The Importance of a Briefing Doc and How to Write One
Congratulations, you’ve landed your public relations client a briefing with an important reporter or industry analyst! The hard part is over, or is it? Not quite. Now you need to make sure your client is adequately prepared for the interview. You can do a prep call, but what really helps executives or other spokespeople get ready for these important meetings is a briefing document, aka a briefing sheet. If several briefings are taking place in a condensed timeframe, such as for a trade show, these sheets might be upsized to a formal briefing book.
While public relations is a creative field, a briefing document requires quite a bit of preparation as it incorporates all the nuts and bolts to make an interview run smoothly. A calendar invite will take care of simple things like time and date, but more in-depth info is needed on what the reporter or analyst is interested in. Spokespeople are always on the go and might be reading your briefing document on a plane, train or taxicab on the way to a convention center. Some spokespeople read briefing documents religiously, while others just read the top line items. Still, it’s important to be comprehensive for each interview so no surprises pop up before, during or after the interview.
Briefing document framework
Here’s the critical components to include in your briefing document:
- Call-in details of all participants. If the meeting is in person, then listing the specific place it will occur is imperative. Pro tip: Make sure to ask the reporter if they will be on camera, if it is a video conference.
- The specific reporter or analyst that will be participating. For analyst briefings, it’s important to note that analysts from different subject areas often will double or triple up if the topic is of interest. Pro tip: Make sure to ask specifically who will be attending and include details in your briefing document.
- Why the meeting is taking place. Did you pitch a specific story idea, or is this a “get to know you” call for potential future inclusion? Did the reporter find you, or did you find them? Gather all the details you can about why this meeting is taking place. If a reporter responded to a pitch, include specific pitch details and any special requests from the reporter. If the reporter found your client, make sure you get specific details from the reporter about what the interview will cover. While no one can accurately predict with 100 percent certainty what a reporter will ask, it's best to be prepared with some basic questions. If a report has a specific line of questioning, such as commenting on an event currently happening in your industry, they will generally let you know how the line of questioning will go. Pro tip: It’s OK to ask for a specific list of questions ahead of time so that your spokesperson is prepared, especially if the interview is being reporter-driven. Put these questions in the briefing document. If you can glean any questions from the reporter’s response to the pitch, include those as well.
- Your recommendations for the meeting. This is one of the most important pieces to include in a briefing document. Whether it’s an introductory briefing or the reporter responded to a pitch, take a few minutes to review who your company is and what it does (and for whom). This might best be represented by your client’s elevator pitch which includes your key messages or even through use cases, where you give a few examples of the role your company plays in the market. If the meeting is intended to be short, the reporter will get the point quickly, but they will usually need key background details on the company so they can accurately assess your place in the story they are writing. Pro tip: Put the materials like the key message points, elevator pitch or use case examples directly in the briefing document so the spokesperson has easy access and can review before or during the call.
- Reporter/analyst biography. This can be a quick paragraph from their website or LinkedIn that explains specifically what the reporter or analyst does and what their interests are. Pro tip: Include the interviewer’s photo and links to their Twitter handle and LinkedIn profile in case the spokesperson wants to dig deeper to prepare.
- Recent and relevant coverage. What has the report / analyst been working on lately? Have they recently covered a topic that matches what your company does? If they are well known for covering one “beat,” such as personal finance or consumer electronics, they likely have lots of articles that make it easy to track. But if they haven’t written a topic that fits your company neatly, you might need to dig a little to find relevant articles. Aim for three to four recent articles. Pro tip: Make sure you include the link to the article, and if hidden behind a paywall, ask around to see who might be able to deliver access or a PDF to the article.
Looking for tips on how to land interviews? Check out our recent blog “Which is Better, a Press Release or a Pitch?”