Requests for proposals (RFPs) are a double-edged sword for PR agencies like Matter. Of course, it’s far better to be invited to compete than to be left on the sidelines; it’s gratifying to know your reputation for PR results earned you a shot. Who wouldn’t want that?
The flip side is that – and with apologies to the marketing and procurement folks trying their level best to be efficient — the overwhelming majority of RFPs are poorly conceived, largely redundant and incredibly time-consuming for those asked to complete them.
How time consuming? For some of the larger RFPs we see, it can take as many as five people up to two weeks to develop a truly eye-opening, strategic response that sufficiently raises eyebrows from the prospect. That group includes PR staffers, researchers and graphic designers to ensure the finished product shines and inspires the issuing party to invite us to the dance.
For a privately-held PR agency like ours, that’s a whole lot of “soft cost” for one response to one RFP. Now think about the collective time expended across the five to seven PR agencies typically asked to respond. Moreover, firms completing the RFP response know they have maybe a 20 percent chance of winning the business. Some firms we know skip them altogether, but that’s never been Matter’s style. You can’t win if you don’t play, right?
Here are five ways to make the RFP process better for everyone:
- Ideally companies seeking PR agencies can do basic recon by visiting the websites of firms they’ve heard great things about. There, a lot of very basic questions can be answered such as relevant expertise, billing models, executive biographies, agency philosophy, etc.
- After skimming the websites of potential PR partners, set up a half-hour call with a leader at the agencies of interest. Do they seem smart, credible and knowledgeable about the PR industry? Are they asking the right questions about your needs and industry? At this point it should be relatively easy to shortlist or deep-six a firm from the consideration pile.
- Limit your RFP shortlist to four firms if necessary, but three if possible. Here’s why: PR agencies will jump through flaming hoops if they think they’ve got a solid shot at your business. Three firms competing means a 33.3 percent chance at winning. More than that means completing the RFP response is likely an exercise in futility. Plus, your company’s selection committee will thank you for not making them slog through umpteen responses.
- Keep the RFP itself laser focused. After the basic “fill in your company name” stuff, it should be kept to about 10-15 questions such as list of competitors, team structure, average fees, client tenure, relevant case studies, and here’s the big one: an open-ended question about your place in your industry or a challenge you face. This will enable the agency to show you how it thinks, which is the lifeblood of any meaningful relationship. This is where award-winning PR agencies like Matter shine.
- Give a budget range! Trust me, even if that range is $10K per month to $60K per month, it gives agencies something to work with when developing their presentations (which is the next phase of the courtship if a firm makes it to the next round). If you secretly know you’ve got an $8K budget and the firm you invite in presents mostly $50K ideas, a whole lot of time, resources and mental energy has just been wasted – on both sides.