For any growing B2B technology company, engaging a PR firm is a smart move, and one that’s likely inevitable. We talked in a previous post about the steps that companies need to take prior to issuing an RFP and beginning the process of finding a public relations agency. Assuming you’ve done the four things we recommend there, you are ready to create and issue your PR agency RFP.
To make sure you attract the best agencies, here are some things you should and shouldn’t do.
1. Do be complete but concise in your description of what you are looking for. Include things like a situation analysis, overall agency goals, and even obstacles to meeting those goals. If it takes an hour for the agency to read your RFP because it borders on novella length, edit it down to a more consumable size. Aim for two pages.
2. Do give the agencies as much time in the discovery process as they ask for. If they want extra phone calls or emails answered to better understand your needs, give them that time. Their proposals and ideas will be much more on target as a result of better understanding your wants and desires. And remember that your behavior now informs the agency what kind of client you’ll be. A hint: They are looking for people who are responsive, open, accountable and helpful.
3. Don’t be afraid to “try before you buy.” Many PR agencies like retainer models only, and that’s to be expected. Having a recurring revenue stream is much better for hiring, investing in training and being able to do proper financial forecasting and reforecasting. But project work can be beneficial if you want to try an agency before you commit to a year-long contract.
The trial period during the project is good for agencies too. Knowing which clients aren’t a fit before we get into a contract with them can be very helpful, and can help weed out those who aren’t a good match.
4. Plan ahead. Don’t think you can contact an agency weeks before a major event, press announcement or product launch. You should give yourself at least three months before any big event or announcement to start talking to agencies about potential help. Agencies need to allow time to plan, negotiate, prioritize and staff the project or account.
5. Don’t assign someone junior to run the RFP. This is a great way to turn off a whole host of agencies. It’s an approach that tacitly says to the prospective agency: we don’t see PR as high value. Invest in a leader and hold that person accountable for the agency’s success every step of the way. Understand that a weak leader will handicap the agency’s success over time.
6. Avoid decision by committee. It’s best not to have too many opinions involved in the RFP process. Assign a senior leader to make the final call, with perhaps two or three other key marketing or executive leaders weighing in on the final selection. The agency should exist to support marketing and executive leadership first and foremost. While product management, sales leadership and even human resources might need access to the agency for work involving discrete projects like customer research, buyer personas, lead generation campaigns or recruiting tactics, these groups don’t necessarily need to be part of the selection process.
7. Use personal referrals when selecting which agencies you’ll consider, but include a few unknowns as well. Don’t be afraid to give an agency a shot at the business who you haven’t heard of before. The wisest move is likely to include some large, established players alongside a couple of smaller boutiques. You’d be surprised at the wide range of strategies and ideas you might get with this approach.
8. Don’t ask 100 different questions that could potentially take up to 25 hours for the agency to complete. Also, don’t ask inappropriate questions. It might seem bold for me to say this, but sometimes RFPs start to feel similar to a bad, one-sided blind date, with prospects asking us finite questions about revenue, client hires/fires, and, in general, a breakdown of every exhausting detail of our business. As a private company, that information is confidential. Plus, there is really no reason why you need it to find a good agency. Instead, during the discovery process, ask about recruiting strategies, training opportunities, churn and culture instead. Explain your concerns about being with a large agency versus a small agency. These questions can be asked on the phone or in a high-level way in the RFP. But try and avoid a list of questions that turns the agency off immediately. You’ll already be crippling your RFP, as many agencies will opt out of the process as soon as they see questions they deem irrelevant or private.
9. Always remember that you are being interviewed as well. Any agency that is good at what they do has a choice in hiring new clients. Even though it might be easy to think that a small agency might be “desperate” for any client, believe me when I say that they are not. Besides, why would you want to work with someone who is desperate? Wouldn’t you rather approach this process as one that is mutually beneficial, prosperous and with longevity and potential for future growth? Of course you would. Good answer.