PR firms are often asked to develop proposals on spec in order to secure business from a potential client. Sometimes it’s as simple as a word document laying out a strategy to solve a communications challenge, or it can be an excruciatingly detailed RFP (sometimes known as Request for Pain!)
It also happens that many of the proposals a PR firm submits go into the infamous “black hole.” The prospect seems to fade away and is never heard from again. Frustrating? Maddening? Yes, but there are some red flags to pay attention to that may help you make sound choices when apportioning precious PR agency resources in the pursuit of new business.
The turnaround time is incredibly tight. In our experience this sometimes means a marketing team has been tasked with the impossible and is looking to PR as a life raft even though they haven’t been funded to retain external counsel. Ask a lot of questions when you see a crazy deadline to help you separate reality from fiction.
Request has been sent to a cast of thousands. Always ask how many agencies are involved in the search and ask about size of firms, location etc. Although there are exceptions, as in the case of government contracts, a good rule of thumb is that a client looking at more than 3-5 firms is probably “idea-shopping” rather than truly looking for PR agency partner. Run, don’t walk.
The client contact is tentative and inexperienced. This may signal a disconnect between the manager or director looking for a PR firm and the more junior person they have tasked to act as a clearinghouse. There is potential for a real mismatch and you may never learn why your proposal failed to make it up the chain. Try to get a conversation with the most senior person on the team as early in the process as you can.
The budget is ridiculously low or ridiculously high. Unrealistic expectations usually drive this conundrum. If your PR agency is in love with the project – it’s a premiere brand, it fills a category niche you have coveted – and you can find a comfortable approach to working on it, go for it. Important side note: if there is no budget, that is an enormous red flag. Perhaps these are people who haven’t thought out what PR will cost them and need to be educated before seeking proposals.
The prospect has been through a series of agencies. There’s an opportunity for your agency to be the one with the magic formula for success with this client. Just know that your days are numbered, as this leopard rarely changes its spots. If you’re privy to any of the agencies who were employed before you, check out the prospect with them for some inside scoop.