How good are your briefs? 7 top tips to select the best-fitting agency

17 June 2016, Blog

One of the reoccurring topics of conversation with fellow agencies is the varied quality of briefs received from prospective clients. It can really be the case of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Yet a good brief can make all the difference to the quality of agencies responding to your needs and therefore ultimately the outcome of your communications programme.

Briefs that frustrate agencies will inevitably lead to some of them deciding not to take part as they will weigh up whether it is worth the time and effort. Indeed, I am aware of an increasing number of agencies who are focussing on creating their own business opportunities rather than getting involved in beauty parades.

So below is an agency perspective on how clients can effectively use the pitch process to attract the best-fit agencies for their requirements.

1. Clearly set out ‘why you want a communications programme’ and how this links to your strategic objectives. Too often briefs focus on communications outputs such as generating more national media coverage or developing a thought leadership position. But the brief needs to state what you want communications to achieve for your business – for example sales of a new product, addressing misconceived perceptions, supporting a smooth company merger or acquisition or attracting new talent with values that match yours.

2. Don’t lay it on a plate. Some briefs provide too much and don’t ask enough of the agency – for example they list stakeholders, messaging and even tactical activities. Make your agencies think for themselves. Keep the brief exactly as the terms suggests, BRIEF. It should provide an overview of the business, its strategic focus and communications activities and successes to date. Leave the rest to the agency to work out and in doing so provide a test of how hard they are prepared to work for your business. Such an open ended approach will also help build on any preconceived ideas that you may have had already about the approach to and eventual direction of your communications programme; or indeed even change your thinking completely for the benefit of your business.

3. Visit prospective agencies as part of the briefing session –  we all know that the best client-supplier relationships are based on a strong chemistry between the two parties. This can be quite difficult to determine if you have had a couple of phone conversations pre-pitch or are meeting your prospective agency for the first time at the presentation stage. Meet them in their own environment as it can tell you a lot about the agency and the team that might be working for you – from the way they welcome you to how they have prepared for the initial meeting.

4. Don’t pigeon hole your communications providers. The boundaries of communications are now more blurred than we have ever known. Be open minded as to the type of communications, and therefore specialist(s), that you require.

5. Allow yourself to be challenged – an inquisitive agency that interrogates your brief can help give you new perspectives on your communications requirements. The intelligence behind their questioning can also be a sign of how well they understand your business, its markets and operating environment and therefore ability to provide a strategic response. I can recall one marketing head visiting our offices and at the end of the meeting explaining that our session had constituted a briefing and that he wanted a response based on what we’d got out of him.

6. Give an indication of budget. It means agencies have some parameters in which to develop, implement and measure a communications programme. Otherwise how long is a piece of string. Perhaps consider asking for communications proposals which respond to two or three budget levels giving you a menu of options in which to compare the different agency offers.

7. And last but not least, tell agencies what success will look like for you so that it encourages them to think carefully about how they are going to measure the impact of the communications so that it provides the desired return on investment.

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