How to turn a vague campaign brief into a comprehensive PR proposal and budget
If you've just started working as a freelance publicist or have been tasked with managing new business proposals at your agency, this episode will provide you with a succinct overview of what a client will expect from a campaign proposal and budget. Allira Carroll from Tonic PR and I discuss how to navigate a vague brief, the components you should include in a proposal, shed some light on how much detail you are expected to provide on strategy and tactics, and provide a solution for clients who won't clarify their budget.
“You will create more realistic and accurate budgets if you have a clear idea of how long a task takes to be executed by each team member. If you know that, you can confidently estimate the time it will take to deliver the campaign elements and results, versus taking a guess"
Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more tips on creating PR proposals and budgets. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players, just search "The PR Pod".
WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD I GATHER FROM A PROSPECTIVE CLIENT TO CREATE A PR PROPOSAL?
Assuming you've assessed that they are indeed a client you may want to work with, you need a brief from them in order to create a proposal. If they don't provide you with a comprehensive brief, generate a reverse brief and put these questions to them:
What is the purpose of the campaign and why is it relevant now? If it's to publicise the launch of a new product, then the relevancy is obvious. However, the campaign may be a smaller component of a broader business objective and if so, it will help to understand what those objectives are, so you have a clear perspective of the role this campaign has in the broader picture. You also need to understand how the product/service/offering is relevant in terms of the industry. Are they the first to launch this product in their sector? Have they perfected an existing product? Are they one of many but have a very unique point of difference? Your prospective client will know their industry better than you do right now, so lean into that.
Who is the target audience and why would they be interested in it? Who are their primary and their secondary market? What is their age range, gender, disposable income, what stage of life are they in? Sometimes, it's really obvious what the benefits of a product/service are but if not, you need to understand these. You also need to know this to ascertain whether the client's expectations of why their target audience would engage with this product/service/offering are realistic.
What are the timings of this campaign? Are there any specific timeframes that have to be met or adhered to?
What does success look like at the end of the campaign, to them? This helps you understand how you will need to measure the success of your campaign and ensure you're developing tactics that achieve these results. Are they more driven by the number of clippings, or the sentiment of the coverage? Do they want to be the buzz of the town because of an event or do they want to connect with a handful of key taste-makers?
What is the budget for the campaign? If clients are not forthcoming with a total cost, provide a range. Do they have $3,000 - $5,000, $5,000-$10,000, $10,000 - 20,000 etc. If they are still cagey, make an assessment of what you estimate this campaign would cost, based on their goals and target audience they want to reach. Advise them, based on what they have provided to you, you'd estimate the campaign would cost about $XX - is that in line with what they were expecting to spend?
HOW MUCH DETAIL SHOULD I PROVIDE TO CLIENTS ABOUT THE TACTICS I RECOMMEND? AND WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN DEVELOPING TACTICS?
It's a tough one as you don't want your creative ideas to be repurposed by another agency the client hires. But, at the end of the day, you need to give the client enough information to allow them to feel confident you have provided them with a strategic plan and that you know how to execute it to keep to budget and deliver the goals they are after. Therefore, a topline summary of a tactic generally isn't enough to convey that. You generally need to provide them with broader context.
Demonstrate an understanding of the industry and any challenges associated with executing that tactic within that industry or sector. Your insight will help substantiate why that tactic has been chosen and why it will be executed in this way, as well as why you've chosen not to use other tactics. For example, if you have a new alcoholic seltzer which is launching into a market that is already saturated with those products, you need to determine how you will get cut-through. A few years prior, you may have used a different collection of tactics to what you're using now, so you need to consider the challenges associated with releasing a product into a saturated market.
Consider the time-frame and budget of the tactics you're considering. You may have a brilliant idea but the client doesn't have the budget for it or maybe there's just not enough time to executive it effectively.
Always keep the campaign goals in mind. Just because a tactic sounds fun, will it actually generate engagement with the target market you want it to? Will it achieve the goals your client wants?
WHAT WILL A CLIENT EXPECT TO SEE IN THE PROPOSAL DOCUMENT?
The information needs to have a logical flow. There is no right/wrong way to put the proposal together but this is a great place to start:
Campaign Summary/Overview: Recap on the purpose of the campaign and what needs to be achieved, as per the brief.
