Appointing communications agencies: writing effective briefs
This guide has been produced to assist government and public sector organisations with writing agency briefs when buying communications and marketing services.
This advice has been collated following feedback from customers, suppliers and the Government Communications Service.
The aim of this guide is to help bring consistency to the briefs that are sent to suppliers on the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) communications agreements to make the call-off process more efficient.
It is important that you liaise with your procurement lead from the outset to discuss timescales and requirements. As a guide, a call-off from a CCS agreement can take between 4 – 8 weeks depending on the complexity and details of your requirement. You will need to ensure that the timescales you require for the campaign delivery can be met and resourced by your procurement team.
If you need any further help, or information about the services you can buy through the CCS communications agreements, please visit Buying communication services in the public sector. Here you will find details of all the agreements available and guidance on how to use them. You can also call the helpdesk on 0345 410 2222.
Using these guidance notes
These notes will take you through the details that you need to consider and the information you need to collate when you are appointing agencies to deliver your campaign and communications requirements. They have been developed in line with the OASIS model (Objectives, Audience, Strategy, Implementation, Scoring).
The notes will take you through the following areas of developing your agency brief:
- agency requirement
- agency response
- evaluation and appointment
The information and detail that you provide under each of these headings will form a key section of the tender pack that is sent to agencies.
Use this section to set out the nature of the brief to the agency. You should expect the agency to be able to decide whether they are interested in bidding on the basis of the summary so make sure you cover:
- the communications problem - what is it you are trying to do that needs agency help?
- the specific role of the agency - be clear on what is to be handled by the agency and what is being done in-house
- the policy context - in basic terms
- your budget, or if you prefer, a budget range - even if indicative
- timescales - for award process and campaign delivery
Use this section to provide detailed information on the background to the problem:
- explain who you are as a client - don’t assume the agency knows your organisation
- set out the full policy information the agency needs to understand
- provide policy data, research and any useful links
- describe any previous communications activity conducted in this field
Use this section to set out your overall aims and measurable objectives for the campaign. Focus here on the campaign as a whole, not just the work the agency will do:
- provide details of any ministerially agreed outcome goals
- set out your KPIs for the campaign
- focus these on outcomes, rather than output measures
- wherever possible, frame your objectives in behaviour change terms
Use this section to provide information on your target audience, both in terms of audience identification and audience behaviour:
- provide any raw audience data you have
- provide any current audience insight, including segmentations, focus group work etc.
- set out your stakeholders and influencers
Use this section to explain your current strategy (if you have one) or any considerations the agency should bear in mind when developing or implementing a strategy.
Agencies often respond best when given a more open brief in which they are encouraged to problem solve. You should be clear when/if you are seeking new strategic ideas, or for the agency to challenge existing strategy. If no strategy has been developed yet and it will be agency’s role to do so make this clear.
- be clear on any political issues surrounding the brief, whilst ensuring civil service impartiality is maintained
- include any further reputation considerations, for example is a minister likely to be heavily involved
- explain the branding arrangements for this work
6. agency requirement
Use this section to explain exactly what will be required of the agency should they be appointed:
- what you require them to produce - this can be either product specific (eg one 30 second television ad), problem specific (eg a campaign to increase uptake of a service) or time specific (eg all creative work on issue x over a three year period)
- what their role will be vis-à-vis in-house communications and/or other agencies
- how you will want to work with them - set out your expectations of their account team, including staffing levels, expertise, regular meetings etc. as this will help the agency select the right team and accurately cost their proposal
- key delivery milestones for the work
- how you will measure their success, in particular what KPIs you intend to set
- commitment to provide monthly management information, data, progress reports etc.
7. agency response
Use this section to set out what you want to see from the agency as part of the pitch process, and how you will make your decision on which agency to appoint:
- ensure you keep your response requirements proportional - consider the amount of pitch work you are asking the agency to do and ensure it is reasonable for the potential profit they might make if appointed
- don’t be too prescriptive - where possible ask them to solve a problem not meet a rigid brief, and bear in mind that you will rarely run with exactly the creative pitched
- where possible, invite a face to face pitch - this must always be supported with a written submission, which the pitch should summarise
- set out the budget the agency should work to and the level of budget breakdown you expect in their response. If budgets are not finalised, use an indicative budget range to avoid agencies responding with unrealistic proposals
- if you will be shortlisting before the pitch (eg running a two stage process, which is recommended), explain the shortlisting process and what response is required at both stage 1 and stage 2.
8. evaluation and appointment
The tender documents must make it clear what the timescales are for the process and what you expect the agency to provide in bid submissions and how the bids will be evaluated and scored.
The timescales for the award process and target date for contract award must allow sufficient time for suppliers to prepare bids. If timescales are too short there is a risk suppliers will not submit bids or the quality of the bids will be poor.
If CCS is managing the procurement process for you the procurement lead will develop the tender timetable for you.
The process must include:
- clarification period which gives agencies the opportunity to submit questions. All questions submitted should remain anonymous, however, both the question and answer should be shared with all the agencies on the procurement system that you are using
- submission deadline
- quality evaluation with a minimum 2 evaluators to score
- cost evaluation
- contract award
- initial engagement date with successful supplier
- supplier feedback
Quality assessment criteria, including weightings, must be measurable. Ensure your response requirements are proportional, consider the amount of bid writing and pitch work you are asking the agency to do and ensure it is reasonable for the potential profit they might make if appointed.
Where a pitch is not deemed appropriate then a 1 stage evaluation process, requesting written bids only, should be run. Where a pitch is deemed appropriate and proportionate, then a 2 stage evaluation process should be run. In this case the written evaluation must be carried out first to establish a shortlist of suppliers, who are then invited to a face to face pitch on neutral premises.
The pitch must be evaluated using different evaluation criteria to the written submission. Ensure you explain the process and required responses clearly in the initial tender documents. Check the quality evaluation criteria you propose to use with your local procurement team first.
If you need further assistance please call our helpdesk on 0345 410 2222.
Cost criteria and weighting
Consider how costs can be measured, set out the budget the agency should work to and the breakdown you expect to see in the response. Include any value for money (VFM) or incentives you want them to demonstrate as part of the bid. If budgets are not finalised, use an indicative budget range to avoid agencies responding with unrealistic proposals.
Other factors to consider are:
- contract length and (if appropriate) any extension period
- total contract value - consider the potential spend for the contract duration including the extension periods
- additional engagement, for example, an immersion day.
Consider if additional engagement is proportionate to the requirement and what value this stage would add, as it will extend the timeline. Also consider the structure of the session to ensure that the process remains transparent, for example, any questions asked should be published for all suppliers to see.
If you require any additional information or advice to write your brief please email firstname.lastname@example.org