Monday, October 21, 2013

Ditch the Pitch says AdAge? In a Heartbeat says ThinkInk!

At ThinkInk, we often think that RFPs (requests for proposals) actually stand for Really Flawed Presentations.

That’s also the takeaway from a recent AdAge article which looks at how, as the economy has rebounded and revenue is again flowing (modestly, at least), agencies are being more selective with the RFPs they review and the pitches they accept – PR agencies included.

Desperate times may have called for desperate measures with agencies taking on any business just to survive. But the lessons learned are likely to be applied the next time the economy goes bust. And it will. 

For my non-PR readers, a word on RFPs. RFPs are supposed to be well thought out, clearly written documents that explain to an agency what the client does and how they envision the agency-client relationship evolving. Central to this professional worldview:

How can a communications company advance the client’s mission/messaging?
To what extent can they (the agency) deliver a concrete return on investment, realized in a timely and efficient manner?
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s not.

Unlike architectural RFPs, chock full of data, building timelines, artist renderings and estimated costs, would be client-submitted RFPs are often vague, filled with unreasonable deadlines, unclear messaging and unrealistic (think: meager) budgets.

Granted, it’s a bit of a Catch-22. Prospective clients aren’t communications professionals. They seek our input in helping craft their messaging.

So rather than rejecting such flawed documents outright, perhaps we should instead put our proverbial foot down. Even before the RFP process gets underway PR agencies, proud of their own self worth – and recognition that they, too, are businesses which have to protect their bottom lines – must establish pre-RFP guidelines. The age of indiscriminate RFP acceptance is over. Potential clients should be given a dose of pre-relationship “tough love,” couched in the language that the more fine-tuned an RFP is prior to its submission to an agency, the greater the likelihood that agency will accept its terms.

In other words, potential clients need to do a little more homework if we are to take their communications strategy to the next level. Pushback and dialogue should be nothing to fear.

Sometimes an assertive ‘NO’ to a prospective client and its demands is as important as a hearty ‘YES.’   They may even respect you for it.

Maybe that’s what RFP should stand for… Respect For Professional

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