Survey: Thank you for sending us your RFP; however…

It isn’t a new subject within the public relations industry, but one that continues to elicit powerful opinions:  The Request for Proposal – or RFP – invitations that all PR firms receive from companies and organizations to submit competitive proposals for their business.

I’m not talking about the chance to compete with a handful of firms for a new client; rather, those big RFPs that are distributed to an undisclosed number of PR firms, present a good amount of background and require significant work to present both qualifications and detailed program recommendations.

My co-workers and I revisited this subject recently and, feeling the need to test our opinions, conducted a simple survey of our partners at PR Boutiques International, a network of more than 30 highly successful boutique PR firms in 16 countries around the world.

We asked our PRBI colleagues how often they participate in these types of RFP opportunities and to provide supporting reasons why.   The results were indeed telling:

  • 80 percent of agency owners said they almost never participate in RFP opportunities.
  • 7 percent of agency owners said they sometimes participate in RFP opportunities.
  • 13 percent of agency owners said they almost always participate in RFP opportunities.


Among the majority of agency owners who almost never participate in RFP opportunities, their supporting comments were as follows:

“People who send out mass cattle call RFPs don’t know what they want or need.  Invariably, we end up wasting time while they figure it out.”

“We all too often find the prospect has made no effort to narrow the field, sending RFPs to far too many firms, incorporating an inappropriate mix of the industry’s largest providers, boutiques and everything in between.  The cattle call concept wastes everyone’s time.”

“Business building is based primarily on the strength of a firm’s relationships. These RFP decisions are not based on accurate knowledge of our skills and experiences because it is a blind process.”

“The RFP is sometimes just a legal requirement, and the company issuing the RFP might like the firm they’ve been using.”

“The time and cost to prepare the RFP when the chances are slim.”

“They require clean answers in ‘boxes,’ the antithesis of who we are and how we do our job.”

“Frequently they are fake.  The incumbent is going to be chosen, and the client had to go through the motions…”

“It often feels like the client was shopping for free advice.”

“Experience shows that it’s a long shot, and I don’t have time for numerous long-shot proposals.  I will do it only if I know we’re one of three or four firms and feel it would be a great fit for us.”

Those 7 percent of agency owners who stated that they sometimes participate in the RFP process, gave the following reasons and caveats:

“You need to be in the game to have a chance to win.”

“RFPs are a good way to force an evaluation of the status of the agency.”

“A primary reason for SEO is to get legitimate RFPs.”

“We are no longer going after RFPs where no budget is discussed or confirmed.”

Lastly, it is interesting to note that the 13 percent of agency owners who stated they almost always participate in the RFP process were all from outside of the U.S., including Europe and the Middle East.   Their comments included:

“Most of our new business has come from RFPs, and I think it is important to attend select pitches …to build contacts and give them an idea of your capabilities.”

“Great practice to put your team under pressure, but very rewarding when we win, as well as a great teambuilding exercise.”

“I try to get as much feedback as possible to understand where my company stands in comparison to others.”

“Even if you don’t win, they most likely come back to you if they like your proposal and ideas.”

There are, of course, many conclusions that can be drawn from this survey.  For us, however, we continue to believe that identifying the best fit – or something close to it – must come before the proposal process.  When the agency and the prospective client  both agree on the potential of the relationship up front, the details come forward with a lot less waste and far greater potential for long-term success.

So, thank you for sending us your RFP; however, perhaps we could talk a bit first.

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