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Check These Boxes Before Issuing Your RFP

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Today we bring you a guest post from Tim Munroe, VP of business development at Boston’s Pan Communications, concerning the dreaded RFP–and some tips on how to make the process a more valuable experience for all involved.

Over my 20 years in public relations, I have seen many requests for proposals (RFPs) from companies seeking agency services. Candidly, most RFPs are simply boilerplate, copy and pasted and with little to no tailoring to a company’s specific PR needs.  Some are well designed; many are not.

Most RFPs don’t ask the right questions or supply the right information for responding PR agencies.   What’s worse: many of the PR RFP questions provide no real chance for PR firms to distinguish themselves from each other. That’s whole point of the RFP exercise in the first place, right? Find the differences in agencies and select the one that best suits your needs.  For the most part, RFPs often are watered down attempts to level the playing field for agencies, but do nothing to winnow down the field of responding firms.

Here are some thoughts on how to change this copy & paste approach and create a better RFP when looking for a PR agency.

Provide a clear “ask”

What needs to be clearly stated is WHY your company has decided to bring on a PR agency:  the “ask” of the RFP. While this may be elementary, it’s not always apparent when you read a PR services RFP, because these RFPs are often drafted by committee. Is the purpose to accomplish a certain business objective; support the launch of a product or service; help the company elevate its brand visibility?  Many RFPs simply do not provide this clarification, instead stating only that the objective of these RFPs are “to find a PR partner”–which leaves the responding agencies at a disadvantage.

Show us the money

What’s the point of getting million-dollar PR ideas from an agency if you have a limited budget? Sometimes it is not possible to provide a budget, but every company should be able to provide a “budget range” on a monthly or project basis. If you are not providing one, your responding agencies will ask anyway–and those that do decide to participate even without a clear understanding of a potential budget will either be guarded or try to impress you with ideas that you can’t possibly execute.

Ask compelling questions and challenge your agencies

RFPs always seem to ask the same stock questions, and most agencies simply return the favor by copying and pasting stock answers.

It’s time to move away from that practice and use the PR Agency RFP as a chance to answer these key questions:

  • Does the agency/team have any experience executing your type of program for other similar clients? You may not find that an agency has direct experience executing what you are considering, but you should not have to pay agencies to learn on your dime.
  • How many hours will each employee get on my account per week?  Agencies, with some exceptions, work on an hourly billable rate, so you should know what to expect from each employee and the degree of responsibility that person has for other accounts at the agency.
  • How big an agency are you in terms of employees and revenues?  What you are really asking is:  do you have enough resources available to handle my business?
  • Who will work on my account and what is their DIRECT experience in my industry?
  • How do you handle client-requested team changes?   Both ability and chemistry is important in this business, and the agency should have a process in place to address any shortcomings.
  • Have any members of the team been recognized for their work either internally or externally? Don’t you want superstars on your account? I do.
  • How does your agency take advantage of earned v. paid media, social media within a campaign? 
  • Where are the new opportunities for us?
  • What is your perspective on our competitive landscape? The agency should prove to you that they have done the research and have a solid understanding of where your market is going.
  • How would you elevate our current use of social media? Surprisingly few brands understand social’s use beyond distributing information; I would challenge agencies to explain how they would handle a brand’s approach.
  • What is an example of a successful program– and why? I’d rather read a deep dissection of one client case study than see four case studies that are only “surface views” of the work an agency can do.
  • What is your agency’s solution for training team members on new tools and technologies, and how do you integrate them into client programs? How does an agency keep up with changes in social–and how does it train its account teams to be “smart” on the latest tools for the client’s benefit?
  • Finally, what are most/least creative media pitches your team has executed on, and why did they work or not work? Hearing an agency’s own take on its most and least successful work provides me with a better understanding of its culture and a greater sense of its team’s capacity for both confidence and humility. I want to work with an agency that understands the difference between success and failure and the value of each.

You’ll rarely find everything at one agency, but at least you can ask the kind of questions that will give you a better idea of whether one particular agency would make an ideal partner, right?

The point is: make the RFP work for you–and don’t settle for boilerplate.

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