If you've been in the PR business for a while, you no doubt have come across a PR request for proposals. An RFP can be an opportunity for your business or it can be a frustrating waste of time. When I was an in-house PR executive, I sent out several informal RFPs, and as a PR consultant I have submitted responses to several formal RFPs. What I have learned is that before you decide if you want to submit a response, you need to think it through and ask a bunch of questions.
Is It Up Your Agency's Alley?
First, you need to figure out if the RFP is in your agency's sweet spot and can you meet the RFP's deadline; sometimes they are tight turnarounds. Do you have the time and staff resources to respond? This is key because if you don't win the RFP, you have invested a lot in a competitive marketing project with no return on investment.
It's also helpful to know if the organization with the RFP is doing it for the first time or is looking to replace its existing agency. You may run into both kinds of situations. Is this a real "cattle call" with an unlimited number of agencies, or has the company looking for PR decided to limit the number of candidates?
A blurb about an RFP normally begins like this fictional one: "The Port Authority of Kingman Island is reviewing its PR account and is looking for agencies to submit proposals for two-year PR contracts." Each kind of entity that uses PR RFPs may have different requirements—companies, government agencies, universities, nonprofits, etc. You will need to get a copy of the RFP document on a website or have it sent to you so you can review the fine print.
Do You Give a Cookie Cutter Response or a Brand New One?
Some PR RFPs have page after page of specific questions; others are less detailed. But the big question is: Should you give a cookie-cutter response you can tweak from other proposals or should you do a new, full response specifically for this new RFP?
If you are a larger agency you can probably afford to go whole hog on these. If you are a smaller agency, you may need to go more cookie cutter.
It helps if you get a referral and the RFP comes to you that way. Even better, if you know someone involved in the RFP process, they can fill you in directly as opposed to just responding cold to someone you don't know.
The referral or knowing someone gets you in the door and you have a better chance. Otherwise, an RFP can be a crapshoot and a big time investment. One way around that is to partner with another agency on the RFP.
There Can Be Sticky Situation Wrinkles to the RFP Process
What if the prospective client asking for the RFP wants you to do a free test PR pitch with media? And what should you do if another PR agency brings you into the RFP process, and the client then wants to hire only you? These are both sticky situations: I would not do the test PR pitch for free, and if the client goes behind the other agency's back, I would discuss it with the people who brought you into the process.
One last thing to address is how to price your work for the RFP client if you are hired. Sometimes they will tell you; if you know someone involved, you can ask. Otherwise, it's best to give a fee range so you can avoid going too low or too high.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Responding to PR RFPs
- Is it right for your agency? Can you deliver if hired?
- Do you have the infrastructure to make RFP submissions?
- Can you afford time spent if you don't win the business?
- Is this a big or small RFP, a referral or do you know someone involved on the inside?
- How much red tape do you need to deal with in the RFP and if the group hires you?
As I mentioned at the beginning, an RFP can be a good new business tool. But make sure you have asked the right questions before you respond.