When a request for proposals (RFP) comes in the door, anyone who’s worked in PR or advertising knows the drill: Firms spend valuable hours researching the prospective client, provide relevant media targets, compile thoughtful communications plans with timelines, etc. There are frequently several rounds of pitches to narrow the field, and finally the company selects its top choice.
What if a company was just fishing for free ideas and never intended to hire an agency in the first place? Of course, there’s no way to know anyone’s intentions, but the question remains: Why is the system set up so that competing agencies are not compensated for their time, efforts, and ideas?
Pitching a business prospect is like interviewing for a job. Most companies don’t compensate job candidates for their time if they don’t end up hiring them. It stands to reason that new business prospects shouldn’t have to compensate firms for their time. There’s one major difference: Unsuccessful job candidates don’t leave behind turnkey programs that companies can implement once they’re out the door. Agencies do.
Why must agencies go unpaid for the bright ideas they deliver? Is it unreasonable to ask companies to provide remuneration to agencies competing for their business?
Company-side marketing and PR teams will say, "That's the way it's always been done," "How else should we evaluate agencies," and/or "What's wrong with getting something for nothing if agencies are willing to participate?"
Well, we’d still be riding chariots to work if we took the "that's the way it's always been done" attitude.
In terms of how to evaluate agencies, I think a compromise would be for companies to assign agencies short-term assignments and pay them for the work. The companies would get help in moving their business forward, and the agencies would have the opportunity to shine in real-life situations, while being compensated for their time and effort.
The answer to the question, "What's wrong with getting something for nothing?" is embedded in the question—companies are getting ideas for free. Much like the debate over unpaid internships that is heating up the blogosphere, I still think it’s worthwhile to question a common business practice that should be reevaluated.
If anyone else has experienced similar frustrations or has a different opinion, please sound off in the comments.
Chris Macdonald is an account coordinator at Stearns Johnson Communications