The client also has a responsibility to ensure that the pitch process—and ongoing relationship—is as effective as possible.
New business is vital to an PR agency looking to grow, and putting together a pitch can be a huge amount of work.
But the client also has a responsibility to ensure that the pitch process—and ongoing relationship—is as effective as possible. Starting my career in a PR agency and moving to an in-house position, I have been through a number of agency pitches from both sides.
Here are four steps for in-house practitioners to successfully plan and hire a PR agency:
1. Prepare a proper request for proposal.
Every pitch starts with a strong request for proposal.
The RFP should clearly outline your brand, challenges, research, objectives, campaign, key performance indicators and budget. Be specific about what part of the brief is for the agency, as opposed to activity that will be done in-house. Include a well-defined scope of work.
Also include examples of previous activity. This can show the agency what level of profile you expect, and what type of media outlets you consider to be a fit.
Try to be creative with your RFP. Don’t send a 30-page written document. Instead, consider using a more visual format and include plenty of video and images.
Lay out exactly what you expect to be included in the agency’s proposal with bullet points. Are there two stages to the pitch? If so, what are you expecting from the written submission as opposed to the in-person pitch meeting?
2. Find suitable agencies for pitches.
Don’t just place a story in the trade press and expect the agencies to come to you. In-house pros need to do their own due diligence to look for agencies that will be a great fit.
Some of the best agencies may be so busy creating great work for their existing clients that they’re not actively searching for new business.
Consider the key characteristics for your agency. Do you want the agency to be small, large or a specialist in your industry? Should it be in the same city? Do you want access to other services outside of public relations, such as media buying, research or promotions? You might want to compare various types of agencies.
Decide how broad you want the field to be. Consider whether you want to invite open submissions, or a closed pitch. If using a closed pitch, how many agencies do you want to shortlist? Be realistic about the time it will take you to review the submissions and respect the time the agencies will be putting in to their pitches.
Research agencies that would be the best fit. Speak to other organizations in your space to find out whom they use, look at recent award-winning PR campaigns and find out who was behind projects you admire. Reach out to these agencies personally to invite them to pitch.
3. Choose the right agency.
By writing a detailed RFP, you’ve done most of the work already. You’ve clarified in your own mind what you’re looking for from an agency. Now you must objectively review each agency’s pitch.
Before attending pitch meetings, create a scoring system with key selection criteria that matches what you’ve asked for in the RFP. In each pitch meeting, look for aspects of the agency’s pitch that specifically deliver against your needs.
Realize that you may not find everything you’re looking for. Decide if certain aspects are more important than others in your evaluation. It’s rare to find the perfect agency; you may have to compromise.
Consider a personal fit with your team. These are people you’ll be working with every day, and it’s important that your personalities mesh.
Once you’ve made your decision, have the courtesy to spend time on the phone with the unsuccessful contenders to explain what you liked and didn’t like about their pitches. Be professional, even though this can be an uncomfortable conversation.
4. Get the best out of your PR agency.
Once you’ve chosen your fabulous new PR agency, it takes constant communication for ongoing success. Everyone must be clear about expectations.
Ensure that you have a detailed scope of work that is briefed to the agency at the beginning of each financial year or project period. Discuss anything that falls outside of this before you ask your agency to take on additional work.
Be conscious of any issues and deal with them as they arise. Take responsibility for dealing with issues immediately and have a go-to person at the agency that you trust to discuss these issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for team changes on your account, if that’s what it takes to resolve the issue.
At the end of each year or project, review activity for that time period and discuss what you thought was successful and why. Share internal reporting with your PR agency so they understand how success is viewed within your organization.