Working with a PR agency can bring enormous benefits, whatever your organisation.
It can help improve your profile with the right audiences, shape people’s views and stir them into action. However, to achieve the right results you need to make sure you’re clear on exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish. Your reasons for employing an agency will always be unique, so it’s important to pass on all the relevant information to make sure they know your reasoning inside out. This is equally true if you’re inviting agencies to pitch for your business, starting on work with a newly appointed team or even embarking on a new project with an established one.
The best way of making sure an agency understands your thinking is to prepare a brief. This should encapsulate where you’re coming from, where you want to get to and what considerations need to be taken account of along the way. There are many models for writing your document to ensure you give agencies the information they need, and to help them get to grips with what you’re trying to achieve.
Writing a PR brief, especially for the first time, can appear daunting – but don’t be put off. By following a structured approach, it should be easy to set out the information that will make your PR activity more effective.
A comprehensive PR brief should include as many of the following points as possible.
What has led you to this campaign or project?
What are the specific goals you want to achieve through communications activity?
Who are you aiming to influence? Do you want to reach different groups for different reasons?
What do you find are the best ways to reach your audiences, or what do you usually rely on?
What do you want people to understand or do as a result of your communications work?
Are you aware of any difficulties that will need to be addressed?
When do you want activities to happen? How long do you have to prepare?
How much do you have to spend? It’s best to be up-front, as far as possible, as your budget will influence the recommendations agencies will come back with. A range or ballpark figure is fine, but there’s no point in receiving loads of responses based on things you could never afford.
How will you judge whether the activity has been successful?
You may want a PR agency to help you answer some of these questions, based on their experience and resources. That’s fine, but make that clear. Most agencies will be more than happy to work in partnership with you to develop or refine your brief.
Be clear about your goals and who you would like to reach.
The first thing an agency needs to know is a little bit about your background. You may take for granted the unique situation of your organisation, but it’s likely that people on the outside have less knowledge of the subtleties.
Provide as much information as you can to give your agency an understanding of where your organisation began and where it is today. Give an overview of what you do and the services you provide. You might like to include pointers on other organisations that operate in the same field and how you would like to appear distinct from them. If you can, include information on any other marketing or corporate plans your organisation may already have in place. PR campaigns work best when they reflect or complement wider organisational objectives.
It helps to make clear from the outset exactly what you want to achieve from communications activity and make it as measurable as possible. You may have specific aims – such as recruiting a certain number of volunteers, driving up helpline calls, or promoting a new resource – or you may simply want to raise your profile within certain areas. Even if your goal is general awareness-raising, it helps to think through exactly how you would like people to perceive your organisation. As an innovative service provider? As a leading campaigning voice? Think about your ideal outcome and condense this into a few clear points.
Your audiences will depend on your objectives. You may have a clear idea of who you need to communicate with, with detailed demographic information on supporters, service users, policymakers or commissioners. Or you may be looking for your agency to help define your priorities. Either way, sharing as much information as possible will help them make appropriate recommendations.
This is another area where you may be looking for an agency to supply fresh thinking, but you may be clear already that the best way of communicating with your target audience is through the tabloid press, regional radio, social media or face to face. Whatever your ideas, share them for discussion.
Your exact messages may differ from campaign to campaign and may need further work to ensure they are attuned to your target audiences. However, giving your agency an idea of what you want to get across, in the form of a few bullet points, will give them a useful starting point to work from.
You may be aware of factors that could affect your work with an agency or the outcome of your campaign – for example policy changes, competitor activity or media fatigue with the issues you represent. By giving your agency warning of these factors, you will give them the best chance of planning around them to maximise your chances of success.
You may be looking for a year’s worth of ongoing PR support or for help with a particular campaign over a shorter period. Explaining the timescale for your planned activity will help agencies propose the most appropriate tactical options, based on things like media lead-times, significant external opportunities, or the practicalities of organising an event.
Your budget will dictate to an extent what kind of communications programme is possible – for example, a small budget may prevent you from holding a conference for 500 professionals, but might enable you to reach them by means of a new online resource. Giving an agency this kind of information up-front will allow them to present you with effective but realistic ideas.
Honest evaluation must be at the heart of all PR campaigns. As the client, you need to be able to judge the success or otherwise of activity and decide whether changes should be made in future. Think about what success would look like for you and how it could be measured. Set clear criteria for reporting results early, as this will allow your agency to build your expectations into everything they do.
You may have additional information that you want to convey or other supporting documents that could clarify points. The more you can share, the closer your agency will come to creating a programme of activity that’s just right for your needs.
You might be surprised. Many of our not-for-profit clients find that writing a brief down in black and white is highly rewarding and revealing. It can help clarify, for example, why certain PR activities may not have worked for you in the past or what really shapes your image in other people’s eyes.