PR firms are often asked to develop proposals on spec to secure business from a potential client.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a Word document laying out a strategy to solve a communications challenge, or it can be an excruciatingly detailed request for proposals (sometimes known as a request for pain).
It also happens that many of the proposals a PR firm submits go into the infamous “black hole.” The prospect seems to fade away and is never heard from again.
Frustrating? Maddening? Yes, but there are some red flags that can help you make sound choices when apportioning precious PR agency resources in the pursuit of new business:
The turnaround time is incredibly tight.
In our experience this sometimes means a marketing team has been given an impossible task and is looking to PR as a life raft even though it hasn’t been given funding to retain external counsel. Ask a lot of questions when you see a crazy deadline to help you separate reality from fiction.
The request has been sent to a cast of thousands.
Always ask how many agencies are involved in the search, and ask about size of firms, location, etc. Although there are exceptions, as in the case of government contracts, a good rule of thumb is that a client looking at more than three firms is probably “idea-shopping” rather than truly looking for a PR agency partner. Run, don’t walk.
The client contact is tentative and inexperienced.
This could signal a disconnect between the manager or director looking for a PR firm and the more junior person they have tasked to act as a clearinghouse. There is potential for a real mismatch, and you might never learn why your proposal failed to make it up the chain. Try to get a conversation with the most senior person on the team as early as you can.
The budget is ridiculously low or ridiculously high.
Unrealistic expectations are usually behind this situation. If your PR agency is in love with the project—it’s a premier brand, it fills a category niche you have coveted—and you can find a comfortable approach to working on it, go for it.
Important side note: If there is no budget
, that is an enormous red flag. Perhaps these are people who haven’t thought out what PR will cost them and should be educated before seeking proposals.
[RELATED: Find out how to craft the perfect pitch at our April PR & Media Relations event in NYC.]
The prospect has been through a series of agencies.
There’s an opportunity for your agency to be the one with the magic formula for success with this client. Just know that your days are numbered, as this leopard rarely changes its spots. If you’re privy to any of the agencies who were employed before you, check out the prospect with them for the inside scoop.
Marijane Funess is media relations director at Crenshaw Communications. A version of this story first appeared on on the agency's PR Fish Bowl blog.