PR View by John Seng

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The word transparency resonates with communications professionals, accountants, auditors and marketers alike. But there's another domain to introduce this word into: RFPs to PR agencies.
Each year, we read and respond to scores of requests for capabilities, strategic thinking and big, “outside-the-box” ideas. Companies that take the guesswork out of the public relations bidding process in advance are more likely to enjoy long-term, winning partnerships. That “share more-win bigger” philosophy usually shows up in the very first step of competition: a well-run agency brief.

Most companies still take the well-traveled road—querying candidates, selecting qualifiers, providing background and a market research presentation, and then waiting for cinematic presentations to blow you away.

But the best start to identifying the ideal communications partner involves a different approach. At the outset, clients should return to scheduling one-on-one briefings with prospective agencies to encourage a dialogue and get a feel for the people they may be working with. Use this time to toss out hypothetical scenarios. Encourage brainstorming—allowing time for questions and “bubble-up” concepts to be addressed. Briefing calls or meetings with multiple candidate firms deny you the opportunity to begin to gauge a potential partnership from the outset.

Of course transparency is critical in sharing both product attributes and potential challenges. An honest assessment and frank exchange will spawn ideas that overcome obstacles. Finally, don't shy away from sharing realistic budget parameters and a sense of your company's view on the role of PR in the marketing mix.

It's clear—increased transparency is a win for clients.

John Seng is founder and president of Spectrum Science Communications, a health-only communications firm.

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