As a PR agency professional, I’ve grappled with a fair share of requests for proposals, or RFPs.
These documents can create excitement inside an agency, but because they often require an “all hands on deck” approach and usually include several PR firms, they’re regarded as a necessary evil.
The issuance of an RFP or an RFI (Request for Information, which typically asks for capabilities information only), indicates a thoughtful agency review process and, in my eyes, shows that a company is really serious about hiring the right PR firm—all good things.
Not all RFPs are created equal. Some companies don’t ask the right questions and don’t provide necessary information in their RFPs, which can set up PR agencies for failure or frustration from the get-go.
Kicking off an agency search with a well-written, straightforward, concise RFP will help your agency contenders respond with the most relevant information.
Here are a few tips:
Allow enough time to develop a complete proposal
You don’t have to give PR firms months to respond to your RFP, but affording them enough time (read: more than two days) to prepare a thoughtful response is best for all parties. Remember, PR agencies consider existing client work their top priority. (Isn’t that how you would want to be treated?)
Though the “right” amount of time depends on the questions asked and the scope of work involved, a good rule of thumb is two weeks for response time.
Share your budget, or at least provide a range
It’s shocking how many RFPs that ask for detailed recommendations yet don’t include any hint about PR budget.
It’s not really fair to ask an agency to invest time in a response without budget parameters. You’ll save time, receive a more on-target proposal, and select a more engaged field of respondents if you outline the investment.
Keep it brief, but provide some background
Background is very welcome, but the RFP itself should be brief. You can learn a lot about an agency by asking a few direct questions, requesting related client experience, and offering your time for a Q&A.
To start an RFP, it’s best to describe company marketing goals, recent hits and misses, and what you expect from an agency relationship. You don’t have to outline everything about your company, as the agency should be able to research your PR footprint, but ask yourself what’s not in your digital history that a prospective PR firm needs to know. A change in marketing direction, competitive concerns, and prior experiences with agencies are all relevant here.
Keep everyone in the loop
Let agencies know what comes after they clear the RFP hurdle. How will you narrow the field? When will face-to-face meetings take place? Who are the decision makers?
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When the agency and prospect meet face to face, chemistry comes into play, and that isn’t something an RFP response can measure. The RFP process helps winnow out those who would be a mismatch and offers up the real contenders.
Just keep these tips in mind to make the process work best for all participants.
Kaitlyn Kotlowski is an account supervisor at Crenshaw Communications. Follow her on Twitter @kaitanne. A version of this story first appeared on the agency's
blog, PR Fish Bowl.