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Public Relations RFP and Choosing The Right Agency — Be Careful What You Ask For, You Just Might Get It

PR RFP can be crazy

To get the right answers you need to ask the right questions — a great RFP can make all the difference

The use of outside public relations counsel can help build your brand and raise your company’s profile quickly and cost-effectively. Bringing a new agency on board can be a significant investment and deserves a fair amount of investigation. Since PR is a practice more difficult to define and quantify than many other types of services, this can become a daunting process. Sometimes, the best solution is to create a formal request for proposal (RFP) that is answered in writing, presented in person or both. The trick is developing an RFP that will help you find an agency to enable you to meet your marketing objectives and provide maximum return on investment. In addition, it should help you identify a team that is able to work within your corporate culture and one you will enjoy spending time with. Below are some suggestions for putting together an RFP that will allow you find a firm to best fit your needs while making the process easier on you and your team and setting a positive tone for your new working relationship. Define your needs Developing an RPP for a PR agency can be a challenge. Before you begin your search, have a clear understanding of the business objectives you are trying to achieve and how a PR program might be used to help reach them. Communicate this clearly to the prospective agency. This will ensure that the recommendations they make will map to your needs and will help the agency focus its strategic and creative thinking. If your company has not yet clearly defined its business objectives, this may be a sign that it is too early to engage an agency. Nondisclosure A good agency will insist on learning all about your company before providing recommendations. Understanding the good, the bad and the ugly is critical from the beginning. Before you share your dirty laundry with an outside company, make sure they sign a nondisclosure agreement. Once this is signed, share everything. Define the scope Be realistic about the scope of the PR program you want to develop and be up front about your budget. If you have specific ideas about the PR program you want to implement, a quick conversation with a prospective agency should be able to provide a ballpark idea of what it might cost. Even if you are unsure about the specifics of the program, providing a budget range will help the agency prioritize recommendations and develop programs and campaigns that you can realistically implement. It is also helpful because it allows the agency to build the right team for your needs from the outset. Discovering at the end of the review process that you and a prospective agency do not agree on a budget can waste tremendous amounts of your time, your executives’ time and the agency’s time. Insist on meeting the account team Meet the team that will be staffing your account – particularly your day-to-day contacts and account managers. If you are asking an agency to do anything more than a basic capabilities overview, you should expect the account team be involved from the start. Assess the right skills
Do you want a dog and pony show or do you want to find the best agency?

Do you want to be entertained or do you want to find the best agency?

There are a number of skills the people on your account team should possess. These include interpersonal communications, attention to detail, follow up, writing, creative thinking, strategic thinking and thinking on the fly. Think about how to assess these skills before, during and after the presentation. The ability to develop and deliver a creative, polished and snazzy presentation is great, but a much wider skill set is required to deliver reasonable results. Consider the complete process, not just the presentation. What are your first impressions of the people? Would you enjoy working with them? How did they prepare for the pitch? Did they ask insightful questions? Did they uncover good information? Did they do their homework before the first meeting? How about follow-up? If you would like to see what it will be like to partner with the agency, bring them in for a working meeting to discuss an issue, campaign, new product launch or a specific idea. See how they react to an interactive discussion and what kind of ideas they have on the spot. Then what they come up with after a day or two to think about it and conduct additional research. Prepare your decision-makers Let the decision-makers know ahead of time the scope of the RFP and what you have asked the agency to discuss so that they can understand the full context and scope of what is being recommended or presented. Also, if it is a presentation, make sure the people in the room are committed to being there. Consider limiting presentations to one a day. This makes it easier for your executives to give each presentation their full attention. Also, consider asking that all cell phones, lap tops, PDAs, and other devices be turned off. A PR program requires a strong commitment from the client in order to be successful. Keep in mind that a the best agencies are selective about the type of clients they work with. They need to make sure that a strong partnership can be forged and are using the RFP process as a way to evaluate whether or not they want to work with you and your team. Play fair Even the most modest RFP response or new business proposal can be extremely time consuming and expensive for an agency to put together. In addition to various hard costs, thousands of dollars worth of staff time goes into every one. The costs for a large and competitive pitch can be staggering. While this cost is admittedly a cost of doing business, it is only fair that an agency asked to come up with ideas and recommendations for your company should be able to expect the possibility of seeing a return on that investment. Conducting an RFP for the sole purpose of gathering research, insights and creative ideas, or intentionally misleading a prospective agency in regards to potential budget, is dishonest and can reflect poorly on your company. Finding the right agency can have a positive impact on your business. Getting the RFP right is an excellent step toward that goal.