What makes a successful PR brief?

The brief is often a major cause of mismatched expectations between PR agencies and their clients as this blog post by MSL India points out .

Both PR agencies and clients spend a lot of time and effort to prepare good briefs for pitching as well as for briefing agencies. From the point of view of an in-house communications lead, what makes up a good brief presentation?

Karthik Srinivasan, AVP Corporate Communications at Flipkart.com, says, “It depends on the nature of the brief. Pre-pitch briefs from clients are more generic in nature, aimed at finding out how smart the agency is. Ongoing briefs are different – should be more about sharing ongoing expectations and specific internal things that could potentially impact public perception of the client, positively or negatively. If it is positive, the agency could help make the best of the situation and if it is negative, the agency could again help manage the situation in the best possible manner based on the resources (time and inclination to talk, from client's senior/appropriate management, and facts). In this case, the presence of a smart corporate communications person at the client's side is a big plus.”

Karthik adds that during a presentation, he also expects the agency to dig deeper and also find out the potential client’s attitude to media, saying a good presentation should focus on: “(a) business objectives and goals, (b) communication objectives and goals in the client's own words and (c) the prospective client's attitude towards media and communications. Most agencies get (b) right, as a question. Many of them derive (a) from what the client shares during the brief while many of them assume (c) on their own. The derivation and assumption becomes a problem in many cases, even during the actual pitch, if it is a multi-agency pitch.”

Karthik also says that the most important part of the brief is the "understanding of the business and its business and communication objectives, by the agency. That showcases the quality of people (agency talent). Deliverables is more operational and is something that needs to be worked out based on budgets. “

Nikhil Dey, President of Genesis Burson-Marsteller, agrees, saying the key points in a good brief are: “Clarity of objective (business objectives and PR objectives aligned with those). Secondly, a well defined articulation of the target audience the program needs to be designed to reach and thirdly, a view of how the client typically measures success of its PR efforts. These are the three inputs that we look for. Ideally, if an indication of the budget range is available it just makes the process more productive. Understandably sometimes clients don't want to share budgets upfront so in such cases an indicate scope of work is very helpful as that ensures an apple to apple comparison when different agencies submit their proposals."

Tara Kapur, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer at Stellar Communications India, flags of four main queries across strategy and operations as important from the point of view of a PR agency. These include,” First of all, Information on what has worked well as well as the “state” of relationships with various stakeholder groups including media and industry associations. Secondly, are spokespersons media trained? Are there key messages and are they up to date? Thirdly, are there any sensitivities, issues or imminent crisis? And lastly who will coordinate with us? How will we work – what processes are in place so we can add what’s required for example a weekly work in progress reports to make the PR program more effective and both client and agency accountable.”

Apart from operational issues, clients believe that the PR agency should be their strategic partner and not just arms and legs. A senior communications lead at one of the biggest MNCs in the world, says that "PR agency teams in India are usually in 'tell-us-what-to-do-and-we-will-do-it' mode. Very few account executives or managers really know what’s going on in their client organisation/industry well enough to ask insightful questions that will help design an optimum PR program. However, I also believe that clients are guilty of not treating their agencies as partners and many a time bring them in only at the last minute to the grunt work e.g. Email press releases and follow up with reporters to see if they have received it or not. That is necessary work, especially in a country like India which has such a vast media universe. However, agencies need to move up the value chain and think like the internal communications team to be able to provide real value to clients."

The PR insider adds that “A good brief from the point of view of the in-house lead should contain the following:

1. Background about company / brand – global overview, country overview.

2. Most important PR objective pertaining to the brand/company.

3. Elements of the approach that has been decided by the client (in case some thinking has already gone into it internally eg. create a mascot or do a 20-city road show. This helps the agency build on it).

4. Time frame in which the PR objective needs to be achieved.

5. Desired results (examples)/ success parameters.

6. Agency evaluation criteria (only in case of new agency selection).”

Having said that the PR insider says that “The evaluation while selecting an agency depends on what the objective of the PR program is and which company/brand/ key message one is dealing with. If a telecom service provider wants us to make sure that they reach out to their customer about their latest value added service offerings in Tier II and III cities, the selection criteria will be different from an enterprise customer that is trying to create a certain perception about itself among policy makers.”

Clearly, the whole exercise of a good brief is a complex one with several factors. Both clients and agencies have asset of expectations, closing the gap between them is the foundation to a strong client and agency relationship.