When someone asks what the most critical component is when hiring a public relations firm I often respond: “time.”
Time is easily the most under-appreciated element required for working with a PR agency. It begins with the time that should be devoted to identify and hire the most qualified agency, and then it continues through to the weekly time needed to provide the materials required for them to do their job (i.e. get you results).
But finding the best-fitting firm is the linchpin to success. Beware of automatically jumping to hire the agency your friend used; don’t simply go through the PR trades to engage a firm; and, never simply use Google as your guide for selecting public relations services.
Not unlike hiring an employee, when hiring a PR firm you should spend as much time as necessary to properly screen and check on their past performance. Remember that your investment in time and money will become a reflection on your company.
The best method for assessing PR agencies for their skills and expertise is the request for proposal, or RFP. When written well, the most capable firm will provide you with a response that will demonstrate their skills to you and will be the start of a productive relationship.
Here are the best ways to structure your RFP:
- Introduction and Background – You should provide an overview of your business/organization, including its history, and explain why the RFP is being issued. Detail your objectives and strategies and include a non-disclosure if there is any proprietary technology involved. Don’t forget to include your key audiences and, for housekeeping purposes, who the agency will report to.
- Scope of Work – This is the heart of the RFP and will be most instrumental in helping you find the agency you need, provided of course it’s detailed, concise and well written. Be certain of what you need the agency to do for your organization. More times than not, the SOW becomes the point of most friction between agency and a client because the project scope may not have been clearly spelled out and the agency interpreted it to mean something completely different than its client.
- Budget Parameters – An absolute amount or a range the company or organization intends to allocate for professional fees and out-of-pocket expenses for the public relations program needs to be included. Those who do not provide a budget in the RFP do themselves and an agency a tremendous disservice. Would you walk into a BMW dealership with only enough money to buy a Chevy? An honest budget helps the agency respond smarter to your RFP. It’s ok if your budget is limited, but the bidding agencies need to know from the start of the process.
- Measurement/Review – Require the agencies to explain their process for benchmarking and measuring success. This will ultimately become a barometer of how successful the project is.
- Case studies and references – It’s important to ask any agency competing for your business to demonstrate that they’ve done similar work in the past. Request at least two examples of similar work completed and then ask to speak to past or current clients to double check their capabilities.
Once you’ve selected your agency, the partnership begins. Please provide them with the information and access they need to succeed. This should start early and should be continuous. Also, make sure to create a method where they report to you frequently, so problems can't evolve.
The more time you spend on a quality RFP is a worthy investment as it will greatly improve your chances of finding a capable PR agency to help accomplish your strategic branding objectives.
A version of the above was first published in PR over Coffee, a popular PR blog by Dave Manzer for DIY entrepreneurs and PR pros alike.