How to brief a PR agency

When you find the right mix of client and agency, magic happens. The sweet spot comes when you choose a team that you genuinely connect with and who share the same values - but to get to that point, the relationship needs to start with a bulletproof briefing process.

We’ve worked with clients who’ve given us amazing briefs and immersed us in their businesses from the outset - but we’ve also worked with many who haven’t. If an agency is going to do a great job for you, we need the full context of what we need to achieve and why, and while we pride ourselves on being intuitive, we love getting what’s in your head, well and truly into ours.

All too often we hear lines like:

- “We don’t know why we want a podcast, it’s just what everyone else is doing. Can you get us a cost?”

- “We don’t have any budget, can you just tell us what we need to do”

- “It doesn’t feel right, I’m not sure why”

- “We purposefully haven’t written a brief, we don’t want it to stifle your creativity”

- “I want to be on Sky News with my product launch”

- “We’ve got this campaign, it’s all sorted but we haven’t thought about PR yet. Can you provide a PR strategy for it?”

We can spot the red flags early – but we also know how to work with clients effectively to extract a brief that will ensure everyone is motivated and happy, and that the client gets the most value from the agency.

We spoke to some senior marketing friends and clients for their top tips on briefing a PR agency, and how to get the most out of a partnership with a PR agency. Thank you to Jo, Charlotte and Tom for some solid insights and advice. If you’ve any advice or experiences to share, we’d love to hear them.

Jo O’Boyle, Head of Marketing, Go Ape

“PR is an integral part of any marketing campaign, and the brief must be written at the same time as the campaign creative activation brief in order for it to be fully integrated. The key question to ask upfront is ‘what do you want PR to deliver as part of the campaign; what role will it play in the wider comms strategy?’

“My next step would be to look at how PR (along with other marketing channels) can bring to life the ‘reason to believe’. In particular how can the PR strategy feed into the social strategy. It is important for me that the PR brief takes into account the wider PR strategy. Which press are we trying to reach with the brief and how does this play into the bigger picture?

“And lastly, but one of the most important elements of the brief: what are the measures of success? Decide what good looks like and set KPI’s.

“In terms of then getting the most out of your agency:

- Engage them with your product and brand; they must know, understand and as a bonus, love the brand

- Provide regular updates. Relevant information is key

- Encourage open and honest communication to ensure that you, as a customer, are getting what you need and the agency understand what it is you want, even if this changes during the course of the contract

- Smaller agencies work well (in my opinion) because there are less people to be passed around and a smaller team is more likely to communicate openly in the office. With a bigger agency you may have a more junior account manager or may not have a dedicated resource at all.”

Charlotte Renwick, Associate Director, Leeds Beckett University

“Plan carefully how you will help your new agency get under the skin of your organisation and brand – then double how much time you were planning to spend. Having spent 10 years agency-side, I always wondered why clients did not give us the full context we needed to do a great job for them which hit the mark first time.

“Now having spent 10 years client-side I realise that it’s because we don’t realise all the information which is just second nature to us. The more time you put into inducting your agency the less time you will spend going back and forwards on campaign details, copy and press releases. And you will get better results which fit your brand.

“Establish the level of risk you are willing to take. To create news you almost always need to take a risk at some level, whether it’s an opinion piece or a research story which challenges the status quo. Discuss how much risk you are willing to take and outline those topics which your internal stakeholders are especially nervous about. It’s your agency’s job to push you out of your comfort zone, but they will do that effectively if they know where your red lines are drawn.”

Tom Lodge, Director of Corporate Comms, Sonos

“You shouldn’t think about a brief as a document or a moment; more a process. The closer you are to your team, and the more involved they are, the better your brief will become.

“Agree the baseline expectations together up-front. Don’t wait till (you think) you’ve nailed the brief to deliver it - provide an early draft for discussion and alignment - let the team feed in and work to improve it.

“Don’t be too rigid, or allow your team to be too tightly tied to the original version - things change; embrace it, make it better.”

We’ve created a PR agency briefing template for anyone who needs it, to use as a starting point in the briefing process. It's designed to extract the basic information everyone needs to move forward effectively. Because who’s got time to waste?!

Please get in touch if you’d like a copy,