It’s 4 pm on Thursday. You’re sitting at your desk rapidly flipping back and forth between writing the first draft of your clients’ next blog post and StubHub, waiting patiently to bid on the overflow Taylor Swift tickets that the local radio host swears will release momentarily. As a tech PR firm pro, you’re in the middle of typing up a G-Chat to your colleagues expressing both your excitement and anxiety for the opportunity to obtain said tickets, your email beeps on your computer, phone and watch. Curious, you scroll over to your inbox and check your watch simultaneously (this trend boggles my mind) to find the one message in PR that is both as exciting and anxiety-producing as trying to get T-Swift tickets: the request for proposal (RFP).
The RFP, a ritual with roots that date back to Moses searching for an agency to help promote his parting the Red Sea, exists, in theory, to help companies select technology PR agencies best built to serve their needs. For tech PR firms - especially leadership and executive teams - receiving an RFP is often viewed as an affirmation of the company’s positive perception, marketing savvy, brand awareness, or any combination thereof. With thousands and thousands of agencies in the country, the fact that a company has proactively identified your business as a potential partner brings out the competitive spirits and immediately gets the mind thinking about ways to win the business (excitement). Then reality sets in, and you collectively realize just how much time and resources required to complete the RFP in - wait how many days - just 10? Yikes (anxiety)!!!
All joking aside, the RFP process is the industry’s most tried-and-true method for companies to meet potential tech PR agency partners. For the company (prospective client), the RFP process can certainly be time-consuming, but it is mostly straightforward.
Create a list of criteria that the agencies must address and questions they must answer (i.e. client experience, conflicts of interest, employee expertise etc.)
Issue a limited or open RFP for agencies to submit their responses
Grade the responses and narrow down the top 3-5; inviting them to an in-person meeting or pitch
Select the favorite, either by vote or at the discretion of a sole decision maker.
Some companies in their RFPs will attempt to push the boundaries and ask for several overtly creative ideas from prospective agency partners. But just how much an agency should reveal without being paid or under contract is a debate for another day.
Proof that the RFP Process is Riddled with Flaws
One would think that with the amount of time companies spend on due diligence to find the right PR partner, those long-lasting relationships would be formed more often than not. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today, the average client-agency relationship has shrunk from 7.2 to 2.8 years. While each situation is unique, the root causes are clear: clients and agencies “wholeheartedly agree that agencies struggle to prove the impact of their work through measurement, while clients feel increasing pressure to prove the ROI of agency investments.” Ironically, poor communication, along with the tendency to overpromise and under deliver, are also primary drivers of flat-lining relationships. This reality does not reflect well on PR. Fortunately, a few tweaks to the RFP process can begin to fix such flaws.
Five Questions that Aren’t, But Must Be Asked in RFPs
So, what’s broken with the RFP process? Mostly that the questions and information most frequently asked of agencies does not fully align with what is truly most important for stakeholders to know and to help determine - with better precision - whether or not the agency is a sustainable partner for your company’s business goals, objectives, and culture.
For those in need of a tech PR firm specifically, there are five unique questions that aren’t being asked and SHOULD BE. These include:
Is the agency tech-savvy? Today’s PR pros have unprecedented technology at their disposal, such as marketing automation, Google Analytics, and social media monitoring tools. In fact, tech competent PR agencies can ensure that smart, evidence-based decisions are made quickly. What pro-growth organization wouldn’t want that?
What is the agency’s commitment to client service? Discovering whether or not a prospective agency partner is truly committed to client service is an effective differentiation method. Is the agency fully stuck on the billable hour or are they responsibly flexible?
Is the agency committed to its employees? As a potential client, you have every right to ask about voluntary employee turnover, professional development opportunities and other ways in which the prospective partner strives to keep its employees happy, engaged and retained. Happy agency employees = great client results.
Who is on my account team and what skills do they have? Considering how much time, money and resources are required to invest in an agency partner, knowing who your account team will be, why they are the best fit to manage your business and what skill sets they bring to the group is significant.
What makes the agency’s reporting stand out? Much of the PR industry struggles with demonstrating how a headline becomes a million-dollar sale. PR agencies should be aligning their reports with marketing to detail qualified leads that come from their efforts, cost per acquisition, and the lifetime value of those customers.
Companies asking agencies the right questions during the pitch process can truly see if “Sparks Fly” and if there will be a real opportunity to create “The Story of Us” throughout a long-term agency-client partnership (see what I did there?). And that’s a win-win for everyone involved.
For more tips and information about refining the RFP, download our most recent whitepaper, Rethinking the RFP Process: How to Select a Tech PR Partner to Push the Limits, here.