Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FPRA Panel deals with the realities of hiring outside counsel.

This week I participated in a four-person panel discussion at a meeting of the FPRA's Central West Coast Chapter. Moderated by Ginya Carnahan, Director of Marketing, Dattoli Cancer Center, the topic was "Hired Guns: Strategies for Establishing Win-Win Relationships with PR Counsel."

Topics of discussion included when, why and how to hire outside PR and advertising counsel; effectively managing relationships with clients; common mistakes clients and firms can avoid; and establishing trust and so on. All good things to be discussed, so I was glad the turnout was a strong one.

One of the topics in this discussion was the RFP. Nothing evokes more conflicting emotions than the arrival of a RFP at the agency. And there is no better example of all the different ways clients screw up the selection process. Whether they be a government agency spending public dollars, or a privately owned company, clients need to understand the importance of using best practices in hiring outside PR and Advertising help.

First, be clear as to what you need or want from the relationship.
Next, make a full disclosure of your situation - the challenges facing you, the budget and scope of your marketing program, etc. That will provide enough information for most agencies or freelance counselors to make a bid-or no-bid decision without a lot of anguish.

Make yourself clear, specifying what information you want from the bidders, and how it should be presented. If you don't do this, you will have a mess and be unable to make a sensible evaluation. Next, help bidders by outlining how their proposals will be scored - industry knowledge, local vs. out-of-town, approach to your business, etc. How will each of those response categories be weighted?

What about Spec creative? My opinion is, either ask for it or don't. There's no in-between. And if you do ask for it, request a taste, not a 3-course dinner. Be specific here as well. That way, it's a level playing field.

Another thing I find to be very helpful is a bidders' conference, held far enough in advance of the proposal deadline to make a difference. I find the Q&A sessions at these conferences to be very helpful, allowing every bidder to meet the client contacts face-to-face and get the answers to questions "right from the horse's mouth" with everyone in the room to hear it at the same time.

Never written an RFP before? No problemo. Templates and such are available on the Internet. My recnt search for RFP TEmplates turned up lots and lots of results. As Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing.

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