Do we need a research brief?
Regardless of who carries out the work, it is important that a clear brief should be produced against which the subsequent work will be undertaken and judged. The research brief – which should be produced in both written and verbal form – is a key document and the starting point. In its preparation, the following two questions are important:
In this way, clearly defined objectives will be set and adhered to.
What should it contain?
First, the commissioning company should think very carefully about what and how much it wishes to disclose in the brief. Ideally, the brief should be open, precise and factual but there may be particular points that are best omitted; for example, the precise budget. A good briefing document, preferably accompanied by product/service literature, may cover between one and five pages. Its elaboration/discussion at a briefing meeting should clarify points, confirm contents and remove any written ambiguities. At the end of the meeting, if a quotation is to be submitted, the consultant/agency should both see and show a firm commitment to the project. A good research brief should contain the following:
It is not suggested that the briefing document be seen as a ‘straightjacket’, but rather as a series of well-thought-out guidelines. As such, the expertise of the agency/consultancy should be sought in the briefing meeting, both with regard to the information and requirements of the brief, as well as in discussion of the best methods of achieving the brief's objectives.
What else might we do?
While it is not suggested that the brief should define exactly some areas – for example, research methodology or precise budget allocation – although it could be helpful if some verbal discussion on these points were to take place during the briefing meeting. Given the expected expertise of the agency/consultancy, it is a very fair approach to provide a comprehensive briefing and ask for a written proposal offering the best solutions, including recommended methodologies, expected time frames and cost involved. While guidelines as to the probable research budget are very helpful, indications of precise budget allocations frequently tend to be met by proposal documents/terms of reference just under or exactly equal to the figures given!
Some commissioning organizations set a proposal deadline or tender submission date. At the briefing stage, it may be best to indicate the competitive quoting levels involved, without necessarily defining or naming these precisely. This stage should be seen as a further opportunity to confirm importance and commitment. Remember, the client retains the prerogative to reject all proposals, or require modifications to them.
Normally, the costs involved in the briefing meeting and preparation of the research proposal are seen by the consultants/agencies as part of their prospecting/business development costs and involve no client charges (whether the proposal is accepted or not), unless specifically previously agreed.
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