Your agency will appreciate you writing a clear brief, and the process of composing it will help you define your requirements and expectations and help to justify the expenditure to other decision makers in your organisation. They might also have something to contribute to the brief: it shouldn’t be a document written by a committee but it should a document, not just a verbal brief, and it should be drafted by one person and scrutinised by at least one other, preferably more. This is true of a brief for any form of marketing communications, not just PR.
The brief should begin with a concise background statement about your organisation and its positioning: what it does, and for whom; i.e. the brand name and personality; the products or services; the target audience (s), their characteristics, purchasing process (es) and rationale(s). Include information like price points, and the competitive position, where your organisation is now. Explain the current distribution channels and communication channels.
Only when the background is clear should you explain the situation you want to address. What are the objectives? Can they be quantified? What would success look and feel like? Where do you want your organisation to move to (realistically)? Are you defending a position, or attacking another player?
Explain what is required: the tactical manifestation; is it a campaign of press releases … obtaining radio interviews … making MPs sympathetic to a change in the law… or what? If you are open to suggestion, say so, but equally, if there are things your organisation would not countenance, say so early on (it will save you and your agency time and grief later).
Be precise about what messages you want to get over and to whom. If there are a series of different target audiences, identify all of them, what they have in common and what distinguishes them. Do you want to get a message to buyers, to gatekeepers and influencers? Then spell out who these people are and what they are like; possible motivations, objections, or biases. Do you want to talk to your own employees, to your shareholders, to resellers’ employees, to members of local or central government, to regulators? Again spell out likely characteristics.
When you’ve identified target audiences, explain what they are currently likely to think, feel and do. Distinguish between perceptions and behaviour. Then explain what you would like them to think, feel and do in the future. What are the responses you want PR activity to elicit?
How can this change in perception and behaviour be supported: what is the evidence on your side? Evidence may be emotional or rational. Don’t be afraid to use either. Explain the proposition: for each audience answer the question what’s in it for me?
Are there any other things that might be useful to the agency: any stats from market research: any anecdotes from customer-facing staff; any quotes from different stakeholders? What insights can you share about your organisation, your customers, and competitors? Do you need to obtain more insight? The agency may be able to help you to this through desk research to identify agenda points then undertaking interviews or running workshops.
Having set the scene in terms of the requirements, then state the constraints – what are the budget parameters? What are the time scales? What must be avoided?
Finally, a word of caution: Business education can make marketing appear like a physical sciences laboratory – but in real life marketing isn’t even like a social science lab: the role of confounding variables is far greater. It can be useful to write a brief in terms of stimulus and response, and to think in terms of marketing metrics, but PR can’t control events, it can only ever be one of a number of influencing factors.
More specifically, when you spend money on advertising, you are guaranteed exposure; PR may obtain more valuable editorial coverage – but it’s not guaranteed. The way the media portrays your organisation, and the extent, is ultimately the prerogative of journalists and editors, who are themselves subject to a myriad of influences and events. Perhaps PR is more like alchemy than science?
Written by Adrian J Rhodes, MSc. C.MRS. F.CIM Chartered Marketer at AR Consulting.