PR Guide to Stellar Briefing Books

The practice of public relations is seen as a creative one, but it often depends on meticulous preparation. The PR briefing book is no exception; it’s a simple tool, yet a critical asset for a brand spokesperson to prepare for media interviews. The best briefing books offer a go-to reference and “study guide” so an interviewee has full background on the reporter, the outlet, and the best messaging for the opportunity.

PR guide to stellar briefing books

Make it easy on the eyes

Since the interviewee may be reviewing the document on the fly while in transit or during the interview(s), it should be well structured and easy to read. The when, where, who, and the featured topic should be scannable at the top of the document. If the executive is talking to multiple journalists, the briefing book should have a table of contents, an interview schedule grid, and the top three recommended messages for each exchange (different journalists may focus on different story angles.) Also essential are the reporter’s background information, a description of his publication, and any relevant preferences for the meeting.

The message is the medium

The most important parts of the briefing book are the messaging and questions sections. Although the PR team will have thoroughly prepped the spokesperson, they will also outline potential questions and recommended points for response. It’s generally impossible to predict a journalist’s questions with 100% accuracy, but sample queries can give the spokesperson a degree of comfort that makes for a smoother dialogue. Additionally, briefing documents should include an “expected outcome” outlining the desired next steps.

Briefing books shouldn’t contain sensitive material

In 2016, Gizmodo got ahold of a stray email thread from a Microsoft employee that included some highly detailed “dossiers” about journalists. While not patently nefarious, the documents included a rather deep dive into journalists’ predilections, including a “tips and tricks” section (presumably to handle or outwit reporters) and information on some reporters’ strong personal opinions about competitive products. The article’s author also found it “creepy” that the briefings included photos of the reporters.

We at Crenshaw Communications do not have a “tips & tricks” section, but we do offer headshots  – simply to put a name to a face. We also include the reporter’s three most recent and relevant articles and their Twitter handles, offering a glimpse into the style and beat of the journalists. But it goes without saying that you shouldn’t put anything in a medium briefing book that you wouldn’t want the reporter to see. (On the more nefarious front, in 2015 Columbia Journalism Review uncovered a company called NewsBios that sold reporter dossiers to PR pros. These dossiers contained some genuinely sensitive biographical information like home addresses and names of pets. Not recommended.)

Aside from the document itself, the PR pros will also brief the interviewee on the reporter’s general style based on previous experience. On the other side of the table, the PR contact will often supply the reporter with background on the spokesperson if they’re not acquainted.

Though a relatively small and tactical piece in the PR puzzle, a well-constructed briefing book  is an indispensable media relations roadmap. See last week’s post for a deeper dive into PR facilitation of media interviews.

Creating A Killer PR Briefing Book

The secret behind a great media interview? Sometimes, it’s the humble briefing book. Prior to a media meeting, most PR pros prepare a thorough briefing book to introduce a client or spokesperson to each individual outlet and interviewer. In “The Devil Wears Prada” the “mother of all briefing books” was an actual volume that Anne Hathaway used to make Meryl Streep brilliant in any receiving line.

In the HBO comedy “Veep,” the briefing book used by Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the incredibly granular data stored on every aide’s smartphone, whispered into the Veep’s ear or headset, often with interesting results.

Wherever it’s used, the PR briefing book enables the spokesperson to gain a level of comfort and confidence regarding the interview. A well-written book helps ensure a smooth interview process and a great resulting placement.

Here’s how to prepare a killer briefing book:

Have Structure
The briefing book should have a structured format. Elements like a cover page, table of contents, and full details on the outlet and the writer provide organization that will make it easier for your client to navigate.

Tell Their Story
The briefing book should include all relevant information about the outlet, the reporter’s position, and how he/she prefers to interview (in person, by phone, over drinks, etc.). But, to be truly effective, tell the interviewer’s story – include previous articles, former positions, and interesting personal details such as whether the writer has children or an interesting hobby. At Crenshaw Communications, our briefing books often include photos of the interviewer to help the client become familiar in advance.

No Surprises
It is crucial that all details are factual, accurate, and up-to-date. The spokesperson will be relying on this information to prepare for the interview and it is essential that it is correct. There is nothing worse for both parties than supplying a misspelled name or wrong biographical data.

Make It Accessible
Once you have a briefing book, make it a “living, breathing” document, easily updated and available. Save it on a cloud-based system or another shared network. This way it can also be easily updated, edited, and used by other members of your team.
Interviews can be daunting, but intense preparation, as symbolized by a superior briefing book, will assure that your client will be one step ahead of the game.