If you don’t have any previous experience of working with PR agencies this can be a daunting prospect, especially given the number of technology PR agencies out there. The challenge of finding the right fit for your business should not be underestimated. Here are our top tips on preparing a brief that will ensure you select the best possible agency for your requirements and budget.
1) Decide on your objectives with input from others
From the beginning, establish goals and define your target audience. There’s no point asking a PR agency to show how they would raise brand awareness amongst IT managers if your CEO is only interested in bolstering social media to drive more web traffic. What’s the target audience? If you are selling network management software, do you want to influence the IT administrators who use it, the head of procurement or the CIO who might sign off the budget?
Whoever will have the most contact with the agency is usually the best person to write the brief, but ensure there’s input from the key decision makers in your organisation and consensus regarding the objectives.
2) Have a budget in mind
Provide an indication of what you plan to spend so agencies can pitch their ideas accordingly. Pitches will not be optimally beneficial if you leave the matter open-ended. It’s a bit like walking into an estate agents and letting them guess how much you want to spend. Be realistic! Do you want the PR equivalent of a mansion, or can you only afford a one bedroom flat? Many agencies have a minimum budget they will work with, so there is no point asking them in to pitch if yours is lower.
3) Choose the right type of agency
If you are a technology company, it’s important that you focus your search on agencies that really understand your market. There are many different IT-centred B2B agencies out there, from global operators to local niche agencies specialising in particular technologies (e.g. security or digital marketing) to one-man bands working from home. Check their client experience to be sure they understand the specific area of your work. After all, the communication challenges, media opportunities and industry issues are very different for a global telecoms operator than for a niche software start-up.
4) Ensure the scope of your brief is clear and comprehensive
State your goals and target audience, specifying what exactly you want from the agency – strategic consultancy, creative ideas, social media management, or press releases and case studies? Don’t scrimp on important details. If you want to enter new vertical markets, which ones are a focus and in which market? If the brief includes social media, do you expect the agency to run and manage this or just advise on the strategy? Give an idea of the approximate budget, what will be handled in house, who the company contact will be and the level of collaboration desired.
Agencies also need a basic understanding of your current marketing activities and business positioning. Include your company goals and wider communications, along with the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and where you fit in.
Provide guidance as to how agencies should respond to the brief and what the next steps are. Ask them to demonstrate their understanding and experience in your key areas.
5) Design a way to fairly assess the agencies
We recommend inviting a shortlist of three agencies in to pitch face-to-face, giving you a chance to meet the team and ask questions. Let them know they are in the final three ahead of time, as this should ensure they put the required effort into their presentation.
Work out a system for assessing the presentations. Mark each one against what you are looking for, and prioritise your criteria appropriately. (e.g. capability, experience, enthusiasm, relevance of ideas, quality of team, response to questions, etc.) It may seem like a lot of work, but nailing this part of the selection process will save a great deal of time later.
As you reflect on the presentation, try to keep an open mind. In a similar way to hiring your next hot shot employee, the decision often boils down to chemistry. So don’t rule out an agency purely based on size or past experience – it could be an excellent choice for you in the end.