Daniel White
Mar 11, 2011

How to write a good RFP

Conducting an RFP? Keep these tips in mind to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Daniel White, APAC business development manager, Lewis PR
Daniel White, APAC business development manager, Lewis PR

I read loads of RFPs from companies in search of a PR agency. Some are clear, concise and well written. Others are obviously cut and paste jobs thrown together by someone who doesn’t know a press release from a press conference.

Here is a short list of tips PR practitioners should keep in mind the next time they write an RFP.

1. Don’t have your lawyers write it – Confidentiality is important and agencies should be more than happy to sign an NDA. But try to go light on the legalese in the RFP document. Leading off with five pages of disclaimers, warnings and threats can ruin the mood.

2. Keep the guidelines reasonable – Stipulating the medium for submissions is fine, but if you find yourself specifying margin widths and font sizes, it might be worth reconsidering your approach.

3. Give respondents ample time – Deadlines are part of the business; without them nothing would get done. But please realise it takes agencies more than 48 hours to draft thoughtful, articulate responses.

4. Be upfront about your budget – Or at the least, provide a range. If you have a big budget, agencies are likely to give responses their all and you’ll receive quality proposals. If your budget is small, you’ll avoid having agencies recommend broad, aggressive campaigns that you can’t afford. If your RFP states you are “looking for agencies to provide budget recommendations,” this may be interpreted as “I am shopping for the lowest bidder.”

5. Take time to proof – Your RFP is to select a new PR agency. So when agencies spot a question about ‘experience preparing accounting statements’ – you’ve broadcast the fact that you used an old RFP template and didn’t proof it.

6. Brevity! Brevity! Brevity! – The perfect RFP provides just the right amount of background info. It answers the questions your website doesn’t. It asks the right questions and omits the “standard” ones that don’t provide value and are guaranteed to generate unnecessarily lengthy responses. Remember that the more questions you ask, the longer the proposals will be. A page limit is a smart way to cap responses.

7. Confirm receipt – When you receive proposals, reply to the sending parties to confirm receipt. In theory, the agencies should be following up with you. But the same way you’d acknowledge receipt of a proposal from someone within your organisation, let agencies know you have their work in hand.

8. Be clear on next steps – Once proposals have been submitted, what’s next? When will respondents find out if they’ve advanced to the next round? How many firms will advance? The more you tell participating agencies, the better they can plan ahead to make sure the teams they’re recommending are available the week presentations are scheduled.

9. Provide feedback – If an agency doesn’t make the cut, provide specific feedback why. Maybe the proposed account team didn’t stack up in terms of relevant experience. Maybe the suggested deliverables were low, comparatively, given the budget. Be honest. Agencies are keen to improve their offerings and truly value candid feedback.

10. Do not steal ideas – When you issue an RFP, don’t select an agency, and then ramp up PR internally, agencies notice. When byline pitch ideas from their proposals start showing up in print, agencies notice. The world of PR is a small one.

The RFP process doesn’t have to be painful. By putting a bit more time and effort into writing your RFP, you’ll receive stronger proposals from agencies that want to work with you. Everybody wins.

Daniel White is APAC Business Development Manager, Lewis PR.

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