Pitch perfect? Five steps to an outstanding agency brief

As a client, if you knew that a better brief would lead to a better pitch, would you invest the time?

Of course you would (if you could). It’s a question that the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) – the independent, UK healthcare members-only organisation – recently explored with stakeholders from procurement, marketing, medical affairs and agencies as it set about relaunching its Pitching Code of Conduct.

Aurora has more than a passing interest in the topic and our CEO even helped draft the original code a decade ago. So, based on our own experiences and the recommendations of the code, here are five ways to ensure you create a brief that will lead to a successful communication campaign.

1. Go to the top from the off

A couple of years back, we pulled together a breezy 115-slide deck with contributions from a dozen team members to accommodate a two-week proposal deadline. Then came a follow-up brief, offering three working days and a weekend to prepare. The client was itching to get going. They loved our ideas. And then silence. Weeks of radio silence until an email arrived. The proposal was on hold.

Sound familiar? What had happened here was that senior decision makers were excluded from the original development of the brief and had now said, “No”. The budget had not been discussed with them in the first place, let alone signed off.

2. Grant agencies access

What is the point of any pitch if the creative is based on incorrect assumptions? Ahead of sending out a brief, time needs to be ring-fenced for agencies to privately discuss aspects that are specific to their proposed strategy and programme (the HCA recommends a minimum of three weeks, brief-to-pitch, or early submission).

And there needs to be a commitment to ensure agency access to the most senior decision maker pre-pitch and their attendance at the pitch. Without their buy-in, briefs inevitably fall by the wayside. All too often RFPs are circulated – indeed, pitches are won, only for the agency to be told that key aspects of the programme will not proceed, wasting resources, damaging relationships and putting the proposed strategy at risk with a piecemeal approach.

3. Think about measurement from the start

What’s the change you want to see? Clients need to be crystal clear as only then can agencies put in place SMART objectives, evaluation methodology and criteria, and strategies that clearly relate to objectives. Look for agencies with robust measurement processes, such as Aurora, which has been recognised by the PRCA as anaccredited “measurement champion” for Acumen – our healthcare measurement framework combining tools from the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the government.

4. Identify the genuine need

Which brings me to the HCA Code of Conduct first commandment: to “only pitch when we have a genuine requirement for agency support and internal stakeholder commitment to the programme in terms of funding and feasibility”.

5. Bring in an agency to support

Time can be the enemy. It takes senior access and significant head space to write a tight brief that aligns to a strategy. And yet it’s common practice to prescribe solutions without first fully and accurately identifying the problem.

How can we help?

In recent years, we’ve seen requests for proposals (RFPs) accompanied by shorter and shorter response timelines. Sure, the pressure is on in the healthcare industry to deliver, but the potential for good, if not great work increases considerably where due consideration is given to the brief, and an appropriate amount of time is allocated for an agency to pause, reflect and respond.

That’s where we can help. By coming in early, we can work with your team to bring the perspective and the insights that give focus to a brief as well as the desired outcomes. The result of a better brief is that the right work is delivered faster at a lower cost. Get in touch if you’d like us to help with the strategic thinking!