It’s Time to Rethink the Request for Proposal – RFP – Process

Aaron Blank / February 2, 2018

As a large-scale company, a not-for-profit or a start-up brand, let’s say you’re interested in contracting with a new Public Relations Agency. Either you’re looking for a fresh perspective or preparing to take that fledgling step into the PR world – welcome. 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 an RFP (Request for Proposals) 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.

RFP meeting

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 not many 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 in this day and age that respond to a wide-reaching, generic RFP aren’t going to be worth your time anyways.

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.

2. 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.

3. Don’t treat RFPs as solely transactional.

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.

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!

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Comments (1)

    David Landis avatar

    David Landis Feb 5, 2018, 7:19 AM

    Great blog. And one more recommendation to prospects: always include a defined scope of work and budget. Otherwise your RFP won’t be taken seriously.

Aaron Blank GIF

Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!