Time-consuming, painstaking, laborious — these words all describe the PR agency RFP process. This process is always resource-intensive and only sometimes achieves the desired results. So, what can you do to alleviate the burden and get better results?
Before you commit to a lengthy RFP process for selecting a PR firm, you should first know what you want to get out of the process. What communications challenges do you want a PR partner to help solve? What specialty expertise does your PR firm need to have? What’s your budget? To further streamline the PR agency search process, follow these guidelines:
Five Steps for a Better RFP Process
- Don’t be tempted to blast an RFP to every PR agency you can find. It can bog you down and almost never produces the desired result. Instead, narrow down your list of potential PR partners using this guide. This will help you answer the questions above, as well as provide guidance on the best places to begin your search for a PR firm.
- Send out a “Request for Information” to interesting firms instead. This should not be a long list. Keep it to a maximum of 5-10 firms. This will save time and ensure you focus only on the firms most likely to meet your primary criteria.
- After reviewing the RFI submissions, have short exploratory conversations with your top choices so far. Limit the list at this stage to no more than five firms. Schedule enough time with each to get to know them as a firm and to gauge your initial business chemistry.
- Invite two to three firms to pitch you. Notice there is no RFP by this step? That is because the in-person pitch, not a cumbersome document, is what reveals the answers you and your fellow decision-makers seek. If you are required to issue an RFP for specialized reasons, such as on behalf of a very large company, only issue it to your short list. Don’t expect 20 PR agencies to invest the substantial hours it takes to respond for what is ostensibly a 1-in-20 chance of winning your business. You will certainly lose out on hiring the best agencies.
- Notify the winner and negotiate a contract. Congratulations! You have just saved a lot of time and selected a PR partner well-suited to help you achieve your business goals.
Best Practices for Embarking on a Search for a PR firm
Of course, streamlining the PR agency search process will all be for naught if you don’t ensure C-level buy-in from the start. We have heard too many stories about companies thinking they are ready for PR, inviting time-consuming RFP responses, and then canceling the search after it comes out in a pitch meeting that a key executive does not want to invest in PR yet. You will save your business — and your staff — considerable time and effort by having all the decisionmakers onboard to start.
Ensuring C-level buy-in and getting their input early in the process will also help you focus your search on what matters most for your business. That way, you can establish clear goals for the search process, communicate your PR needs via an RFI (and maybe an RFP) and better evaluate the PR firms that respond. If that RFP document does not contain all your requirements, responses to it will necessarily feel inadequate. Ensure you do the work up front in order to produce the end results you want.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.