Tips For Top PR Firms: More Creative Proposals

The start of the New Year signifies the beginning of RFP “season” for PR pros, since many consumer and B2B companies are looking for fresh marketing direction.  During this time you can expect to hear catch phrases like “out of the box thinking” and “disruptive innovation.”  It’s not a good idea to embrace creativity for creativity’s sake, but you can make your proposal and pitch stand out to demonstrate that you understand the brand and its target audience.  Here are a few pointers.

Dress to kill. We don’t mean put on your best suit (but do that if appropriate); we mean, dress your presentation. Banish boring templates. Jettison jargon and be so comfortable with your concepts that you could sell them in your sleep. But not so comfortable that you come off robotically reciting. Take breaths, make jokes, if you’ve read the audience and it feels right, and encourage conversation.  Just as the comments section of a blog post are often the most compelling, the same goes for the conversation sparked during a dialogue with a prospective client.

Be in the know. What’s the latest fad these days?  Tebowing?  Twerking? A healthy dose of pop culture – when used correctly – can go a long way to demonstrate that you are constantly current and know how to make a brand relevant and keep it in the news.  Same goes for suggested platforms – if Twitter chats are no longer the “it thing” figure out what is.  Gif, anyone?

Gather round the campfire. Recently, no doubt, you’ve heard the term “storytelling” ad nauseum. But when you think about it, it’s true – even the most dyed-in-the-wool corporate types would rather be told a story than “presented” to. So treat your presentation like a story. Include these five components:


Incident (illustrative of challenges and opportunities)

Stakes (what client has to gain and what you recommend they must do)

Main event (Big idea!)

Resolution (proof points)

When in doubt, enthusiasm wins out. Even if you feel less than confident, focus on enthusiasm. Heartfelt and genuine can trump cold and precise anytime. Even if you skip a slide or cover something twice, if you’ve already got the audience on your side, it will be hard for them to resist your passion and easy for them to remember you when decision-time comes.

(Don’t) bask in the afterglow. No matter how awesome you and your team were, never laurel-rest. Perform a post-mortem with the group to see what worked and what didn’t and keep notes for the next presentation. Stay in touch with the prospect in a polite way to determine next steps.  Congratulations if you win and on to the next, if someone else does!

Preparing the Perfect RFP: Tips From A Top PR Agency

As a PR agency professional, I’ve grappled with a fair share of requests for proposals, better known as RFPs. These documents can create excitement inside an agency, but since they often require an “all hands on deck” approach and usually include several PR firms, they’re regarded as a necessary evil.

But the issuance of an RFP or an RFI (Request for Information, which typically asks for capabilities information only), indicates a thoughtful agency review process and, in my eyes, shows that a company is really serious about hiring the right PR firm – all good things!

But all RFPs are not created equal. Some companies don’t ask the right questions and don’t provide necessary information in their RFPs, which can set up PR agencies for failure or frustration from the get-go.

Kicking off an agency search with a well-written, straightforward, concise RFP will help your agency contenders respond with the most relevant information.

Here are a few tips.

Allow enough time to develop a complete proposal
You don’t need to give PR firms months to respond to your RFP, but providing them with enough time (read: more than two days) to prepare a thoughtful response is best for all parties. Remember, PR agencies consider existing client work their top priority (and isn’t that how you would want to be treated?)

While the “right” amount of time is dependent on the questions asked and the scope of work involved, a good rule of thumb is two weeks for response time.

Share your budget, or at least provide a range
The number of RFPs that ask for detailed recommendations yet don’t include any hint about PR budget is shocking. It’s not really fair to ask an agency to invest time in a response without budget parameters, and, the truth is, you’ll save time, receive a more on-target proposal and select a more engaged field of respondents if you outline the investment.

Keep it brief & provide some background
Background is very welcome, but the RFP itself should be brief. You can learn a lot about an agency by asking a few direct questions, asking for related client experience, and offering your time for Q&A.

To start an RFP, it’s best to begin describing company marketing goals, recent hits and misses, and what you expect from an agency relationship. You don’t need to outline everything about your company, since the agency should be able to research your PR footprint, but ask yourself what’s not in your digital history that a prospective PR firm needs to know. A change in marketing direction, competitive concerns, and prior experiences with agencies are all relevant here.

Keep everyone in the loop
Let agencies know what comes after they clear the RFP hurdle. How will you narrow the field? When will face-to-face meetings take place? Who are the decision-makers?

The truth is, when the agency and prospect meet face to face, chemistry comes into play, and that isn’t something an RFP response can measure. The RFP process helps winnow out those who would be a mismatch and offers up the real contenders. Just keep these tips in mind to make the process work best for all participants.

Can "The Pitch" Be Fixed?

Can the pitch be fixed? I don’t mean the new reality TV show, although the debut episode was a losing proposition — contrived, tedious, and unrealistic. But there was one aspect of the show that hit home, and that was the pitch itself.

A team from McKinney, the first of two ad agencies competing to win a client, files into a stark conference room, engages in awkward chitchat, and begins an upbeat walk-through of its lead creative campaign idea. The energy feels forced as the camera zooms in on the client executives, blank-faced, bored, distracted.

The vacant client reactions were probably a function of editing, to heighten what little tension the episode contained, and (spoiler alert) McKinney comes out on top, so there’s no abuse here. But the uncomfortable presentation scene made me reflect again on the typical search process where the agencies turn themselves inside out and throw lots of time and talent at a creative assignment in hopes of winning the prize.

I wonder if the clients who sponsor these beauty contests fully realize how hard a competitive pitch is on the participating companies. Maybe they do, since for the client who looks at ten firms, the search is likely to be protracted, confusing, and absurdly time-consuming. (On the show, the client very humanely looks at only two agencies. But the typical bake-off can include far more.)

It’s ironic that most agencies will deliver their best work on spec. At least in advertising, the creative that takes first place will presumably be the basis for the actual campaign. But ask PR professionals how many times they’ve actually executed the winning idea. For us, the pitch is usually an expensive and time-consuming chemistry test.

The whole process could use a fix. Here are my thoughts on how we might simplify the typical agency search:

Limit the field. Three or, at most, four agencies should be enough. It helps if the key attributes of the most compatible agency partner – size, culture, geography, etc. – are determined ahead of time.

Limit the deciders. Of course, corporate politics may dictate otherwise, but a smaller decision committee will save time, money, and anguish on both sides. A cross-functional team is an invitation to disaster.

Skip the RFP. We recently participated in a project pitch where the prospect vetted us by phone, then followed with a brief questionnaire with five open-ended questions, asking for our response in three days. They made a decision two days later. Almost painless. (p.s., we won.)

State your budget. Many clients fear being open about the budget because they want to take advantage of a competitive situation to get the best price. Why not determine your actual budget and get the highest quality work for it?

Spend the time. Offering real access to the decision-maker(s) and delivering quality information to agency candidates, rather than delegating the discovery process to an intern, will elevate the caliber of agencies who participate and the recommendations you receive.

Consider paying for spec work. You’ll get more in-depth, higher quality responses. And every agency will love you for it.