GG’s Hillary Wasserman explains how to craft a public relations RFP that will elicit great responses.
The request for proposals (RFP) has been a staple of public relations and many other industries, and it still serves a critical purpose. These documents are issued by companies looking to solicit bids from qualified vendors for a specific project; the basic building blocks include information about the organization, the scope of the work, and a timeline for responding.
Having read more than my fair share of public relations RFPs in my capacity as the head of business development for GG, it’s become abundantly clear when the RFP is only giving me the basics to work with, versus when the document offers the tools and information to tailor a proposal to a prospective client’s needs.
To get as much out of the RFP process as possible, companies need to look beyond what is required of them. I’ve included below a few tips for writing great public relations RFPs:
When I read an RFP, one of the first things I ask myself is: why is this organization looking for a firm right now? Often, it’s a very hard question to answer. Armed with that background, the responding proposal can be appropriate for the moment. The list of potential scenarios is long: Is a new CEO or CMO looking to invest more (or start investing) in PR? Is the organization going to be rebranding or expanding? Was there a recent crisis? Does the organization always issue RFPs for a firm every few years?
There’s no need to divulge confidential information or even go particularly in-depth, but any information of this kind will beget better crafted proposals. It allows firms to tailor their responses to the specific context and factors that gave rise to your organization’s current communications needs.
As much as I wish we did, PR firms don’t have a crystal ball that allows us to see into the minds of in-house communications executives. Every communications effort, at its core, is about increasing brand awareness – that’s the basic part. Public relations RFPs that go deeper in offering a more specific goal allow firms to respond with a much clearer, more focused proposal. Maybe you’re planning for a milestone anniversary or major grant; perhaps the organization is looking to grow its customer base in a few key cities. You probably don’t want to read a stack of proposals aimed at broad awareness for the sake of it, and we don’t want to write them.
One of the biggest hurdles to an RFP response is timing. Proposal development, when done right, takes quite a bit of time. When companies release public relations RFPs with very short turnaround times, it hampers the ability for firms to put their best, most thoughtful foot forward. If the timeline between the release of the RFP and the deadline for submission is two weeks or less, it’s too short to receive quality responses. Also keep in mind that firms will likely have questions about the RFP, so you will want to build in time to accommodate answering them.
It is also imperative for RFPs to list some kind of budget, whether it’s an extremely specific number or a ballpark range. This is a critical way to ensure the most effective use of both your time and the firm’s time – it serves no one when proposals have scopes and corresponding fees that are way out of line with your expectations.