Looking for a communications agency? Tempting as it is to suggest that you waste no further time on the matter and appoint Aspectus immediately, you probably want to chat to a few companies, draw up a list of those that seem to have something to offer you and then give them a brief.

The brief. Even the term itself disguises its importance, which might partly explain why the job of putting it together is often given to the wrong person, or at least to someone who is not really qualified for the task. We’ve had some terrible briefs over the years. In some cases a chimpanzee could have done a better job.

The truth is that the brief is not only the document that will dictate exactly how your short-listed agencies present their ideas and approach. Mess it up and you may end up selecting the wrong agency altogether. And lots of organisations do precisely that.

So, point number one: the brief is really important. Make sure you give the task of putting it together to the right person. That means someone who understands communications and knows the agency scene.

Putting together the brief should be a consultative process. Go round all the key people in your organisation and find out what they want their agency to achieve over the next 12 months or more. What kind of agency do they want? Big, small, international? Should they have particular market expertise or knowledge or are you open-minded? Are they focused on delivering proper business outcomes for their clients such as sales engagement? Do they understand that communications content could be anything from a video to a blog and all points between? Do they understand the importance of integrating Search Engine Optimisation with communications?

You will need to ring-fence a budget and be sure you can guarantee that for at least 12 months. Agencies hate briefs without clear budgets and you will never get the best from their pitches if you leave the matter open-ended. It’s a bit like walking into a showroom and telling the sale guy you want to buy a car and letting him guess how much you want to spend. Not awfully helpful to either you or them. Are you after a Ferrari or a Mini?

Be as specific as possible about what you want from agencies. Who are your target audiences? What do you want to say to them and how? Tell them about your business goals, your wider marketing activities and communications needs. Explain how your organisation is structured, who the management team is and who will be working with the agency on a day-to-day basis.

What do you want from the relationship? Explain how you want to work with your agency.

Tell them about your market, your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and where you fit in. It all helps to give the agencies a rounded picture. The more you can give them in a succinct document, the better.

Get them to give you an initial response to the brief. A one pager spelling out how they would tackle the brief and outlining their approach should give you enough to select a short list. But, if you have the time, invite them all in separately for an initial meeting. This gives you a chance to meet them and they get the opportunity to discuss the brief in more detail and ask questions.

When it comes down to drawing up a final short list, keep it down to a maximum of three agencies, then they will all think they are in with a decent chance and will put a lot of work into their pitches.

Don’t invite a cast of thousands from your side to attend the pitches; ideally only ask those most closely involved in the selection process.

Work out in advance a system for assessing the presentations. Think in terms of focusing on the following: capabilities and experience; quality of ideas; quality of team; enthusiasm; response to questions.

Once you have made your decision, tell the winning agency first (just in case they find a reason why they cannot or don’t want to work with you – it does happen) and then inform the others. Do make sure that you give plenty of feedback to the losing agencies. The very least they deserve for all their hard work is the opportunity to know where they went wrong or simply why the winning agency was selected.

 

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