For many brands, the New Year brings new budgets, and with them, new marketing campaigns. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of planning a new campaign, don’t worry – you’re not alone. The sheer volume of channels and tactics available to every single marketer today is daunting by itself, let alone trying to corral them into a coherent, impactful campaign.

And it’s a New Year! Are you worried if you haven’t kicked off an exciting new campaign by the first week of January? Be careful and don’t rush – starting a campaign with rushed objectives can backfire badly.

This confusion and concern about disciplines, channels and tactics doesn’t have an impact on just you. Unless you’re absolutely crystal clear on what you’re looking to achieve, then your marketing or communications team – and any suppliers you work with – could fire off in completely the wrong direction as well. If your remit is broader than our UK shores and you have pan European marketing, communications or PR campaigns kicking off in many countries, how do you give enough guidance in a brief without being overly prescriptive?

We’ve had written briefs that are 180 pages, and briefs that are one page. We’ve had verbal briefs lasting between four hours and sometimes just five minutes. If you’re looking for some agency inspiration, the clue is in the name – be brief – allow them to ask questions, give room for some elasticity and imagination. If a brief is so lengthy and descriptive, it becomes more of an instruction manual rather than an invitation to suggest ideas and solutions to problems.

Metaphorically speaking, it’s times like this that trying to give an appropriate length brief might have you wondering if you need thermal long johns or lightweight tighty-whities, but don’t worry – we’ve got some helpful suggestions to cover all bases.

The three B’s for perfect-sized briefs are: Business, Brevity and Budget.


Regardless of whether you’re the founder of a start-up and handling the marketing yourself, or a senior marketer with a large team and a diktat from the C-level, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and think about your business goals. That is what you should be working towards. That’s the top line of what your brief should specify, and sometimes that’s almost everything an agency needs to know.


Once you’ve got a bit more clarity and a good download from wider stakeholders, you can embark on writing the RFP. Regardless of whether you’re putting pen to paper, or talking an agency through the specifics face-to-face or via Webex, there are a few things that you should remember if you want to get the most back from an ‘elastic’ brief:


Agencies understand that no-one has unlimited funds, and not everyone can go over the budget. Any client should have realistic guidelines as to how much they want to spend. Then you should be able to compare agencies and work out what you can and can’t expect to be achieved.

If in doubt – and if you work with other countries that manage similar marketing, communications or PR agencies – look at what they’re spending and take that as a starter.

Your bottom line

Investing the time to create a thoughtful, business-oriented brief that provides transparency about what your business is really looking for in a communications partner is key. This process ensures that you receive quality proposals and pitches that are directly aligned with the business strategy of the organisation, allowing you to handpick the most suitable PR partner going forward, whose strategies will complement and drive your communications programme forward to achieve your desired business outcomes. Read here for more guidance.

Free can mean very pricey indeed – as a disguised expense, or a hidden cost somewhere. The subject of ‘something for nothing’ certainly hits a nerve. There are enough song lyrics about it to fill an album, with bands and artists like Dire Straits, U2, Lil’ Jon and DJ Khaled singing their views.

As humans, we are all genetically programmed to love securing a bargain. 1 in 4 of us is physiologically more prone to a splurge in sales.  And there’s even a very forgettable acrynoym TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) –  the essence of which we are very aware.

Picture credit - - hoteldelapaixgeneve/

In the public relations industry, clients pay good money for objectives to be achieved, and the PR agencies deliver a good service, purposefully designed to achieve these objectives. Every now and then, a PR campaign grows and expands beyond its originally planned size (and budget) and everything gets blown off course. It’s the agency’s responsibility to manage this issue, with the client’s support.

An agency should not take umbrage about scope creep but instead take it as a compliment that more support is required. It’s highly unlikely that ‘extra for nothing’ is an objective from a devious client. More likely, it’s a misunderstanding of a change of requirements, or perhaps an appetitie for greater impact as business pressure grows. I expect clients are personally feeling the pain and pressure too. No client wants surprise additional invoices in the mail.

At what point is this additional activity discussed as an extra cost, or whether or not it replaces previously planned activity (unlikely)? The truth is that someone will be paying as there is no source of effort or energy – or even lunch – that does not require resources from something else.

Here are some tips for making sure that any PR scope creep is seen as a positive development and that everyone is committed to delivering the results required, without anyone being taken advantage of:

1. Understand by starting with the end in mind

As a client, what do you want to see and need as evidence of success? What is the business goal you are aiming for? Will the PR results make the difference you need? Rebuild your PR plan with your agency to deliver the difference.

2. Collaborate and rebuild the plan together

At all stages of planning, a client should work alongside the agency, giving constructive feedback at every stage, and having the shared responsibility of achieving success together.

3. Define the plan in detail

An agency should be mindful that the PR campaigns, PR projects or PR programme will have an appropriate level of activity commensurate with the budget, and the impact of which will deliver the results required for the client. An agency must know what the business objectives are.

4. Set the budget

An agency should estimate the time taken to undertake the activities which will deliver the results – and it should all be costed out in detail to fall within the budget. The budget must be transparent, a client must be able to understand the cost of the activity and where each £ is going.

5. Pin it down, in writing, with signatures

Get your plan, the activity, the KPIs and the anticipated targets and budget signed off. Agree that any additional activity is extra to the plan, and set an agreed pricing level between client and agency for additional activity requested. This must be signed off as extra. A client needs to completely understand what they are paying for, and what is extra. Transparency is crucial – and nothing is really free unless it has £0 value against it.

I think you get my gist. The remedy is getting it right in the first place, planning everything with a high degree of detail to ensure success and constantly monitoring.

At Firefly we call this high definition planning.

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