Let’s kill the RFP as a tool to find the best PR firm. Having been on the receiving end of numerous RFPs over the years, I can confidently state it is time to replace them with a simpler, yet far more effective process.
As it happens, a lot of PR-agency RFPs represent lost time for the client as well as the agencies involved. Many client-side hours can go into drafting an RFP, and many agency-side hours go into responding to the RFP. The reality is that the ultimate selection of a PR firm almost never has anything to do with information supplied in a RFP response, despite the outsized investment of time that it consumes.
In fact, much of the final decision is based on what is discussed in a room together – which also takes a lot of time, by the way – but there are far more efficient ways to determine a few firms to invite into the room than to go through a lengthy and costly RFP process.
In addition, many firms that might be an excellent match will decline to participate in an RFP process without first having had the opportunity to get to know the client and assess the potential fit before committing substantial resources toward a response.
The most effective process I’ve seen on the client-side usually goes like this:
- Step 1: Make a list of potential PR firms. This list is based on who you already know, and through an evaluation of PR agency websites.
- Step 2: Send out a Request for Information (RFI) to all firms that look interesting and relevant, or ask to schedule a quick briefing. This is not a full-blown request for proposals. An RFI requests basic information agencies already have on hand, like bios of staff members, areas of expertise, client lists, case studies. It does not ask them at this point to devote hours to a creative process or doing strategy work for ‘free’ in the hope of getting invited to a first meeting – many worthy firms will decline to participate, anyway. Download a sample RFI template below:
- Step 3: Invite no more than three of the most relevant and interesting firms in for a briefing. This is a meet-and-greet: an opportunity to get to know each other and better understand the PR needs of the company so that firms can begin thinking about how they would tackle the challenge.
- Step 4: Based on these interactions, invite two or three firms to pitch. This is where the real work begins for a prospective PR agency partner. Give them guidance on what you want to hear in the pitch – What approaches will they use to drive PR results? What creative campaigns or methods do they suggest? How would they respond to a hypothetical challenge you give them? Who will be on your account team? How would a relationship work? How will they measure success? How will they charge for their services? The scope of the pitch request should be in line with the scope the potential partnership.
- Step 5: Notify the ‘winner’ and negotiate a contract that is a win-win for both parties.
The difference between this approach and the typical RFP-based search is the RFI. This is a far more efficient and useful way to whittle down the list to two or three top PR firms. It also enables the agencies to reserve more of their time for the actual in-person pitch, which produces a much more accurate representation of what they would bring to the table in a relationship.
Feel free to use the free PR agency search template we have created, here. And, if you’d like to learn whether RH Strategic could be a good fit for your company, fill out our contact form and someone will respond right away.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.