If your tech startup finds itself in need of the services of a PR firm, you may wonder if using an RFP, or request for proposal, is the way to go.
Pursuing an RFP involves creating a document that explains 1) the particular needs of your company, 2) the capabilities you expect from a PR firm, 3) the timeline of the review process, and 4) a budget limit or range you prefer the firms to observe.
At Swyft, we generally advise early stage tech startups against using an RFP. It’s far better to wait until you have grown as an organization, closed several rounds of VC funding and have a robust marketing and communications internal team in place.
Nevertheless, here are some of our pros and cons to consider before you commit to using an RFP to find your next startup PR firm.
The RFP process forces PR firms to conform to your approach, format, and timeline. It may not necessarily make the review process easier but it can make the firms more readily comparable: apples to apples, oranges to oranges.
Con: Lacks flexibility
An RFP represents what you think your service requirements are at a moment in time. It won’t know what you need six months from now. If something changes in terms of your strategy or key objectives during the process it could render the RFP obsolete overnight. For many tech startups, working with a highly agile, scalable PR firm means avoiding long-term contracts in favor of fast pivots and modifications to scope.
Pro: Competitive review process
If done right, you end up with the best candidate to meet your needs at the budget you allotted. It’s hard to argue with that kind of outcome.
Con: Fewer PR firms respond
An RFP involves a lot of work for the PR firm, which means it’s entirely possible some firms may not choose to participate if they feel like the work required is onerous or the number of firms participating is large. Result? You may end up with fewer, larger firms able to play the RFP lottery, with the result that you could pay higher fees to larger firms with less agility to adapt to your startup journey.
Pro: Agreement from stakeholders
You get to force your key stakeholders to agree to a set of goals and clear objectives for your tech company to ensure the new PR firm has a clear path forward.
Con: Challenging to complete
Getting key stakeholders, mostly executives, on the same page about the RFP can be the equivalent of herding cats in the middle of a hurricane. Still, if you succeed, you’ve got your mandate for action and an associated budget.
A good RFP will go far toward charting a course for success and even specify some initial engagement objectives, although some may not be knowable until a PR firm is brought on board. Having measurable objectives in place at the start of the engagement will hold the eventual winner more accountable.
Con: Time suck
Building the RFP can be nothing short of a major task involving multiple meetings with key stakeholders, researching PR firms to invite, answering questions from PR firms, reviewing submissions, holding formal presentations, etc. The entire process could run as much as three months from start to finish. For early stage startups, that amount of time is costly given how quickly the news opportunities may come and go.
Wherever you end up on the argument of whether to do an RFP, the process of finding a startup PR firm should at the very least include some kind of competitive review. The key is to get proposals from the best PR firms that match your needs and budget and interview each one. Only then can you pick the best-qualified firm to help chart and execute your company’s ambitious PR goals for the upcoming year.