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PR RFP Process: 6 Steps to Take Before You Launch

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John VernonSenior Business Development Manager

If you’re ready to partner with a public relations agency but unsure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. The public relations Request for Proposal (PR RFP) process is how many brands find a PR partner. It’s typically the starting point in your search. While mixed feelings abound on how effective the process is, RFPs remain the most common way to attract PR agencies. But how can you be sure you’re attracting the right partner?  

You’ve spent weeks, months, potentially even years, getting buy-in to start your PR agency search only to realize the average PR RFP process can take six to ten weeks. You’re looking to speed things up so you can get your new partner onboard in time to spearhead strategic communications surrounding a fast-approaching merger, acquisition, funding event, product launch, leadership transition – you name it. Or maybe you need quick action to meet your revenue goals by gaining a bigger share of the market from your competitors. 

While accelerating the PR RFP process is your goal, an agency relationship is not one that you (or your company) should enter lightly. Choosing the right PR partner can make a dramatic difference in the success of your business, and you shouldn’t settle for less than you deserve. After all, finding the PR agency of your dreams can empower your brand to yield results you never knew were even possible.  

Think of it the same way Walt Disney likened bringing ideas to the screen. He once distilled the secret to making dreams come true into four Cs — curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy — stating, “…the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestioningly.” You should believe in your agency, and your agency should believe in you (and your vision) in equal measure.

6 Steps to Take Before You Launch Your PR RFP

1. Consult a reputable industry source

The goal of the RFP is to narrow an agency search down to the right candidates, yet casting a wide net is unlikely to get you there. Because of this, it’s important to start with your own research to form a shortlist of agencies.  

Whether you’ve done this a hundred times or are leading your first PR RFP process, a reputable industry source — like O’Dwyer’s or PR News — is an excellent way to see what potential agency partners are out there. Across the identified categories, answer the following questions as you browse: 

  • Size – When it comes to agency size, consider the level of service you will receive. Are you comfortable being a small fish in a big agency pond, or would you prefer the more hands-on, collaborative approach of a mid-size firm with the same tiers of connections? 
  • Business Model – An agile, unified team model allows independent PR firms to be nimble, responsive, and deeply invested in driving successful outcomes for the brands they represent. Or are you enamored of the perceived prestige of a big-box PR agency? 
  • Location – Where are the agencies located? Will their primary time zone be optimal for collaboration with you and your staff? Is their portfolio of work concentrated geographically, or is it more global? 

Though the above questions offer a great start, be sure to also consider other factors important to your business and the scope of work at hand.  

 Related Read – Why Hire a PR Agency Right Now (& How To Get C-Suite Buy-In) 

2. Solicit peer input

Much like when you’re traveling to a new location or deciding where to eat, recommendations can be a huge factor toward determining time well spent. 

To further flesh out your shortlist, reach out to your peers for feedback on past projects and input on agencies that either were great or challenging to work with. If you don’t have a large network of pros who have worked with PR agencies, look to brands you admire as well as those your business is in competition with. Find out who they’re working with, or who they’ve tapped to work with in the past. 

3. Evaluate fit

Collaborating with the right agency is also about choosing the right approach. For instance, will you commit to a fixed retainer or a phased path? Let’s explore the differences to help you decide.  

  • Retainer – The retainer pricing model will vary from agency to agency, but it is fundamentally employed to establish long-term agreements. Think of it like your monthly phone bill, a fixed fee for regular services. Its benefits include efficiency, the ability to encapsulate a broad range of work, and simplified financial forecasting.  
  • Phased – A phased model is the simplest way to test the waters with an agency partner in that it can act as a steppingstone toward a long-term retainer. Its benefits include greater flexibility, opportunities for experimentation, and a sense of protection against unforeseen changes (i.e., the ability to walk away as budget shifts). 

A caveat: With a long-term retainer, you’ll have more time and freedom to dig deeper, address more challenges, test strategies, and create stronger journalist relationships for your brand. 

Related Read – Strategic Communications Agency Fit: 8 Essential Considerations 

4. Consider experience 

 It’s easy to think that having more agencies involved will result in a better chance for success, right? Not exactly. This really only works in theory. Sure, you could end up with a greater diversity of approaches. But in all likelihood, you’ll be forced to wade through multiple proposals that are quite similar.  

 Save yourself time and headache by further honing the shortlist you landed on during steps one and two. To do this, audit the experience of the agencies in the bunch: review their case studies, compare their client rosters, evaluate their specialty (i.e., B2B, B2C, or both?), read their thought leadership pieces, and seek to understand the breadth of their industry, vertical, and category expertise. Doing this homework will yield a better understanding of the body of work across your shortlist and allow you to tighten your list up even more.  

5. Allow ample time

An abbreviated time frame for responses is sure to reduce the chance that agencies respond, especially the upper echelon of your shortlist. It can also send the wrong signal to a potential partner. They might interpret the quick turnaround to be a negative reflection of your business (e.g., you’re disorganized) or a low chance at selection (e.g., you’ve already chosen an agency and are just going through the motions).  

Conversely, building in more time signals a sign of respect for the work required of a potential partner. It also means stronger and more thoughtful proposals for your review since agencies can take more time and care to effectively demonstrate their prowess. 

Remember: Responding to an RFP is a big task and time commitment for agencies. Just like you and your staff, agency teams have a plethora of priorities that compete for bandwidth.  

 6. Question: Is an RFP even right for me?

You’ve come this far. You think you’re ready to start drafting a PR RFP for your brand. 

If there’s absolutely no hesitation that an RFP is going to get you what you need, great. You’ve done your due diligence, and you’re confident in your next step. 

If, on the other hand, you’re unsure whether the PR RFP process is altogether necessary in this instance, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative. Enter the Request for Information, or RFI.  

Think of an RFI as a relaxed, scaled-back approach to agency selection. Where an RFP might involve a lot of pageantry, an RFI is more focused on information gathering. And, when time is of the essence, an RFI is your best bet. Average RFI reply times boil down to hours and days, as opposed to weeks and months. 

You’ve reached the end of this step-by-step guide and are now well equipped to nail the pregame to the PR RFP process. Trust that, with the right preparation, you and your team can find the best, most authentically capable PR agency partner to support your objectives. When in doubt, look to PAN, move through the process confidently, and you’re well on your way. 

Leverage this handy PR agency RFP template or reach out to PAN directly to start a conversation today.
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