How to write a decent agency brief

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A couple of years ago I was invited to a pitch briefing to several agencies to develop our next annual report. My first question to my colleague who invited me was: “What is our brief?” and he assured me that I shouldn’t worry; this was under control. So full of confidence, I went to the meeting.

Once in the pitch, the brief that given was the following: “Please provide three proposals for our next annual report; here is the report of last year which our CEO liked very much and especially the picture on pages 11, 25 and 48. Send the proposal by end of next week to our office, so we can present beginning of the week after.”

When the agency asked for more details, my colleague answered: “The annual report should be in full colour and ready within three months, in total we need 2,000 copies in print”.

I still hoped that the agencies would push back, but after two attempts for more information they stopped asking and promised to get back to us with their creative proposals.

Two weeks later we received at least three creative proposals from each agency for the annual report which were presented to the executive team. The CEO chose his favourite design.

First of all, I felt quite embarrassed in front of the agencies about such a poor brief, but this disappeared when I saw that the agencies accepted this as ‘normal’. Why did none of the agencies say ‘no’? I never got a clear answer to this question, but most probably they all were afraid to lose an opportunity.

A couple of years later, when I was in charge of leading the communication department and worked directly with several agencies, my approach was different. Different towards the agencies and different towards my own internal team.

Good brief

It all starts with the brief. A bad brief might deliver a nice creative concept, but does not create a sustainable result in the end.

Together with the agencies we developed a briefing format to ensure we provide the right information to the agency that made clear what is expected from the agency (the deliverables). By signing the document, a clear briefing contract is in place against which result and success (but also failure) can be measured.

My team learned especially how to use the brief as a tool to judge the creative concept of the agency, rather than being overwhelmed by a beautiful design.

Writing a good brief is not easy and requires good insights in your business, analytical skills and time. In close co-operation we worked to train my staff to learn to write good and better briefs. A worthwhile exercise that paid back in better results from the agencies.

Information overload

It is easy to put too much information into the brief and let the agency decide what is useful.

First of all, this will waste a lot of agency time (and money). Second, it doesn’t put you in the driving seat.

I always pushed my team to select and properly document the information to be shared with the agency, but I also challenged the agency to be critical and push back when it receives an overflow of non-useful information.

Be accountable

It is easy to go to the C-suite, let the agency present and when the result is not what is expected, let the C-suite blame the agency.

Make sure the C-suite knows what to expect and on which criteria the agency should be judged. It is our responsibility as in-house leaders to ensure that what C-suite sees is fully backed by us (we are accountable) and if they don’t like it, it is our role to discuss and if needed, take the blame.

Based on the outcome you will have your conversation with your agencies and conclude the next step; not the C-suite.

The team

Here come the big one. Make sure the team in the pitch, is also the team doing the work, or is at least heavily involved. On both sides of the table.

If the team in the execution phase is well involved in the pitch phase, it is much easier to manage expectations and deliver successfully.

Agency role

Pushing back as an agency is not always easy, especially not in a pitch. I have always encouraged agencies to push back and when they did, this always led to a better product in the end.

This column was first published on PRMoments.com as a reaction to a blog called: When should agencies say ‘no’?  https://www.prmoment.com/pr-insight/when-should-pr-firms-say-no-to-clients

Tick-the-box communication

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You recognize this? A colleague approaches you to publish a story on one or more of the internal channels as this is important to everyone and needs to be published immediately… it is the last day of the week, month or quarter.

The importance of these messages is most often driven by the fact that there is a KPI on communicating by the end of a certain period. Unfortunately, too often auditors see publishing a story on one or more of the internal channels as ‘communicating’, and agree that the KPI is delivered; they are not interested in the content or the outcome.

Which role do we have to play?

  • First of all, as a professional, don’t fall into the trap of just publishing the story ‘to safe someone’ at the end of the period.
  • More important is to sit together (as early as possible) and understand the need for communication. Advice on what is the best way to communicate, to which audience, using the right mix of channels.
  • Key is to be involved at the moments KPIs are being set. Too often the word ‘communicating’ is used without qualifying what is really meant. Having a seat at the table in the C-suite is essential to elevate the quality of these KPIs and as such the quality of the communication and engagement.

When we are able to help to set the right KPI, we also have a role to play in making sure to communicate with impact and measure the result of it. It requires that KPIs are not just set on an individual or department level, but cross-department to create a joint responsibility to contribute to the company result.

This gives us as communicators the opportunity to show that the C-suite wants its leaders to communicate and engage, rather than just deliver ‘Thick-the-box communication. ‘

Your thoughts, your stories?

2018: Is our corporate communications profession ready for this data driven challenge?

 

What becomes more important in our industry in 2018 (and forward) is the challenge to work more and more with data. Not only to drive results, but most of all to get the right commitments and budgets in place. Numbers don’t lie and in the C-suite, numbers make the difference.

Key question to ask yourself, are you capable enough to have the discussion based on the numbers? In other words, do you have the right capabilities in your team for collecting and analyzing data? But also, do you have the right skills, knowledge and understanding yourself to present, defend and discuss the numbers?

Fact is simple, the C-suite understand numbers and will challenge them, because they might not confirm what they have been thinking (based or not based on data). They might give you a hard time challenging the numbers, the source and the correct interpretation of the data.

More important is that those C-suite members see that they might lose control, because your numbers have put you in the driving seat. You are able to draw impactful conclusions on areas they own (until now) and are accountable for. Especially when you get the support from the CEO and CFO to take that position.

