You can’t spell strategy with RFP. But that is not what we tell our marketing employees when we ask them to interview third party agencies in order to improve strategy and gain insight. Instead, we tell them this: “Interview 10 PR firms. Ask them this list of questions. Take notes, wait a week, then request an RFP from everyone. Ultimately, the best price mixed with the most intricate proposal wins.” And that is how we are going to bring our brand from good to great? It is a tedious and a dreaded process that neglects to value years of experience and the potential to build a meaningful relationship with a trusted advisor. Yet, the RFP process remains the same: outdated and unchanged and aimed at getting the lowest cost possible.
The truth is, RFPs never create total buy-in from the agency side. Being lined up and sized up through an RFP process just doesn’t establish the shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie and commitment necessary to build great value through a firm’s reputation and it gives no indication of the relationship you are building. The current way firms conduct an RFP process gives you canned lists of services with a dusting of nominal insight from a junior staffer’s quick tour of your website. The most senior people won’t put their professional reputations on the line to represent you with the media or in other public forums. That’s not a representing body that you want or benefit from.
We have all heard the theory before that can be applied nearly every business venture: you can have a good quality product, you can have a cheap product, and you can have a time efficient product, but you must pick two. Three at once just isn’t feasible. It’s a logical theory: if you are going to have something made with outstanding quality or within a challenging time period, it will be reflected in the price. Yet firms are forced, time and time again, to compete in a game where they cannot highlight what makes them exceptional and are compared to firms with a lot less experience and a lot more time on their hands.
Now there are occasions where price needs to be a priority, especially when a business is in it’s growth stage.The thing to note is that while “cost efficient” may be important in some aspects of your business, your public relations team should not be on that list. It’s not how firms choose their legal counsel, it’s not how firms choose their financing partners and it is not how firms should choose their communications partner, either.
In today’s business world, “What we’ve always done,” is just not good enough. To successfully rise above an increasingly competitive climate and reach the highest potential, we must learn new practices that take relationships and quality into the selection process. Invite your candidates to collaborate. Get a sense of their commitment. Ask them the important questions critical to your company. And by all means, stop measuring quality with cost and being optimizing for outcomes based on experience and insight.