When we launched RFP Associates last year, we did so after having spoken with dozens of public relations and communications
executives at businesses, associations and non-profit organizations nationwide. Our goal: to find out how they felt about conducting agency searches – what we call the RFP
Well, we got an earful . . . and then some. To put it mildly, few if any communications officers had anything kind to say about the RFP process, and most said it was one of the
least-favorite parts of their job.
Here, then, are the top five reasons communications and public relations heads dread the RFP and agency search process:
5. They hope against hope the process can be open and fair – More often than not, corporate or association board politics gets in the way of a considered and objective process. More than one communications officer complained to us that higher-level managers and/or board members – even those not directly connected with the search – are not shy about offering their opinions. “Everybody seems to have a relative, a kid or a friend working at some agency,” said one.
4. It’s hard to differentiate among different agencies – While there is more information available online than ever before about agencies, that information all tends to convey the same thing, some PR heads told us. The language, the case studies, even the professionals all seem to blend into a cauldron of “PR speak” in which it’s impossible to discern any real differences between organizations.
3. It’s a daunting process – It’s not lost on communications officers that a public relations or public affairs firm represents an investment that can be the equivalent of several mid- to higher-level PR staffers. That alone makes the RFP process daunting. Add to that the organizational politics cited earlier, the jockeying for position and information routinely practiced by agencies under consideration, the sensitivities of the incumbent agency (especially if the search is for a replacement and not a first-time hire), and you begin to see why PR heads want to avoid the agency search and hiring process altogether!
2. The “boilerplate response” syndrome – Just as all responding agencies tend to look the same to communications officers, so too do their responses. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say these agencies collaborate when they write their proposals, because they all sounded the same,” one executive told us.
1. Agency “bait and switch” -- The stuff of PR agency “urban legends” apparently happens more often than you might think. A number of communications officers recounted tales of agencies “sending in the senior folks to do the pitching,” and “the junior types to do the work.” It’s a shame but it’s true: many PR executives don’t trust the RFP and agency search process, because they don’t trust the agencies that respond.
- Steve Drake