Though we’ve written about RFPs (Requests for Proposal) before, as the economy continues to improve we have noticed they are starting to appear again with more regularity. A good sign? As it pertains to new business and opportunities being projected, yes. As a procedure for identifying the right marketing/public relations partner, hardly.
There is no denying that RFPs have their place in some industry sectors, in particular governmental. At Tanner Friedman, we also have no problem whatsoever with the competitive process. Yet, in the world of professional services, the RFP approach is an antiquated, inefficient and ineffective for the company doing the searching. It is also our experience that it is, quite often, a “sham” from the start.
Companies seeking an agency should think about it this way: Do you put out an RFP to find an attorney? A CPA? A financial advisor? No. You talk to and seek referrals from those you trust. You do some research online. You identify a short list based on who has the best reputation and who might best fit your company’s needs and culture. Then, you meet with them one-on-one to discuss your needs and their capabilities. Perhaps they then present a proposal based on your actual, specific needs and expectations.
The RFP process is the antithesis of all of these best practices; a faceless, mass cattle call that often asks for work product from the answering firms. Never mind that such work product (i.e. tactical recommendations) is what professional services are paid for. In an RFP document, there is typically no tangible information on which to even base such specific recommendations. As a result, any “meat” provided by a firm gullible enough to provide it is largely “fiction” anyway.
Ask most professional service firms today (including those in PR and marketing) about their feelings on receiving an RFP and you will almost unequivocally see eye balls roll as, all too often, the process is only being employed to appease board members or HR. In other words, the company issuing the RFP already knows who they want to work with and are merely going through the motions with regard to internal process. As such, healthy, solid firms will quite often avoid the process entirely while, on the other hand, those who are desperate or otherwise in need of the work, will participate. Unfortunately, a respectable entity looking to issue a well-intentioned RFP often finds itself stuck sorting through proposals from the bottom of the barrel.
So, if you are a company thinking about looking for a PR firm to help you move your business objectives forward, we humbly suggest you drop the RFP and pick up the phone. Talk to those in the know about what you are looking for and gain their recommendations for who you should personally talk to and meet with. Call local media outlets – newsrooms and reporters – to see whom they respect and hold in high regard. Moreover, go online. Check out PR firm web and social media sites and, importantly, google research them for more information on who they are and what they are about.
In the end, you might be amending (evolving) your process, but you and your organization will be much, much better served.