The Most Important Question You Forgot to Ask in Your RFP

RFPs are rough – for everyone involved. The company that has to create it and then sift through all the responses and the hours of unbillable time that agencies put in to responding with the hope of cutting through all the clutter.

Most RFPs are long and arduous and ask many of the same questions.

  •  -Tell us about your agency (5 separate questions) and list your capabilities
  •  -Tell us about your clients (at least 5 more questions, plus case study examples)
  •  -Tell us about your team (at least 5 more questions, plus bios)
  •  -Tell us about your billing procedures and how budgeting works (5 more questions)
  •  -Tell us about measurement and reporting…and so on.

32 text-heavy pages later…

It’s exhausting to talk so much about ourselves (when we’d really like to talk about you!) and I often wonder how differentiated the agency responses really are. Secretly I also think that 80% or more of this information could be found spending 10-15 minutes on our website, but maybe I’m being snarky.

These type of RFPs are merely a hurdle to clear before you get to the meat – but some RFPs go a step further. On top of the standard “tell us about you” questions, they’ll add real examples of their business challenges that they’d like counsel on. For example, “How can we get more traction in this vertical market?” or “How can we make our annual customer conference even better than last year?” Yes! Now you get to see how we think too! Hopefully after reading our data-driven, researched response, you’ll understand the strategies and tactics that we would employ for your company. Now this seems even more valuable to the prospect. A win!

But the question I rarely see is this: What makes a good client?

Let that sink in for moment. People matter. The relationship between client and agency matters. Shouldn’t you know what the other party is looking for in the relationship? And what you as the client should do to get the outcomes you want? As in many aspects in life, you too have a part in making the relationship successful.

Therefore, in the spirit of openness – and based on more than a decade (or two) of client service – here are the things that I think make a good client partner:

Access: Your PR team needs to have access – to information and to people – so we can be an accurate and valuable resource to the media on your behalf.

Action: Once we have the right influencers interested in your story, or a timely tweet ready to fly, we need to be able to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. Nothing stymies the media more than a good pitch with no follow through.

Transparency: Sharing is caring. You’ll know the status of everything your PR team doing, including key media conversations, and most importantly, what’s next. But we also need to know what’s going on within the company so that we can adjust plans, programs and messages as needed.

Feedback: Ongoing, two-way communication is critical for a successful relationship. If things aren’t working, both parties need to feel that feedback is welcomed in order to have the relationship succeed. I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken.

Values alignment: We pride ourselves on our 7 core values of #creative #connected #dedicated #positive #smart #honorable #ballsy. We want our partners to value those attributes as well and find alignment with their own culture.

No jerks: Our team works hard for our clients every day. We know that our clients are also busy managing internal stakeholders. But respect and kindness goes a long way in making work fun. We don’t tolerate ugly behavior and we don’t think you should either.

Now for the shameless plug, if you are a company that isn’t excited about your current PR program and after reading the list above, could be a good fit for us, I’d love to see your version of the dreaded RFP. 😉

You can tell me if I missed anything.

Cathy Summers
Senior Vice President

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Posted on May 17, 2016 in Public Relations

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