the Ultimate PR Masterclass, Udemy’s best-selling PR course (by yours truly).
Gather your team
Before you start writing your PR brief, or speaking to agencies, it’s important that you gather your core team together and hash out your PR requirements. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? Has anyone worked with a good agency in the past?
This is an essential step in the process, because you need to ensure that when an agency receives the brief (and spends hours responding to it) that the brief is a true reflection of the requirements.
Whoever in your company is going to be part of the team that selects the agency will need to sign off on 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 create really awkward moments 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? A new brand profile? Organic web traffic? You might want to look at our post on 30 PR objectives and how to measure them. If you have 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), 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 are 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 is going to be helpful for any PR agency responding to a brief to know who they will be promoting. Is it just your CEO or are there subject matter experts within the business who will 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 should 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 one of those clients. 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 will be involved in the decision so that they can tailor their pitch accordingly
If you are 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 long list
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 long list of potential agencies.
And turn it into a shorter list
Please don’t send your brief out to 15 agencies. They will all request a call, and you will end up giving up a whole day of your own time having 30-minute conversations with agencies that will never be right for you. And you’ll waste the time of 14 agencies who never really had a chance anyway.
Instead, dedicate a couple of hours to researching the agencies on your long list. 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 long list to around 5.
Bin the NDA idea
You really don’t need anyone to sign an NDA (in case someone in your team suggested it). Your story will not be leaked to the media. Because the media needs a lot of convincing to run your story – journalists are not sitting there at their computers waiting for news to leak! They are swamped with irrelevant news pitches all the time and they don’t have time to investigate your new product!
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 will 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
Now you might be wondering why we don’t recommend sending the brief to your long list, or even your shortlist of five. The answer is simply 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 are in with a chance (e.g. if they are up against one other agency rather than nine!). The good agencies will simply bow out of the process if they think the chance of success if 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. People is the operative word here. You are dealing with people and you need to treat them with the respect that all people deserve. So,
Don’t ask for ridiculous things. We once had a potential client ask us to guarantee that his account manager wouldn’t leave, because they had had staff changes at previous agency. Short of violence and bribery (two things we just don’t do), I have no idea how he thought we were going to deliver on that!
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 are pitching against, tell them. If they want to see your target personas, share them. If they want to know how much you are spending on paid search, let them.
Review proposals / pitches fairly
Once the proposals / 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.