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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Better RFPs Yield the Best Results

It appears that a  number of tech companies are taking the advice I imparted last week in Beyond the Arc:  that it's a great time of year for corporate communications teams to ask themselves a question.

"Are we getting the desired results from our PR agency?"

OK, so perhaps it's just coincidence that we're seeing increased interest from prospects, as is the competition, on the heels of last week's post, "Six Key Categories for Gauging the Client/Agency Relationship."

Whatever the reason may be (OK, OK, it's the time of year and not my post...I know, I know), companies coast-to-coast are gearing up for an end-of-year sit down with their agency or are further along and may be putting the finishing touches on a PR agency "request for information" (RFI) or the more elaborate "request for proposal" (RFP).

A prospect's invitation to compete in an agency "bake-off" is reason for celebration at most agencies, whether it's a boutique shop with a deep speciality or a full service global firm.  Of course, once the excitement of being considered by the prospect wears off, it's time to get to the hard work of fulfilling the proposal's many requirements.  Responses numbering 40, 50, 60 or more pages are not unusual.  Fulfilling the request can monopolize a small shop's time for weeks as well as the time of key employees at larger agencies.  Personally, I much prefer an RFP with a shorter deadline.  In this business, the more time you have, the more time you take.

Once the response is submitted to the prospect, it's pretty much out of the agency's control.  It's during this period that a participating agency holds its collective breadth, works on other business and tries to pretend that they're not phased or worried by the lack of communication from the prospect.  A prospect's silence is deafening, especially during business climates like this one when so many great agencies are hungry and pulling out all the stops to compete for new business.

And, while you're finally busy working on other projects, an email or phone call arrives from the prospect telling you what you had hoped to hear: that you're agency made it to the next round, typically a live meeting with the prospect and the key decision makers.

The agency review process is equally intense for the client.  But when done thoroughly and thoughtfully, the process should yield a successful and sustainable agency/client relationship.

Of course, some companies run end-to-end agency reviews better than others.  Kathy Cripps of the Council of PR Firms pointed out that some RFPs act "more like a barrier, rather than a gateway to a productive client/agency partnership."

From what we're seeing, RFIs and RFPs are getting better and better at clearly stating company objectives, what the organization truly values and wants from an agency, the scope of work, fairer timetables, etc.  So as an industry, we're making progress.

If you're interested, there are a number of RFI/RFP building tools and resources for companies to leverage.  Here are a few:

To include 3Point Communications in your agency review, please get in touch with the appropriate 3Point partner from our "Contact Us" page.

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