So, the trend to be more data driven should lead to communication professionals becoming more data savvy in such a way that it becomes more of a second skin that fits so comfortable that you really enjoy leading the discussion and get the results that you want in the discussion.

As a result of this, also our role ‘at the table’ becomes one in which we are more involved in the discussions around other fields, because we have demonstrated to think out of our own comfort zone. Not an easy task, but that is what makes communication professionals, real C-suite professionals.

Let’s discuss whether our profession is ready for this data driven challenge.

PRCA

First published 10 February 2018 as PRCA blog: https://www.prca.org.uk/DataDrivenChallenge

‘IoIC – Print’s Charming’ – Think also about Audience and Distribution

An excellent story in the first edition of the IoIC (Institute of Internal Communication) magazine VOICE on the importance of the printed magazine as tool in your internal communications mix.

Approach, inclusiveness of the readers as contributors, design and measurements are key elements to make a successful print magazine.

Out of my own experience I know also that focusing on the target audience is key as well as the distribution mechanism.

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Target Audience

Keep always in mind that the employee is not the only audience to focus on when developing an internal, printed, magazine; also family members and friends will see (and hopefully read) the magazine (or parts of it) when the magazine is taken home or left in the car. The same counts when the magazine is available at the reception area of the company’s affiliates.

Distribution

A magazine delivered at the desk will be seen differently than a magazine delivered at your home address. At the office or shop floor, dominant elements always influence the way how you perceive the magazine; especially when their opinion is negative. As a result you decide not to read the magazine, throw it away or not take it home at all.

When a magazine is delivered at the home address, a few opportunities appear at the horizon. When wrapped in a plastic foil, the front and back cover can already address messages that will be seen, even without unwrapping the magazine; by yourself, your family members, but also by people in the distribution chain.

The magazine received at home will also be red in a total different environment than at the office or at the shop floor; more relaxing, different influencing people and at a more convenient moment of time, including more time to spend reading the magazine.

Apart of that, when received at the home address, family members see the magazine most probably first and based on the outside cover get already interested in one or more stories.

Enjoy reading!

IPR Research Symposium in London

Saturday 10th September the American based Institute for PR (IPR) organized a research symposium as a ‘Thank you’ to their European supporters, to discuss the latest insights around internal communication, listening, social media, and behavioral insights. Seven speakers presented during four hours interesting insights of their work and were also able to address many questions from the audience from academia and communication professionals.

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Dr Jim Macnamara (University of Technology Sydney) presented and discussed the key findings of his two-year, three country study “Organizational Listening: The Missing Link in Two-Way Communication, Dialogue, and Engagement” of how organizations listen – or don’t – noting that listening is an essential corollary of speaking (i.e., dissemination information) in excellence, dialogic, relationships, and engagement theories of PR. An excellent presentation with many links to the practice of (not-)listening.

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Kathleen Sprehe (Director of Reputation Research & Strategy at APCO Insight) gave more insight in her presentation  “Measuring Corporate Reputation Through Opinion Research and Digital Analytics” in how do companies ensure they are communicating effectively to key stakeholders. She used a case study of the company Flex – formerly Flextronics to demonstrate the impact of opinion and digital research in the evolution of a brand.

kathleen-spreheDr Sarab Kochhar (Institute for Public Relations) addressed the importance on strategy communication titled: “From Content to Context: Reshaping Employee Engagement”. She showed the results of how more than 1,500 employees in five countries are confident they understand the core purpose of their organization and find meaning in their work, but believe organizations have much work to be done in prioritizing and communicating strategy internally. She presented some good take-ways which definitely will find their way into practice.

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Dr Stephen A. Greyser (Harvard Business School) was able to give some exclusive branding insights in his presentation “The Branding and Identity of the Nobel Prize”. He explored the communications issues that arise when dealing with the Nobel Prize process. This research project is the first (and so far only) field-based research on the topic. The study has been accomplished with the cooperation of the Nobel Prize network.

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Dr Marcia DiStaso (Penn State University), shared in her presentation “The Science of Influence: How Social Media Affects Decision Making in the Healthcare, Travel, and the Financial Industry”, some really interesting outcomes. As organizations are increasingly focusing their efforts on content marketing and digital influencer programs, but how influential do consumers say social media and various sources really are on their behavior? She shared the results of a consumer survey in the US to determine what factors and sources on social media influence purchasing and decision-making in three industries: healthcare, travel and financial. It was clear that this is only one of more studies in this field to come, focusing on different business areas, geographies and stakeholders.

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Mark Weiner (PRIME Research) addressed in his presentation “Irreversible: The Public Relations Big Data Revolution” one of the hot topics where communication professionals are struggling with; Big Data (see also EACD European Communication Monitor 2016). In his session he defined Big Data as it relates to public relations, described data integration for public relations, and drew from three case studies from Southwest Airlines, MasterCard, and Cisco Systems of which he presented the first two. This presentation led to the question on “How are universities preparing future communication professionals who need to know a lot about big data, social science, finance, marketing, politics and…..communication?”

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The last presentation by Dr Jon White (Henley Business School) on “Behavioral Insights: Foundation for Public Relations Practice” led to some interesting discussion across the group. He addressed how the growing interest in the application of insights from applied psychology has special relevance to public relations’ itself. “An applied social science that influences behavior and policy,” as said by Harold Burson. He explained how behavioral insights research is vital to the public relations practice and how it is connected to other social sciences.

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The content of the presentations led also in the following cocktail reception to a lot of lively discussions and especially the conclusion that there is still a lot of room for further research in the field of PR and communication at both sides of the ocean.

A great thanks to IPR for organizing this event!

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