It’s Time to Rethink the Request for Proposals Process

A businessman and a client shaking hands

The Fearey GroupBy Aaron Blank, CEO of The Fearey Group, our Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) partner in Seattle

 

As a large-scale company, a not-for-profit or a startup brand, let’s say you’re interested in contracting with a new PR agency. Perhaps you’re looking for a fresh perspective or preparing to take that fledgling step into the PR world. There are certain advantages to having a firm by your side, including the many relationships they can help open for you.

The general rule of thumb is to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) with the hope that if you cast a wide enough net, multiple PR agencies will submit dazzling proposals and you get the pick of the litter.

As the CEO of a Seattle mainstay PR agency (we’re celebrating our 37th year in business), I feel beholden to tell you, the RFP process is quite different. It’s time to throw out this archaic search for hire model and instead establish an RFP process that’s relationship-based from the outset.

Out with the Old

Within any PR agency, every minute matters and time devoted to something other than serving our clients is time ill spent. Prepping, writing, and proofing a proposal can be an incredibly lengthy and expensive process. I’m talking thousands of dollars in potential work hours. That’s an amount of money few agencies are willing to part with unless they know they have a serious opportunity in front of them.

When you cast that net wide, the odds are no longer in our favor, and with every agency you invite to submit a proposal, our interest diminishes. Established agencies that respond to a wide-reaching, generic RFP aren’t going to be worth your time anyway.

Rewrite the Rules of the Game

Instead of throwing ideas on the wall until something sticks, personalize the RFP process and be more intentional from the word “go.”

Here are a few tips to help you find more success and land the ideal PR agency for your organization.

  1. Frontload the research to simplify your search.

From an agency perspective, we are much more likely to take you seriously and devote the time and energy necessary to produce a quality product if we know there’s a real chance of working together. Establish some key criteria for your ideal candidates, then go and find the top five (or less!) firms that match. Learn as much about them as possible, then narrow that list down to two to three. Now the real RFP process can begin.

  1. Test the waters.

Before you even ask for a proposal, challenge yourself and your team to put in some face time with those two to three agencies. Go to lunch or grab a drink and interact with them on a personal level outside of the conference room. You are going to be working with these people quite a bit and putting a high level of trust in an agency that manages all your customer-facing interactions. Make sure the relationship is solid before you dive into the professional side of things. Again, for the most part, from an agency perspective, we only accept or provide RFPs if we already have a working relationship with the company and feel that it’s a good fit. We ask the make or break question: “How many agencies have you sent this to as part of your process?” Then we decide on odds and if we’re willing to place a bet. We prefer more than a bet. We want to know you.

  1. Don’t treat RFPs as solely transactional.A business meeting with a client

Of course, there’s a transactional element to the process, that’s unavoidable, but at the core, people are looking for meaningful relationships that result in reciprocal success and growth. At The Fearey Group, we aren’t interested in one-off projects from a faceless organization. That doesn’t fulfill our goal of personal connection and long-term relationship building – and I bet other agencies would agree with us. When you base a decision like this solely on a spreadsheet and words on paper, there is a great deal that can be lost in translation. Build in a relationship element into your getting to know the people submitting proposals. Even if you don’t hire that agency, at least you’ve built a friendship and potential relationship that could be business focused in the future.

Narrow your search and make time for facetime, I promise you’ll be glad you did.

  1. Include a defined scope of work and budget

This will instantly give us a good idea of your project and needs; leaving it out can mean your RFP won’t be taken seriously.

If you’re developing an RFP, reach out to us. We can help you manage the process and would love to get to know you better. We have clear, general examples of previous RFPs from companies that we can share with you. We can tell you how to go about the process and what to insert into your RFP. Heck, we’d be starting a relationship. Reach out.

Cheers to a successful year!

What would you change about the standard RFP process? Leave a comment below or tweet us @LandisComm.

This blog was originally published at www.feareygroup.com.

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3 Comments

  1. David Landis Reply

    Aaron, a great blog post. Many people in business today should take heed of your suggestions. Folks think that an RFP is the best way to find the best talent but sometimes it delivers bad results. Furthermore, prospects often leave budget and scope of work out of the RFP in the interest of “finding a bargain.” That is never a good idea as it wastes time and effort on both sides. Cheers, David

  2. Ashley Boarman Reply

    Our very own Brianne Miller does a great job of getting to know any potential client on the phone first by asking many of the questions outlined above. I think the biggest place companies fall down in the RFP process is clear communication, just being crystal clear about the SOW and budget. At all agencies I’ve worked for this seems to be the biggest issue when an RFP comes in.

  3. Gus Nodal Reply

    Great tips, Aaron. Completely agree with the importance of the relationship element. Always necessary to test drive the car before you buy it…