Business/Campaign Goals/Objectives: Outline what the business wants to achieve and what the specific campaign goals are.
Insights: What insight do you have to the industry that will affect the success/execution of this campaign? It could incorporate trends, competitor analysis, how media are covering that particular space and any challenges you've identified.
Target Audience: A recap of the primary and secondary markets
Strategic Approach: Outline the tactics you feel will best achieve the goals, drawing on the insight/experience you have. If there are additional tactics they don't have the budget for but you feel would be good for them to consider, list them separately, so it's clear they're outside of the scope of this campaign but worth considering.
Press Office/Account Management Overview: What are the day-to-day services incorporated in the campaign? Weekly meetings, photography management, reactive media relations, reporting etc.
Measurement: How will you track the success of the campaign? What KPIs do you recommend for the campaign as a whole as well as the individual tactics?
Timeline: How do the various elements of the campaign come together and what's the order of execution?
Budget: Outline the cost to the client to achieve these results, with the tactics provided.
Credential document: The client may want to see an outline of the relevant experience of the people working on this campaign, as well as case studies of similar campaigns the agency has successfully executed. This could be an appendix to the proposal or a separate document and is sometimes sent prior to the proposal.
WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN CREATING THE BUDGET?
Recap on the campaign elements and what the budget includes. You want to be transparent on what work is included in the budget to achieve the outcomes the client desires. For example, the campaign includes two media releases, fortnightly meetings, one photo shoot, a product drop to 20 media etc. If these aren't outlined and clarified, you can end up in an uncomfortable situation down the track when a client expects something from you that hasn't been agreed to (or paid for). The best way to prevent this happening is to be clear on the elements of the campaign, and include a line in the budget that says anything above and beyond these elements will be costed and run by the client for approval.
List any additional elements which aren't included in this campaign, but may be worth considering. This is particularly important if there are elements the client said they wanted but can't be executed with the provided budget. Additionally, if there are additional tactics or elements you mentioned in the proposal as recommendations, list them out separately in the budget so they can see the additional cost for you to execute them.
Outline third party costs. This may include photography, event stylists, caterers, brand ambassadors, costs for a product drop and media monitoring/news services. If some of the costs are estimates and not exact, then clarify those costs will be sourced and provided to the client for approval before any work commences. However, the costs outlined in the budget should be a reasonable guide.
Include any tax (GST/VAT).
Terms and conditions. Outline when payment is due, if there's any penalties for late payment etc.
Do not put together a PR proposal without having an understanding of the budget. You could spend days, if not weeks, creating an amazing campaign only to deliver it and discover the cost to execute it is double or triple what they wanted to spend. In which case, you've wasted your time and you'll have to redo it.
Use your team to brainstorm tactics. Send them the campaign brief in advance and give them at least a day's notice so they can join the brainstorm with some ideas up their sleeve.
Do some research into other campaigns. Examine what tactics competitor brands have used recently and assess what worked well and didn't. Look at campaigns and case studies from other markets unrelated to your brand but perhaps in the same industry and see if there's any inspiration you can take from those. www.famouscampaigns.com is a good one to check out.
You may have to revisit the tactical elements of the campaign once you put the budget together. You might find when you cost the execution of each task out, it's above and beyond what the client outlined they were willing to spend. If so, see if you can cut back on some other elements of the campaign to accommodate. Perhaps reduce weekly meetings to fortnightly or monthly or reduce the number of people who will be attending the meeting from the agency. Otherwise, you may have to look at executing a revised version of that tactic.
Excel is a simple but efficient program to create budgets in and PowerPoint/Canva are great for the proposal itself.
Triple check all the costs you've outlined are correct. If you are using Excel to document the costs associated with a campaign, ensure your formulas are picking up all the cells.
Don't start writing the proposal document until you've done all the research in advance.
Delegate sections of the proposal out to different team members, if you can.
Keep your proposals simple and visually appealing. Use dot points, headings, make sure your fonts and font sizes are uniform, don't go to heavy with the copy.
Send the proposal and budget as a PDF. This ensures you're formatting isn't affected by the recipient's systems. Just ensure when you do save as a PDF, all the document elements have been included and pages or sections of pages have not been inadvertently left out.
If you would like tips for creating a media list, check out this podcast episode.