My company ranks high in Google for ‘public relations’ and other key words.

As a result we receive a lot of inquiries—students looking for jobs, suppliers selling their wares and potential clients looking for a PR firm.

This week we received an RFP from one of Canada’s leading beverage companies. We also had a chance to meet with a smaller company that sells products in a niche segment of the wine industry.

We declined to participate in the former since it was basically a “cattle call.” We spoke briefly on the phone to tell them we have national capabilities, but that was the only contact we had.

The latter company approached their search in an entirely different way. We had an initial call to talk about their challenges and to offer our thoughts about their business. A meeting was arranged with their marketing folks where we chatted some more. Then they asked for a high-level proposal to give them a sense of how we might approach their business.

It was very civilized and made a lot of sense.

So if you’re looking for a public relations firm, whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE do not issue a Request for Proposal to a host of agencies (AKA the cattle call). It’s not a good use of your time, it’s certainly not a good use of the agency’s time and in the end you may not hire the best partner.

If you’re not familiar with RFPs or you believe they’re a good approach, read this post from Bridge Global Strategies.

So what’s the RFP alternative?

1. What services do you require?

PR includes everything from government affairs to media relations (and more). Establish the services you require BEFORE starting your search.

2. What are your challenges?

Think about the challenges you face and look for a PR firm who’s met similar ones—even if it’s in a different industry.

3. Is the scope of work regional, national or international?

If you’re a multi-national company, a multi-national PR partner makes sense. If you have regional or national requirements, a small independent company may be a better way to go.

4. How much do you want to spend?

If you don’t know the answer, ask yourself: Would I faint if a PR program cost $5,000, $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000? You’ll have your answer soon enough.

5. Ask colleagues (and Google) for referrals

6. Make a short list

Review the websites of each PR agency on your list and narrow it down based on the criteria you’ve already established.

7. Make some phone calls

Chemistry is an important element of an agency/client relationship. Start a conversation. Shorten the list based on what you discover in your phone call.

8. Meet with them in person

Invite your short list in for a capability presentation.

9. Ask for a high-level proposal

Select two firms to provide a proposal. It’s not appropriate to ask for creative ideas on spec. But it’s completely fair to see what services they can offer in the allotted budget.

10. Put your preferred agency to the test

Don’t feel obligated to sign a long-term contract. Assign your preferred firm a project and see how things work out.


What challenges have you experienced either as a PR agency that’s looking for new business or a company that’s looking for a PR partner? If you’ve recently gone through the process, do you have tips (or nightmares) to share?


Written by Shelley Pringle