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(we begin at about 17:00)
How can PR pros engage the RFP process and live to tell about it? Robert spends some quality time this week with two experts on RFPs: Robert Udowitz and Steve Drake.
Responding to a PR request for proposals (RFP) can be stressful, time consuming, and sometimes futile. But it’s also necessary, as RFPs are a staple of agency business development efforts.
So how can PR pros engage the RFP process and live to tell about it? Robert spends some quality time this week with two experts on RFPs: Robert Udowitz and Steve Drake, principals of RFP Associates, based here in the Washington, D.C. metro area. They examine the pitfalls of the process and share some tips that will help us master our next RFP response.
- Steve Drake & Robert Udowitz
When offering advice to agencies about how they can win more business, we often cite the lesson that no detail is too small. An example that summarizes the point best is the many-times-retold tale of a McDonald’s PR pitch where one agency was eliminated before it even began its final presentation because no one on the team could quote the price of a Happy Meal.
The other involves a proposal for a piece of the UPS business which would have resulted in a lucrative win for a major agency.
After all the research, creative ideas, strategy, and budgeting were prepared, the task of shipping it to the prospective client fell on a team member who made the fatal error of shipping the proposal via UPS’s chief rival FedEx!
Not surprisingly, the UPS communications chief did not even bother opening the package. And not only did the agency not get the UPS business, but the cascading effect damaged a pre-existing agency-client relationship, long-term job security for a number of staffers, and, of course, the firm’s reputation.
In the category of its-a-small-world, I recently was introduced to a communications executive who was a bit player at the agency responsible for the UPS debacle. The person relayed to me the full back-story of how the mistake came to be and how it rocked the firm to its very core more than anyone ever knew.
The lessons to agencies are compelling and simple: no element of the client interaction can be overlooked and every individual in the chain needs to understand the importance of the client work, whether it’s a proposal or an ongoing assignment.
Clients hiring agencies must also recognize that the agency search process should involve considering intangibles which may be just as important as the specific elements of the scope of work laid out in the RFP. It shouldn’t be a game of “gotcha” but peppering in questions to get a sense of whether the agency did its homework in preparing for the proposal and presentation should distinguish the winner from the finalists.
Using the first example, regardless of any strategic or creative brilliance appearing in proposals for McDonald’s RFP, agencies whose response includes team members’ personal experience with the chain should be moved to the top of the pile.
We always point out that hiring an agency is like hiring a team of new staff members. Therefore, the detail and time devoted to the process should match the seriousness with which your human resources department would accord the recruitment of, say, six public relations staffers, all at once. And, scrupulously overseeing how each firm handles the response can be as important as the response itself. After all, the hired firm is likely responsible for the external reputation of your organization.
Btw, someday I’ll also share the tale of the agency that marched into a different McDonald’s presentation with Starbucks cups in-hand. Spoiler alert: perhaps the McCafé mural in the board room should have given them pause.
Even in today’s competitive environment, where each and every new business opportunity should be approached with care, too many agencies still attempt to shoehorn tangential experience into an RFP response. When the odds are naturally against your winning any client pitch, it’s more important to be selective and to focus on your core strengths than it is to position your agency as something it’s not.
When you spend the hours it takes to respond properly to an RFP you have to be as certain as possible that you can win. If you aren’t preparing a proposal with confidence -- or find yourself squeezing your foot into that proverbial shoe -- perhaps the best bet is to take a pass and focus on serving the clients you have.
The agency search was down to four finalists. Each had provided stellar written responses during the proposal phase, and seemed ready to take the stage. Per the RFP Associates process, the finalists were asked to go beyond the contents of their written responses to the RFP, and to delve deeper into the important elements of our client’s global campaign.
Sure, there would be just one winner, but we all wanted this to be an even horserace, with equal odds for each of the finalist agencies.
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